Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Dressing with Aloha

RH Dressing with Aloha

We’re rolling up our sleeves and diving into the history of the aloha shirt. Today this iconic fashion staple is recognized and worn around the world and represents a piece of the Hawaiian Islands that can literally be worn on your sleeve. Distinguished by its often brilliantly colored floral patterns, left chest pocket, short sleeves and button-up style, the aloha shirt exudes the warm, charming and welcoming spirit behind the Hawaiian culture.

While no one person or company can be identified as the inventor of the classic aloha shirt, many attribute its initial success to the 1920s and Chinese-Hawaiian businessman Ellery Chun. Chun graduated from Yale with a degree in economics before returning to Honolulu in 1931. Local boys residing in Hawaii during that time commonly wore vibrantly colored shirts known as bayau shirts made of Japanese kimono material. Working in his father’s dry goods store, King-Smith Clothiers, Ellery along with his sister Ethel Chun, began selling a version of these brightly printed short sleeve shirts constructed out of leftover kimono material.

Ellery eventually registered the trademarks, “Aloha Sportswear” and “Aloha Shirt” in 1936 and 1937 respectively. Shortly thereafter, the iconic shirts started being created in mass production. Original Hawaiian prints included designs with palm trees, hula girls and pineapples. The shirts were seen and worn by everyone – Downtown businessmen to Waikiki beach boys and surfers began to pick up on the rapidly emerging fashion trend. These brightly colored classics soon reached Hollywood where celebrities the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley sported them from time to time, contributing to their growing success.

Largely inspired by Japanese culture and design, the aloha shirt is typically worn un-tucked and in the islands is versatile enough to pair with slacks for a business meeting or with jeans to a wedding or first baby luau (first birthday).

In 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild began promoting aloha shirts and clothing for use in the workplace, particularly as business attire. For the sake of comfort, the Senate recommended aloha attire be worn throughout the summer months beginning in May on Lei Day (May 1). In 1966 island businesses began recognizing “Aloha Friday” where personnel were allowed to wear aloha shirts on the last business day of the week a few months out of the year. The “Aloha Friday” trend quickly spread to California and was eventually adopted around the world as “Casual Friday.”

The Roberts Hawaii uniforms consist of aloha shirts based off a central flora theme. These were inspired by the Ahupuaa’s and are a spin off our main branding (also seen on our buses).

A symbol of the culture and heritage of early Hawaii, the aloha shirt today remains an island treasure steeped in history. Some say, the more aloha print you have in your life, the happier you will be. We can’t help but agree.