So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Art of the Aloha Shirt by DeSoto Brown & Linda Arthur

The Aloha Shirt is what people on the mainland call a Hawaiian Shirt, a bright-patterned, collared, short sleeve shirt meant to be worn untucked. Although today we cannot imagine a world without them, this book delves into the origins of the classic shirt looking for its creator.

But first the authors look into the roots of the Aloha Shirt which are deep in the multicultural society of these islands. Polynesian, Japanese, Filipino and Chinese influences are found in this garment's past. The Hawai'ian fabric industry is the subject of one chapter with the local small businesses importing and producing fabric designs and competing with the larger mainland factories.

The roots of Dress-Down (or Casual) Friday are found in the adoption of the Aloha shirt as acceptable business attire in Hawai'i starting in 1947. Hawaii's Aloha Friday during the summer months spread to the mainland in the 1960s.

While the exact date and creator of the Aloha shirt has not been discovered by the authors, they do point to the decade of the 1930s as the likely time. The first mention of Aloha Shirts they can point to is a 1938 children's book called Hawaiian Holiday.

The Art of the Aloha Shirt is richly illustrated in full color with pictures on every page. Celebrities in Aloha print garments abound. Many of the pictures are ads from shops or magazines. There are also pictures of shirts housed in the Bishop Museum and the University of Hawai'i's Historic Costume Collection (Linda Arthur, one of the authors, is curator of this collection).

The Aloha Shirt becomes a symbol of Hawai'ian culture, something that the diverse population can find unity in. As such, it is much more than a garment. It becomes a cultural symbol that is not based on ethnicity, but on a shared sense of place.


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