The reemergence of the Hawaiian shirt
Jimmy Kemper | Monday, August 22, 2016
From festivals like Lollapalooza to the front offices of major corporations, the Hawaiian shirt has reemerged as a symbol of cool in the world of menswear this summer.
Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirts first emerged on the Hawaiian islands in 1904 through the artful talents of Japanese immigrant Chotaro Miyamoto. Over the years, the shirt has exploded into popularity as casual Fridays developed in the corporate world.
In recent times, however, the Hawaiian shirt has fallen out of style as menswear enthusiasts have put emphasis on professionalism and conformity.
Over the course of the past few years, perceptions of the Hawaiian shirt have changed, and the latest trend in menswear appears to be here to stay. Everyone — from major celebrities like Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber to the EDM bros of the Perry’s stage at Lolla and even your sensible friends on campus — is rocking the tacky top.
Hawaiian shirts have returned in part because they represent a rare opportunity in the world of menswear. These so-bad-they’re-good shirts are adaptable to most environments one may expect to encounter on a daily basis — from the classroom to the night clubs.
The traditionally boxy cut of the Hawaiian shirt is loose enough that it works with every major frame and can be a fundamental part of any man’s long term wardrobe in his transition from college kid to young professional to suburban dad.
Furthermore, Hawaiian shirts benefit from a wide variety of prints. From the subtle, darker pallets, to the loud and bright, the myriad of Hawaiian shirt prints enhances the overall range of style choices.
The Hawaiian shirt should be hailed for more than its versatility though. The shirt’s resurrection is symbolic of a fundamental shift in the way men can approach fashion: a shift from focusing on avoiding doing it wrong (aka cargo shorts) to embracing one’s unique style and sensibilities.
In 2015, psychedelic folk artist and rising style legend Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman of Fleet Foxes) talked to New York Magazine about menswear and the disappointing trends he’s noticed. He derided the rise of “basic-a– dude” clothes and how everyone “just kind of looks like a graphic designer.” Misty elaborated on this point, arguing that menswear is usually more focused on not messing up, “as opposed to emphasizing expression.”
While we may not all aspire to the “Moroccan-slash-pajama vibe” that Tillman rallied for in his New York Magazine interview, Hawaiian shirts definitely fall in line with his mode of thinking since the shirt typically stands out.
As GQ noted this week, standing out isn’t limited to the summer. Hawaiian shirts can be worn well into the fall — before we’re forced to cover up with North Face jackets in the face of the permacloud. For now, they can be your going-out shirt, your game-day shirt and even your post-Feve shirt for class the next day.
So next time you need a wardrobe basic that won’t leave you looking basic, say “aloha” to the classic.