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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HAWAIIAN SHIRT


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The fiftieth state boasts Hawaiian shirts as a piece of their colorful history. In Hawaii this shirt is known as the Aloha shirt. The origin of the Hawaiian shirt begins during the 1920s and the 1930s when immigrants settled in what was then a plantation town. Hawaii grew and refined sugar cane and was responsible for pineapple harvests. These two items purported prosperity for immigrants. Many of those immigrants were Japanese who brought with them brightly colored Kimono cloth. Those immigrants from the Philippines brought with them the un-tucked Barong Tagalog. China carried bright colored formal garments as well as silk, and those from the United States transported collared shirts. Combined with the traditional geometric patterns of Native Hawaiians, the Kapa Pa'u and the Kapa Malo birthed the Palaka shirt as well as the Kimono cloth shirt. The first was short sleeved, geometric line patterns covering the shirt, worn by plantation workers. The plaid geometric design resembles a checkerboard. Japanese housekeepers were responsible for the creation of the latter, making shirts for boys and men out of the leftover Kimono cloth. 

 

By this time, Ellery Chun began selling the short sleeved shirts as part of an economic recovery plan for the business he took over from his father located in downtown Honolulu. He and his sister expanded the interests of the Dry Goods store in the local Chinese community and renamed the location King-Smith Clothiers. As his continued this endeavor during the Great Depression, what came to be known as the Hawaiian shirt was also picked up by the company Musa-Shiya the Shirt Maker. This fabric store is still in business today, located at the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. It continues to boast that the initial sale of the Hawaiian shirt began at a mere 95 cents.

 

By 1932, the owner of Surfriders Sportswear Manufacturing-Ti Haw Ho-began selling the Hawaiian shirt. Ellery Chun, however, is still credited with original print designs of the Palm Trees, Pineapples, and Hula Girls which are now popular. These original designs were crafted by three or four dozen at a time out of imported cloth from China, Japan, Tahiti, and the United States. The Hawaiian shirt rose as residents, beach boys, and surfers took notice of the shirts. Tourists, Hollywood stars, and famous visitors noticed the ease of the design and its bright colors, thus linking the Hawaiian shirt to Hawaii. This became a signature that was only available on the island and was encouraged stylistically on the mainland.

 

Ellery Chun continued to expand his line of Hawaiian shirts by including bright tropical patterns which veered toward Hawaiian designs instead of the typical Asian designs. Advertising for the shirts began with the start of the local radio talent show hosted by the Moana Surfrider Hotel. Their popularity took hold by the 1950s with the official acceptance of Hawaii as the 50th state. More tourists came to the island, as well as more advertisement and attention in Hollywood films throughout each decade. Hawaiian-based television series showed off the Hawaiian shirt. During the 1980's actors like Tom Sellick became known for wearing the Hawaiian shirt in the hit television series Magnum P.I. wherein he was a private investigator who was seen wearing Hawaiian shirts as his daily work attire. However, its popularity on the mainland began with the release of "From Here to Eternity" featuring Frank Sinatra as well as Montgomery Cliff each wearing a Hawaiian shirt. During their television shows, Arthur Godfry and Bing Crosby donned the Hawaiian shirt as well. "Hawaiian Eye" was a television series which featured Robert Conrad exposing Hawaiian shirts. Elvis Presley also wore Hawaiian shirts in his movie "Blue Hawaii". Lastly, "Hawaii Five-O" featuring Jack Lord showed off popular Hawaiian shirt appearances.

 

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"Hello John, I like them fine. I've only worn the new ones around town, and to my sisters' for Easter. I did wear the first one I bought to Kemah last summer when the I took my wife, daughter and niece to the boardwalk there. Thanks for asking."
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