Why did this shirt become so popular? The unexpected truth.
The Hawaiian shirt, AKA the Aloha shirt, is popular for many reasons: it’s comfortable, it comes in many colors, is great for many occasions, comes in all prices, shapes, and sizes.
What if I told you that the reason you own it is because of a marketing scheme that originated in the 1930’s?
The history of the Hawaiian shirt and how it relates to Casual Friday
The origins of the Hawaiian / Aloha shirt are disputed, the options are as follows:
- During the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, a Japanese woman in Hawaii used traditional Kimono fabric to make men’s shirts.
- In 1926 a college student made a bespoke shirt for himself out of Kimono fabric. The College and University students loved it and brought it to the mainland.
- Actor John Barrymore walked into a store and asked the tailor to make him a shirt out of Kimono fabric.
Symbolized being on vacation
Whatever the case is, people who came to Hawaii instantly loved the Hawaiian shirt, and brought it to the continental US. It symbolized being on vacation, enjoying the sun, and drinking cocktails that come with umbrellas. Tourism in Hawaii grew and so tourists did what tourists do: bring gifts and souvenirs. The Aloha shirt was a popular useful gift for men, women, and children, who continued to wear it after their vacation.
In 1946 the city and county of Honolulu passed a resolution, allowing workers to wear the Hawaiian shirt at business meetings due to the heat and humidity.
In 1947, Aloha week was created: a festival promoting tourism to Hawaii by promoting manufacturing and celebrating the culture.
Elvis Priestly made the Aloha shirt popular
30 years after it was first manufactured, Elvis Priestly wore it in the movie Blue Hawaii (1961). He made the Hawaiian culture more popular and mainstream, even donning a ukulele and a traditional lei.
During the next few decades, movie stars brought it to the big and small screens.
In 1962 the Hawaiian Fashion Guild started promoting the wearing of Aloha shirts at work, as business attire. The Guild gave free shirts to senators, government representatives and more, in order to promote this.
In 1965, Aloha Friday was invented by Bill Foster, the president of the Hawaiian Fashion Guild, allowing workers to wear Aloha shirts on Fridays. The tradition was imported to the mainland, promoting tourism.
This grew into Casual Friday, where we can go to work wearing casual, comfortable clothes.
To many people, this is why we say “Happy Friday!” and often drink.
So Radasser’s, did you know that this is why you have Hawaiian shirts in your closet? What do you think about the symbol for freedom being nothing more than a marketing scheme for tourists?
Someone once said that knowing more meant you understood that you knew less, well, this would certainly apply since there wasn’t much of a point to the Aloha shirt other than to cater to tourists. But at the same time, take away the knowledge that it created a cultural norm that we still use to this day.