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Hawaiian Shirts

Hawaii is a true melting pot of various races which all seem to have merged with very few problems. They are probably one of the earliest and best examples of multi-culturism along with Samoa. People there are mostly tolerant and accepting of other races. Before the early 1800s the islands were populated mainly by the original Hawaiians. Later in that century people were brought in from other countries - China, Portugal, Japan, Korea and The Philippines to work on the plantations. Over the years intermarriage was common and led to the extreme diversity of the "local" inhabitants. The wearing of the Aloha or Hawaiian shirt is "a unifying symbol of the aloha spirit, a major theme in Hawaii representing goodwill within a diverse community" - see the Art of The Aloha Shirt, by Browne & Arthur, from which much of this information is taken. ... read more... read more

The Hawaiian shirt is currently the premier textile export of the Hawaii manufacturing industry. They are also manufactured in many other countries such as China and Indonesia. If they are made to the traditional design they have a left hand breast pocket with the pattern on the shirt remaining continuous over the pocket and the buttons are made from coconut shell.
The traditional Hawaiian clothing designs began on garments made of kapa - fabric made from the bark of the mulberry tree which, with a lot of hard work, eventually becomes a fine soft fabric. There was a wide range of beautiful colours and patterns. This art died out in the late 1800s, well before the first aloha shirts were manufactured. The 'tapa' patterns that can be seen on shirts from the middle of the last century were actually taken from Samoan tapa. It was also made from the mulberry tree bark but very different to that of Hawaii. Samoan tapa was still being made and exported to Hawaii when the making of Hawaiian kapa had long since ceased.

Shirts arrived in Hawaii with the arrival of Westerners - sailors, traders and missionaries and later with American businessmen - and the influence of the many Asian immigrants led to a further development in styles and fabrics. Many of the floral and more brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts were inspired by early Tahitian prints which are still standards today.

In Hawaii aloha shirts are considered formal wear in business and government, usually worn with business trousers, in place of the Western suit. Obviously this is much more suitable for the Hawaiian climate. The subtle (inside out) prints are more often worn by the locals and are often the traditional tapa geometric designs sometimes with hibiscus and turtles. The tourists generally opt for the brighter designs which are also the type more commonly exported to other countries.

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