The loose-fitting and brightly patterned Hawaiian shirt is a staple of casual Fridays and beach-themed parties, not to mention actual trips to the beach. Loved by some and judged tacky by others, the iconic shirt has a long and interesting history.
Known locally as an Aloha shirt, the garment was invented in Hawaii in the early part of the last century. According to one story, a student at the University of Hawaii in the 1920s came up with the design for a shirt made of Japanese yukata cloth, a cotton fabric with bamboo or geometric prints on a white background. His handmade shirts caught the attention of other students, and a fashion trend was born.
In the 1930s, a tailor in Honolulu advertised the first “Aloha shirt,” marketing particularly to tourists. The shirts were sold ready-made or custom-made starting at less than a dollar. Supposedly, the store sold its first printed Aloha shirt to the actor John Barrymore. Another clothing retailer soon began selling short-sleeved shirts made of colorful kimono fabrics in the mid-1930s, also calling them Aloha shirts. These really took off with tourists and surfers.
The first shirts retained a Japanese aesthetic. However, as the Aloha shirt evolved, fabric designs inspired by the local scenery began to replace traditional Japanese motifs. Fabric artists used the scenery around them, like tropical birds, fish, and flowers; coconut palms; beach huts; and surfers on the waves. Soon designs were mass-produced, and the shirts came to reflect Hawaii’s culture and landscapes.
The shirts had another surge of popularity after World War II when soldiers came home with Hawaiian shirts they bought in Asia and the South Sea Islands. By the 1950s, the Hawaiian shirt was at the heart of a multi-million dollar garment industry. Still today, the shirt is Hawaii’s number one exported textile.
In 1956, the tori richard company was founded, and it is now one of the leading makers of high-quality Hawaiian shirts for men. The shirts are made of cotton printed in Japan and then cut and assembled in Hawaii. Associated with luxury and sophistication, the company sells shirts that can be worn comfortably almost anywhere.