Aloha wear goes from classic to contemporary
One of the most visible symbols of Hawai‘i’s Aloha spirit can be seen in contemporary Hawaiian fashion known as Aloha wear.
Its roots can be traced back to 1820 when New England missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i. Missionary women adapted the latest fashion in order to accommodate the large size of ali’i (royalty) women. The design was then altered into a more comfortable fit, and the holokū—a loose, floor-length, long sleeved formal dress—was born. The mu’umu’u was initially a chemise worn under the holokū and it wasn’t until the 1940s with the introduction of Hawaiian prints that it was considered fit to be worn in public.
The Aloha shirt that we know today did not come about until the mid-1930s. Shirt-maker Musa-Shiya first used the term in a 1935 advertisement. However, it was tailor Ellery Chun who trademarked “Aloha shirt” in 1936 as tourism in Hawai‘i grew. After World War II, bolder patterns with tropical images emerged. Rayon shirts called “silkies” became popular from 1945 to 1955. By the late 1970s, designs inspired by the Hawaiian culture came about. Eventually, subdued looking “reverse print” aloha shirts were introduced and are now worn daily in the workplace.
Today, the shift towards island style resort wear gives Aloha fashion a more cosmopolitan feel. Some Aloha shirts may not necessarily feature Hawaiian prints but have various images arranged in a similar pattern as a traditional aloha shirt. Visit any clothing store in Waikiki and you will find not just traditional Aloha attire but also a variety of Hawaiian print dresses, shorts and accessories inspired by the rich history of a multi-cultural society that has made Aloha wear a lifestyle.
Additionally, Aloha wear purveyors are looking ahead—giving the classic shirt a truly modern update, with a more streamlined fit in new fabrics and patterns. The Reyn Spooner boutique at Sheraton Waikiki is a prime example of how the Aloha shirt has evolved. Even the storefront boasts a sleek look to match the hip selection of Aloha apparel it houses.
Whether you’re a fan of tradition or embrace the new, Aloha wear will always be a Hawaiian must-have.
2255 Kalakaua Ave.
Photos courtesy: Reyn Spooner