Shirting the Issue

October 1, 2012 | By Natalie Tarce

The island classic continues to be reinvented.

One of the most visible symbols of Hawai‘i’s aloha spirit can be seen in 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 holoku—a loose, floor-length, long sleeved formal dress— was born. The mu’umu’u was initially a chemise worn under the holoku 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. Shirtmaker 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 more inspired by the rich history of a multi-cultural society that has made aloha wear a lifestyle.

The latest label to join the aloha wear ‘ohana (family) is Kai Clothing. Though Kai has come to be known for its watermenthemed T-shirts, the brand has recently introduced a line of aloha wear-influenced apparel. From men’s shirts in cotton and rayon to a diverse selection of womenswear, Kai’s latest line merges aloha wear with ocean-inspired designs to create a distinct selection of clothing. Better still, coordinating accessories are also part of the women’s collection. Designed in Hawai‘i in addition to infusing designs created by artists, Kai Clothing touts a unique array of prints and patterns that works well whether it’s worn here on the islands or back at home, post-vacation.

Waikiki Beach Walk
226 Lewers St., Ste. 142 [C:6 Waikiki Map]
(808) 923-4400