As you might have guessed, Hawaiian shirts (or Aloha shirts, as some people like to call 'em) originated on the isolated volcanic archipelago known as Hawaii. Mental eh?
From what we can gather, back in the late 19th century most men on these islands were wearing light, open-collared checked work-shirts known as Palaka shirts (that looked a bit like gingham shirts).
These breezy un-tucked shirts were already a fair bit more laid back then the sort of stuff most people were wearing around this time, but by the 1920s the islanders wanted to push things a bit further. The answer? Chopping up their wives’ patterned kimono fabric and making shirts out of that.
This was a pretty low-key operation, as most shirts were sewn for personal use, but it didn’t take long for these wild patterned things to catch the eyes of wandering tourists. By the 1930s a bit of a cottage industry had emerged making custom shirts for passers-by, and soon shops starting popping up selling off-the-shelf shirts.
Whilst the actual originator of this sort of shirt has long been disputed and occasionally argued over, it’s been accepted by garment historians (these people exist) that the first man to use the terms ‘Hawaiian shirt’ and ‘Aloha shirt’ was Ellery Chung — a Japanese fabric merchant who sold patterned shirts by the bucket load from his shop in Waikiki.
Around this time new patterns also came along, replacing the traditional Japanese kimono designs with more relevant things like surfers and coconut trees.
This article is already loads longer then it was meant to be, so we’ll keep the last bit brief… cheaper air travel in the 1950s made these shirts easier to get, and due to their visual appeal they ended up in loads of films and stuff.
Here’s some photos of people wearing them. Anyone who wants to know more should maybe look at this book from Patagonia.