Any avid follower of fashion knows that it is a seasonal process; as the seasons change, so does the popularity of different fabrics, textures, patterns and most importantly, colours. With the onslaught of summer here in the UK, us Brits currently have the best opportunity to embrace colour and be a bit more adventurous with our styling. As fellow FashionBeans writer Paul McGregor wrote recently: “Summer is a season where you can really let loose and get creative, using colour to make your appearance bolder and allowing yourself to stand out from the masses and glare of sunshine”. And nothing screams bold colour more than the subject of this article – Hawaiian Shirts – which surprisingly appear to be making an unexpected fashion resurgence.
I am the first to admit that the Hawaiian shirt is an item which will really polarise opinion – they are like the fashion version of marmite – you either love them or hate them. I am guessing that the majority of fashionable guys out there fall into the ‘haters’ category. I must admit, before researching this article, I would not have touched a Hawaiian shirt with a lei-decorated beach-limbo pole, but both high fashion designers and the high street seem to be embracing the trend. Although I am still not an absolute convert, I do think that the classic Hawaiian shirt deserves to be looked at in a new light rather than being solely considered a novelty, tacky item. Is it possible to don a Hawaiian shirt with self-assured confidence without looking like Screech from Saved by the Bell or Timmy Mallet in Wacaday? Or is the Hawaiian shirt still a taboo item that should never leave the tropical beach-based luau and broach our shores?
You might be surprised to learn that the Hawaiian shirt actually has an interesting history. The original Aloha shirt came about in Hawaii during the 1930s when Chinese merchant, Ellery Chun, started creating brightly-coloured patchwork shirts by sewing together off-cuts of old kimono fabrics. But the real revolutionary behind the Hawaiian shirt as we know it today was a textile industrialist, Alfred Shaheen, who began designing and creating loud, vivid, floral shirts for Hawaiian holidaymakers in the 1940s. During the 1950s as air travel became easier and more accessible to the masses, Hawaii became a prime holiday destination for more and more American tourists – and the Hawaiian shirt became a must-have for these tourists who began to take them back to America as a holiday souvenir.
Popularity grew and the individuality of the Hawaiian shirt began to spread throughout America and eventually the rest of the World. Throughout history several well-known, popular characters have shown support for the Hawaiian shirt; from US President Harry S. Truman to Bing Crosby to John Wayne. Even Elvis Presley wore an Alfred Shaheen original for the cover of his 1961 album, ‘Blue Hawaii’. And if it was good enough for Mr. Presley, one of the most iconic and influential celebrities of his time, maybe the average bloke shouldn’t immediately turn his nose up at the idea of vivid floral prints.
Many catwalk shows and collections from S/S 2011 championed the Hawaiian/floral print trend. Jil Sander used over-sized, block print florals in bold reds, blues and oranges pasted onto crisp white shirts and also featured a psychedelic floral print round-neck tee shirt. Topman Design stayed closer to the traditional Hawaiian style we are all familiar with, with granddad-collar shirts featuring cartoon-like drawn flowers in deep burgundies and blues.
Taking the floral concept one step further was Yohji Yamamoto with his collection of head-to-toe floral print suits and tailoring which appeared in more muted colours and were almost tapestry-like in their design. Although Yamamoto’s designs probably aren’t suitable for the day-to-day wearing of the modern man and are a step beyond the classic Hawaiian shirt – the visual impact is undoubtedly impressive.
My favourite collection from S/S 2011 which had its roots firmly and unashamedly in the Hawaiian trend was the collection from D&G. The shirts didn’t just feature traditional Hawaiian hibiscus prints, they also featured full-on Hawaiian scenes; with palm trees, beaches, surfers, sun umbrellas and crashing waves in more muted, pastel shades of green, pink and beige. The collection also included an adventurous floral print blazer and trouser suit, and for the more cautious of you out there, simple checked shirts with Hawaiian print lining peeking out of the rolled-up sleeves.
The fashion press have also had their interest piqued by the new trend for Hawaiian-style prints. The May issue of Attitude magazine featured a double-page spread on Hawaiian shirts with designs from the likes of Paul Smith, YMC and Topman. The article looks at the notion of the Hawaiian shirt as an item of clothing that injects a colourful sense of stylish fun into an outfit and doesn’t take itself too seriously. We all know it’s a pretty kitsch and cheesy garment – but instead of shying away from this, why not embrace it and go with it? Who said fashion always has to be so serious?
Other publications such as Shortlist magazine and FHM Collections have also championed the Hawaiian shirt, whilst Esquire online also published a small feature on the influence of Al Pacino’s character Tony Montana in the 1983 film ‘Scarface’ and his penchant for Hawaiian print shirts.
Also supporting a variation of the trend is Arena Homme Plus which recently featured an article on the trend of ‘florals’ in S/S 2011 men’s fashion. This article cleverly moves away from the term ‘Hawaiian’, which has negative, dated and cheesy connotations to many of us men and replaces this term with the ‘floral print trend’. The floral trend is obviously a concept which clearly has a Hawaiian influence but is more successful in retaining a sense of fashion dignity. Designs by Raf Simons, D&G and Jil Sander were all featured supporting the floral trend [see collections above].
I am sure there are those of you out there who remain unconvinced that the Hawaiian shirt is a credible option for any self-respecting man, but the fact that both high fashion design houses as well as high street stores are picking up on this trend shows that there is a real market for it. Of course I understand that there is a time and place for the Hawaiian shirt – I wouldn’t advise turning up to the city-based office donning a Honolulu special – but being slightly more adventurous in your casual wardrobe and experimenting with a bit of colour and floral print might be something worth considering.
Just remember; if you choose to go Hawaiian, do so sparingly. I would recommend wearing the shirt open with a jersey vest or simple tee underneath and pairing with rolled up chinos – half pineapple cocktail and ukulele optional!
So what do you think?
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