Home' Scoop : Scoop 50 Summer 2009 Contents When Chinese shopkeepers
stitched together bits of Japanese
kimonos to make colourful shirts
to sell to sun-struck tourists in
the 1930s little did they know they were creating
a clothing icon (or fashion's Frankenstein monster,
depending on your view).
Eighty years after the Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirt
was born in Honolulu (the first ones were adver-
tised for 95 cents) it is either feted or hated and
has fostered countless, mainly inferior, imitations
worldwide. Personally, I love 'em; they're great in
the heat (well, maybe avoid the cheapie polyester
ones) and seem to bring on an instant-I'm-on-
holiday karma (even when you're not).
Hawaii's "Godfather" of the industry, the late
Alfred Shaheen, built his own fabric factory to
create multi-coloured works of art in rayon, silk
and cotton. His creations from the 1940s and 50s,
known as Silkies, are highly sought after by
collectors and can fetch thousands of dollars.
The Aloha shirt's fame spread far beyond
Hawaii once surfers -- and Hollywood -- picked up
on the craze. US President Harry S. Truman, Bing
Crosby and even Al Pacino's crazed coke baron in
Scarface all wore them. The 1954 classic From Here
To Eternity (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster
and Frank Sinatra) is a veritable treasure-trove of
Aloha shirt designs. Elvis Presley took things up
another notch when the classic Blue Hawaii hit
the big screen and who could forget the parade of
frangipani-shirted villains and heroes in classic TV
fare such as Hawaii Five-O and Magnum PI?
Surfers wore them so often their shirts became
sun-bleached -- a look reproduced by Hawaiian
manufacturer Reyn-Spooner, who came up with the
"reverse print" effect to mimic the faded beach-cool
look. Original Hawaiian labels such as Kahala,
Kamehameha, Malihini, Paradise Island and Rai
Nani fetch big bucks (up to $US2500 for some
mint condition examples from the 1950s) in the
vintage clothing market.
But since the Aloha shirt exploded in popu-
larity across the globe, Hawaiian manufacturers
have fought a mainly losing battle to preserve an
authentic slice of their cultural history in the face
of increasing, cheaper, competition from China,
Bali, Korea and Thailand (should they be called
Thaiwaiian?). There's even a roaring trade in --
wait for it -- limited edition Japanese-made replica
Aloha vintage shirts (historypreservation.com).
And if you are taking your first steps into the
colourful world of Aloha-mania, remember the
golden rule... never tuck them in.
For examples of genuine Hawaiian-made Aloha
shirts, check out hawaiianislandsparadise.com.
The epitome of ageless cool or something you
wouldn't be seen dead in? Eighty years after its creation,
the Aloha shirt is still creating waves. text norman burns
perth 08 9364 2030 • 32 Kearns Cres Applecross
broome 08 9192 2514 • 10 Carnarvon St Broome
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