Collectors Corner: Aloha Hawaiian Shirts

The Aloha shirt seems to be making a comeback. Many claim it never went away in the first place, and any web research will establish that the shirt appears to have made periodic “comebacks” in the past, but a recent observation by David Beckham sporting one in Miami did the fashion statement in the news and on the pages of tabloids and magazines once again.

Mainly known as “Hawaiian shirts” in the Americas, colorful clothing has been around for almost a century. An amalgamation of several cultural influences – the colorful prints of Japanese fabrics, the collar and fabric of a Western shirt, the loose style of Filipino Barong Tagalog – no one knows exactly when the shirts first appeared, though evidence points to the mid to late 1920s or early 1930s, and historians have put forward several possible designers of the garment.

One of them was Kōichirō Miyamoto, owner of the Musa-Shiya blouse shop, who began making the shirts from Japanese textiles.

Another was Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers who is credited with being the first to produce Aloha ready-to-wear shirts and who actually registered the term in 1936.

Tourists to Hawai’i immediately fell in love with the shirts, and it didn’t take long for clothing companies like Kamehameha and Branfleet (now Kahala) to branch out into making their own lines. The patterns, while colorful, were mostly assemblages of stamped images, but this changed with Shaheen’s founding in 1948.

Alfred Shaheen hired artists to create general designs for the shirts, turning them from “hash prints” into art forms. The designs were further enhanced by Shaheen’s development of metallic dyes for embellishment and by the fact that most shirts from the period 1945 to 1955 were made of rayon, which amplified the intensity of the colors.

By the mid-1950s, tourists, servicemen returning from Hawaii, actors and surfers had made the Aloha shirt a national fashion statement. President Harry S. Truman had a collection. In the movie From Here to Eternity, actor Montgomery Clift “died” in one. And teenage idol Elvis Presley wore Shaheen’s “Tiare Tapa” shirt on the cover of his album Blue Hawaii.

Aloha shirts have always been made of different fabrics – rayon, cotton, silk – but the widespread introduction and use of lower quality polyester materials in the 60s and 70s coincided with a decline in the popularity of shirts. However, they never disappeared and have experienced periodic resurgences, thanks to the use of fine cottons and more modern materials and to the attention paid by more recent designers.

Almost any vintage Aloha shirt in good condition can pique the interest of collectors, with many specimens selling for between $ 50 and $ 500, but the most valuable shirts are the rayon specimens produced between 1945 and 1955. And some ‘them ranged from $ 10,000 to $ 15,000. at auction.

Some of the more popular labels include not only the aforementioned Shaheen, Kamehameha, and Kahala, but Hale Hawaii, Catalina, Royal Hawaiian, and Kahanamoku.

Unfortunately, counterfeits abound, so it’s not wise to depend on one label alone. A savvy collector will also consider the intensity of the colors, the pattern, the collar (older pieces had longer collars than more contemporary specimens) and even the number of buttons (older shirts typically had three to five buttons. , while today’s shirts have six).

Do you want to know more about Aloha Hawaiian Shirts? (After all, you never know what you’ll come across at your local thrift store or real estate sale.) Check out the resources below and

Good hunt!


The Aloha shirt: Spirit of the Islands, by Dale Hope

The Art of the Aloha Shirt, by DeSoto Brown and Linda Boynton Arthur

Hawaiian Shirt Designs, by Nancy N. Schiffer

The Hawaiian Shirt: Its Art and History, by H. Thomas Steele


Alfred Shaheen – The Monarch of the Hawaiian Shirt ( – Fascinating read includes history, innovations, museum exhibits, etc.

Best Hawaiian Shirts (Hollywood journalist) – From Amazon to Saint Laurent.

Classic Aloha – Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii (Observer Aloha) – Enjoy the photos.

Hawaiian Style: The Roots of the Aloha Shirt (Weekly collectors) – In-depth description of its evolution.

The history of the Hawaiian shirt (Smithsonian magazine) – Fun reading.

Vintage Hawaiian Shirts (Weekly collectors) – Good introduction to what collectors appreciate.

Michele Alice

Michele Alice

Michele Alice is editor in charge of updating EcommerceBytes. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, sci-fi memorabilia and more!

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