A lot of the time in vintage fashion, men’s clothes are overlooked. As a longtime wearer of everything vintage, from Van Heusen dress shirts to hippie tunics, I’m pleased to have a chance to change that. I’m Arlo, one half of the Polyverse team, and I’d like to focus on some of the men’s clothing we have in our shop. In the spirit of finally getting some warmer weather around here, let’s take a moment to talk about the Aloha shirt, better known as the Hawaiian shirt.
Hawaiian shirts have gotten a reputation as the classic party apparel, and why not. They’re bright, comfortable, and you’re never going to see one tucked in. There’s a little more to their story, though.
Aloha shirts as we know them started to be produced around the 1930s, and were based on traditional patterns and fabrics that had been popular in the islands for hundreds of years. Modern designers began incorporating these patterns, fusing traditional style and Western sensibilities. Air travel made the islands more accessible, and by the time Hawaii became a state in 1959, Aloha shirts were reaching the height of their popularity. Throw Elvis into the mix, who popularized the islands in films like 1961’s Blue Hawaii, and you’ve got the coolest shirt around! Aloha shirts remained popular throughout the rest of the 20th century, so you’ll see examples from the 1930s to the present. A glance at shirt labels will help you to know when you’ve found a vintage Aloha. I love vintage labels. They’re always the first thing to look at when you’re shopping. So unique, and like the shirts, so colorful.
We’ve got three vintage Hawaiian shirts for sale in our shop right now, and they’re all great. A red shirt by Hukilau is a great example of an Aloha shirt from the 1960s, made for tourists visiting Honolulu. It has the classic look, and a wonderful bright red color that will certainly make you the life of the party. This shirt is 100% cotton – shirts from the 1940s and 1950s tended to be made of early synthetics like Rayon, which helps to tip us off that this one is a slightly later model.
The second Aloha shirt I’d like to feature is slightly more subdued. This one also isn’t a classic Western-style button down shirt – it’s a polo shirt in brown with a light floral print and a chest pocket. This was made by Waltah Clarke, who sold shirts in Hawaii but also exported shirts to the mainland. The style had become so popular that people wanted the spirit of the islands without having to make the trip.
The final shirt I’m going to look at is another 100% cotton Aloha shirt – but this one is by Sears Fashions. You might not associate a traditional American company like Sears with the Aloha print, but the fact that these shirts were produced and reproduced in such large numbers really shows how infatuated the American public was with the Aloha shirt.
In the beginning of this post, I talked about how men’s clothing is sometimes overlooked in vintage fashion. But the Aloha shirt is a men’s vintage style that certainly can’t be ignored. If you like the looks of any of these shirts, stop by our store and pick one up. We’ll add more as we get them, so keep checking back! If you’d like to learn more about Aloha shirts, check out The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands by Dale Hope. Since I’m also a librarian, I feel it’s my duty to remind you to look for it at your local library!