Nothing says casual tropical leisure like a colorful aloha shirt. Ranging from decades-old silk classics to modern rayon renditions, Hawaii’s fashionable aloha wear has gained international fame and spread across the globe, showing up on the beaches of Bali, as well as the most fashionable parties in Paris. When Tom Selleck donned his bright-red jungle bird aloha shirt for the hit TV show Magnum, P.I., the popularity of these shirts gained even greater stimulus around the world.
When visitors come to the Islands, an essential part of going local involves shopping for the perfect aloha wear that fits the individual’s personality, from wildly colorful designs to elegantly understated motifs. Starting in 1966, to commemorate the historical importance of aloha wear, Honolulu’s business community instituted Aloha Fridays, the one day each week that lawyers, bankers and business folks could trade in suits and ties for their favorite aloha wear outfits, including aloha shirts for the men and muumuu for the women.
The precursors to the aloha shirt came to the Islands with the native fashions of immigrants who had come to work on Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations. These included Japanese kimono fabric, barong-style Filipino shirts and silk garments that were traditional in China. In fact, it was the descendant of Chinese immigrants who first registered the name “Aloha” on the short-sleeve shirts that he and his sister were making from leftover kimono material.
Ellery Chun had returned to Hawaii in 1931 after completing his college education on the U.S. mainland. During these early Depression years, Chun worked at his father’s dry goods store, eventually taking over the business. When he and his sister, Ethel Chun Lum, began making their unique shirts, Chun was akamai (smart) enough to register the name in 1936 and soon advertisements for his wares began appearing in the local newspapers. The aloha shirt and aloha wear were off to a popular, long run.