Elvis Presley can’t help but seem unbelievably cool on the cover of his 1961 album Blue Hawaii. It’s not only his bouffant or half-smirk, or the plumeria lei dangling carelessly from his neck, or the ukelele dwarfed in his huge hands. The garment, a red zinger of a Hawaiian shirt, also known as an aloha shirt, with white tendriled flowers dispersed over a woodblock print, is the culprit.
The Not-So-Cozy History of Hawai’i’s Most Comfortable Shirt – Skull So High All Over Print Hawaiian Shirt
The origins of the world’s chillest shirt style are unclear and widely debated. According to Dale Hope, owner of the Kahala shirt company (“The Original Aloha Shirt since 1936”) and author of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands, no one knows who invented the aloha shirt. However, many people have attempted to claim ownership of the clothing as a claim to fame.
Ellery J. Chun is the first and maybe most notable. According to his obituary in The New York Times from 2000, Chun returned to Hawai’i after graduating from Yale University in 1931 to operate his family’s dry goods shop in Honolulu. Local Japanese teenagers wore rayon shirts, while local Filipino boys wore bright barong shirts.
When the Great Depression arrived, Chun renamed his store King-Smith Clothiers (to appeal to non-Chinese clients) and started selling shirts made from colourful Japanese kimono fabric.
“There was no authentic Hawaiian material in those days,” Chun told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in 1976, “so I bought the most brilliant and gaudy Japanese kimono material, designed the shirts, and had a tailor make a few dozen colourful short-sleeved shirts, which I displayed in the store window with the sign ‘Hawaiian shirts.”
This happened around 1932 or 1933, according to his memory, before he copyrighted the word “Aloha Shirt” in 1937. “As Chun recalled it,” are the key words. On June 28, 1935, Koichiro Miyamoto placed an ad in the Honolulu Advertiser promoting “aloha” shirts elsewhere in downtown Honolulu.
It was the first time the term had been recorded. Miyamoto had been running his late father’s dry goods shop, Musa-Shiya Shoten, for more than a decade, a storefront nearly hidden near the river and the local fish market.
According to an article published in Printer’s Ink in 1922, Miyamoto had been in the shirt-making business since 1920, when he got five years’ worth of English textile orders (that he’d placed annually but were delivered in masse). He eventually discovered that the delay was due to World War I, which was pretty inconvenient.
Miyamoto began advertising custom-cut shirts in local Honolulu newspaper as early as 1922 to get rid of this surplus of fabric. According to Dolores Miyamoto, the tailor’s wife, in the early 1930s, actor John Barrymore walked into the couple’s shop and asked if they could make a bolt of yukata cloth, a lightweight fabric used in some kimonos, into a shirt.
Miyamoto began marketing these yukata shirts as “aloha” shirts in the years that followed. Miyamoto featured his store’s logo in every advertisement: a racist caricature of a smiling Japanese man in a kimono known as Musa-Shiya the shirtmaker.
The conflicting origin stories haven’t gotten any clearer over time. The contrarians came out after a story in the Honolulu Star Bulletin on September 16, 1984, attributed the first commercially made aloha shirt to Chun in 1936. Hawai’i’s first state statistician, Robert C. Schmitt, noted Musa-Shiya Shoten’s advertising history, citing his own research published in the Hawaiian Journal of
History in 1980.
Margaret S. Young also wrote to the Star Bulletin, claiming that she had a different memory of the events. She cited a classmate, Gordon S. Young (no related), who created a pre-aloha shirt out of yukata cloth fashioned by his mother’s tailor in the early 1920s.
Gordon, according to Young, brought a supply of these shirts to the University of Washington in 1926 and caused quite a commotion in the Pacific Northwest.
Of fact, there are numerous different genesis stories. Rube Hauseman claimed to have designed the uniforms for the original Waikiki beach boys, who worked at waterfront beach clubs and taught tourists how to surf and canoe.
Hauseman said he used Musa-Shiya fabric, but he dubbed them “rathskeller shirts,” after a celebrity-studded bar where they all congregated, according to Hope. In 1934, Ti How Ho, the owner of Surfriders Sportswears Manufacturing, claimed to have created and sold his first Hawaiian shirts in his Waikiki retail store.
Regardless of the other assertions, Chun’s name appears to have lingered the longest. Perhaps he was the first, or perhaps he was a businessman with the foresight to seize a patent and control the story.
In any case, the aloha shirt grew in popularity, especially among travellers. According to Linda Arthur, a textile and apparel expert from Washington State University, U.S. servicemen returned to the mainland wearing aloha shirts after WWII. Clothiers devoted just to the aloha shirt began producing them, including Alfred Shaheen, who is frequently credited with turning the shirts into works of art.
Though the early aloha shirts had traditional Japanese themes, designers began to incorporate imagery from Hawai’i in what was known as a “hash print”—a reference to meal created by dumping whatever was left over into a pot: beaches, palm trees, and surfboards. Repeating ribbons of “Aloha” or “Hawaii” were inscribed on the most visible prints. They weren’t particularly elegant, but they were unmistakably on brand.
Shaheen began using genuine artists to design his shirts in the 1950s. He took the designers all across Asia and the Pacific on tours. The result was a collection of exquisite, eye-catching shirts with themes from all across the Pacific. Shaheen went on to design the famous “Tiare Tapa” shirt that Elvis Presley wore on the cover of Blue Hawaii.
Some details about our product – Skull So High All Over Print Hawaiian Shirt
- 100% kate silk casual button-down shirts/soft acceptable regular fit/breathable/good quality/men designer shirts /good choice for summer/men designer shirts hawaiian tees
- Printing technique: dye-sublimation printing
- Washing variations: machine wash cold, only non-chlorine bleach when needed, hang dry, cool iron on reverse side or dry clean
- Time to complete: 3-6 business days
Note: Skull So High All Over Print Hawaiian Shirt
– due to the fact that the size is measured by hand, please allow for a 1-3 cm fluctuation in dimension.
– due to differences in monitors and lighting effects, the actual color of the item may differ somewhat from the visual representation.
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