Vintage Hawaiian Shirts: A Symbol of Artwork, History, and Ethnic Diversity

Vintage Hawaiian shirts are beautiful symbol of artwork, history, and ethnic diversity. Native Hawaiians, early Westerners, and immigrants from around the world, all contributed to the making of the Aloha shirt, or, Hawaiian shirt, as it’s more commonly known. Vintage Hawaiian shirts are collectible because of the artwork, history, and cultural stories that they tell.

Originally, native Hawaiians wore simple clothing made from barkcloth, which was made by processing the inner bark from the mulberry tree.

In 1798, James Cook and his men brought long sleeved collared shirts, that the natives sought as a valuable possessions and traded for. Eventually, the natives started to make shirts out of barkcloth, which laid the foundation for the Aloha shirt.

In the 1800’s, missionaries arrived, as well as, immigrants from all over the world.

Chinese, were the majority of tailors on the islands and they kept Japanese fabric in stock to make kimonos for the Japanese women and girls.

From the Philippines, men brought barog tagalogs, which, were traditional Filipino shirts that were meant to be worn outside the pants.

In the 1900’s, brightly colored palaka shirts were worn by the plantation workers.

So, the story goes…

In the early 1930’s a group of teenage boys went to a Chinese tailor to have matching shirts made. They picked a brightly colored kabe crepe material, that the tailors commonly used to make kimonos. The bright color of the shirt was also reminiscent of the palakas worn by the plantation workers.

Until the 1930’s, Hawaii was a very formal place and wearing your shirt on the outside of your pants wasn’t common. These shirts, were also styled so the boys could wear them outside the pants, similar to the barog tagalogs of the Filipinos.

And, there you have it, adolescent rebellion, and the first modern Aloha shirts, as we know them today.

A little known fact about vintage Hawaiian shirts is that all of the prints until the middle 30’s were of Asian art and design. That’s because all the shirts were made with fabric brought from Asia. It wasn’t until the Aloha shirt had “caught on,” that people started to make them with designs from the islands.

Today, it’s only fitting that the Hawaiian shirt has come to represent so much more than just vacation and laidback lifestyle. They’re not only beautiful works of art, but have a rich history, and are a great symbol of cultural diversity.