HAWAIIAN SHIRT PRESS
"Inspired by the Pacific Isles, vintage shirts and reproduction designs attract a broad, if kitsch-loving, fan base. And we wouldn't recognize writer Ben Brown dressed in anything else."
Since my college days, I've been "the dude in the Hawaiian shirt". Growing up in Florida around wannabe surfers was probably enough to get me started. But the tacky rebellion of the 1970s cinched the deal. That's when the gaudy numbers with hibiscus blooms and hula girls arrived on the scene. How could I resist?
Now the look is so much a part of my identity I get away with wearing Hawaiian shirts just about anywhere. Which is exactly what industry pioneers hoped when they invented the aloha shirt style in the 1930s - with the help of Japanese and Chinese clothiers, design inspirations from South Pacific islands, and a growing customer base of tourists. When I started my collection, I was thinking colors, comfort, and annoying the right people. But a few bucks invested in silk or rayon classics from the golden age of aloha shirts - the 1930s to the 1950s - might have helped me build a collection worth thousands of dollars today.
Note: In the middle of the page, there is a section under a picture of the author titled "Vintage Value". It reads:
How do you tell a valuable aloha shirt from merely used resort wear? "Get a decent book," says John Bottomley. Start with he beautifully illustrated The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands by Dale Hope with Gregory Tozian (Beyond Words Publishing, 20000).
Look for made-in-Hawaii labels from shirt makers such as King-Smith, Musa-Shiya, Surfriders, Kahala, and Kamehameha. Later arrivals include Iolani and Reyn Spooner. A few companies outside Hawaii have acquired old designs to reproduce for discount stores. "Be careful," says John. "Determine whether its an old shirt or just an old design."
Shop the Web for older Hawaiian shirts at prices that run the gamut: ebay.com, hawaiian-shirt.net, and crustyzipper.com.
Gary Moss, a vintage-shirt aficionado from Massachusetts, began acquiring Hawaiian versions in the mid-1970s. His assemblage reached a new level with the discovery a decade ago of a treasure trove of shirts from the 1940s owned by a guy in Maine. "All of a sudden," says Gary, "I had a world-class collection."
How much for a vintage design? Gary says he's seen them range from $30 to $4000, depending upon style, condition and size. Because there were fewer larges and extra-larges in the early days, those sizes are more rare.
John Bottomley, who offers some 300 vintage Hawaiian shirts on his Web site, Hawaiian-Shirt.Net, says the market is now at such a level that there are two types of collectors: "people who buy to wear and people who buy to own."
Gary is a crossover who doesn't think twice about wearing his $1,000 shirts out in public. I'm the same way. You can catch me in a $25 classic anytime.