Cool update for Hawaiian shirts

NEW YORK • In the years leading up to 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state and pineapples seemed exotic, United States tourists returned to the mainland wearing newly purchased Hawaiian shirts with pride.

In those days, writes Dale Hope in The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands, a US$60 (S$82) hardcover to be published next month by Patagonia, the flowered garments were "bright badges of good fortune, like stamps on a passport".

Although stars such as Elvis Presley (in the 1962 movie Blue Hawaii) and Leonardo DiCaprio (in Romeo And Juliet from 1996) have worn the shirt with a kind of cool confidence, it has become, over the years, a signifier of the style- challenged tourist.

"Often considered humorous, garish or tacky, these shirts were relegated to suburban backyard barbecues with a Hawaiian luau theme," Hope writes in his book.

"As tastes changed, the shirts often ended up in neighbourhood thrift stores."

A Hawaiian shirt by Valentino (above). PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

But designers love a challenge. And, lately, they have tried to repurpose this fashion don't as a luxurious must-have, with surprising results.

"We wanted to do our version of the classic tourist look, but tweak it to make the Hawaiian shirt more interesting," Jockum Hallin, co-founder and chief executive of Swedish label Our Legacy, says about the aloha shirts included in his spring/summer 2016 collection.

"We implemented patterns that are more urban-influenced. Our flowers and palm trees are done in a rough graffiti style and our tropical 'greeting shirt' has more the look of a dark farewell than a warm welcome."

Valentino has come through with a variety of Hawaiian-style shirts with traditional motifs, such as pineapples and flowers, thermally printed on silk and viscose.

Other brands offering their takes on this dubious classic include Sandro, Topman, J. Crew and Comme des Garcons Shirt.

"I am glad a new generation is drawing inspiration from a shirt that has deep roots in Honolulu," Hope says.

Hallin says: "In a hard, cold world, everyone dreams of that endless summer."


• The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands ($86) can be pre-ordered at Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Cool update for Hawaiian shirts'. Print Edition | Subscribe