Thomas Magnum was a great, albeit fictional, private investigator. Yet, as brilliant as he was at solving mysteries (and rocking a moustache), even he couldn’t have foreseen how divisive his signature style of shirt was set to become.
The Hawaiian shirt (or Aloha shirt, to use its proper name) has had more resurgences than Tom Selleck has enjoyed Cuban cigars. Since it’s birth in the 30s, it’s dipped in and out of fashion like a brightly coloured yo-yo. But still we keep coming back to it for one simple reason: wearing a Hawaiian shirt is liberating.
Yes, it’s something beer-bellied dads wear at BBQs to camouflage their sweat patches, but it’s so much more than that, too. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt tells the world, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t give a shit what it thinks. It’s the sartorial equivalent of singing along to your headphones in public. A flowery middle finger to the suited-and-booted menswear masses.
On screen it’s been worn by rebels as diverse as Scarface and Ace Ventura. There’s Christian Slater in True Romance, Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing, Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet. Elvis Presley loved them too, of course. The style is not as evergreen or easy to wear as an Oxford shirt, say, but it’s a hell of a lot more memorable.
What Is A Hawaiian Shirt?
A Hawaiian shirt can be loosely defined as any short-sleeved shirt bearing a colourful, usually floral, all-over print. However, there are a few caveats.
First of all, the print should be at least vaguely tropical in some sense. That means a big yes to hibiscus and palm trees, and a resounding no to skulls and flames. Sorry, Givenchy.
The collar is also a dead giveaway. Camp (or Cuban, or revere, or open, or whatever you want to call them) collars are the most common style found on Hawaiian shirts, but classic collars do still count.
As for the cut, traditionally, it should be loose and relaxed. But times have changed and more fitted styles are more widely available now too.
How To Wear A Hawaiian Shirt
For all its cheerful, IDGAF charm, the Hawaiian shirt is a notoriously tricky garment to make work as part of an outfit. But not if you’re a professional stylist. Which is why we tapped up SartoriaLab’s Sarah Gilfillan for some insider tips on how to wear this colourful classic.
Hawaiian Shirt + White Tee
“My favourite look for a Hawaiian shirt is worn loose over a T-shirt,” Gilfillan explains. “To enhance the 1950s style, cinch in some 501s with a battered brown leather belt and wear with turn-ups and old school white plimsolls for a cool summer look.”
This works with jeans or more formal trousers and you can play with proportions by tucking the T-shirt in, and letting the longer-style shirt float over the top.
Hawaiian Shirt + Shorts
It’s difficult to make a shorts-and-T-shirt look stand out in the summer, but one option is to forgo the tee and say aloha to this type of shirt instead.
“A Hawaiian shirt doesn’t have to be retro or grungy,” says Gilfillan. “Go for a crisp elegant look by choosing your shirt in cotton in contrasting colours like white with a navy print and wear with classic navy tailored shorts. Ensure the shirt is a little more fitted and finish with classic white trainers like Common Projects to keep the look crisp and classy.”
Hawaiian Shirt + Trousers
It wasn’t so long ago that a Hawaiian shirt would pair with some neutral chinos and little else. Now, thanks to a wider array of shirts, some with muted patterns and colours, and pattern-clashing streetwear types ripping up the old menswear rule book, almost anything goes in the trouser department.
Hawaiian Shirt + Tailoring
“A Hawaiian shirt is not the obvious choice to wear with tailoring as they seem to be opposites on the smart-casual spectrum,” Says Gilfillan. “However, it can be a great look if you get it right. Here’s how. Bring the smart and casual elements slightly closer together, by choosing a softly tailored linen suit or unstructured cotton suit and echo the relaxed feel by going sockless and wearing with suede loafers.”
The print of the shirt is quite loud enough here so go with tonal or neutral colours.
The Best Brands For Hawaiian Shirts
Coming in at the high end of the high street, Reiss’s sleek, stylish aesthetic has made it the store of choice for many a discerning menswear connoisseur. Known selling high-quality basics, alongside more fashion-forward designs, this British institution comfortably straddles the line between contemporary and classic.
Reiss is no stranger to an eye-catching print either, which are designed in the brand’s London atelier. Aside from that, expect flattering cuts, modern styling and guaranteed compliments.
Ever walked past your local branch of AllSaints and wondered what all those sewing machines are for? Well wonder no more, because it would appear they’ve been stitching together some of the most wearable Hawaiian shirts outside of the Pacific Islands.
On paper, the British chain’s grungy, almost gothic, aesthetic doesn’t lend itself well to cheerful printed shirts. However, in reality, it’s a winning combo. Think dark florals, moody prints and just enough pops of colour to keep things summery.
For a dizzying array of trend-led pieces, casual classics and tweaked tailoring there’s no place better on the high street than the British institution that is Topman.
It may have been your favourite haunt for picking up skinny jeans as a teenager, but that’s no reason to give up on it in adulthood. Take a gander at the selection of Hawaiian shirts on offer and it becomes clear that punchy prints and modern cuts are something the brand knows inside out.
By taking classic American menswear designs and updating them for a modern audience, no-nonsense label J.Crew has brought east-coast preppiness to a global audience.
The brand has become known for its fuss-free wardrobe essentials, but its intricately patterned Hawaiian shirts are anything but basic. With prints ranging from tonal florals, right through to no-holds-barred tropical islands, these bad boys were made with BBQ season in mind.
The undisputed king of fast fashion, Zara has a supply chain that could give Mo Farah a run for his money. Because of this, the Spanish hero is able to keep well ahead of the competition and as a result has been hammering out some tasty Hawaiian shirts for some time.
For the minimalist looking to branch out, there are subtly patterned styles to match. Or, if you’d rather get some heads turning, look for the bright colours and oversized fits instead.
By coupling an appreciation for fit and quality with thrifty production methods, Sweden’s (and everyone else’s) favourite high street retailer has been able to bring razor sharp wardrobe options to men with modest budgets.
The cheery options on offer here feature boxy fits, straight hems and a wide range of grill-friendly prints. All of that coupled with H&M’s signature value for money means that even if you aren’t fully sold on the look, you can afford to experiment.
There are better places than New York City to catch a gnarly wave but that didn’t stop the guys behind Big Apple-based surf-lifestyle brand Saturdays NYC from paying homage to their favourite board sport.
Saturdays is a beach brand straight from the absolute unbeachiest of locations. It may sound bizarre but the unique mix of laid-back styling and city sensibilities has given birth to some of the slickest menswear around. Not least some immaculately-fitting Hawaiian shirts. They may be pricey but dear God they’re nice.
When it comes to American shirting the Gitman Brothers have been honing their skills for longer than most. Since 1930 the Pennsylvania-based label has been carving out a niche as the go-to place for style-savvy men to pick up next-level quality shirts. Some of which are known for coming in some pretty unconventional prints and patterns.
When you take into account the brand’s knack for eye-catching designs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hawaiian shirts on offer are some of the best around. Expect florals, tropical birds and even the occasional unicorn.
Another New York-based brand with a focus on beach lifestyle is Onia. The label is known for its luxury swimwear and airy, laid-back clothing – including a vast selection of breezy, patterned short-sleeves.
Despite the glaring lack of beaches in New York City, Onia has managed to create some of the most seaside-friendly shirts you could hope to find. And with subtle but intricate prints, even more conservative dressers can grab a slice of the floral action.
With a reputation for making luxury wardrobe cornerstones and simple everyday staples, Club Monaco may not seem like the obvious choice when it comes to shopping for a loud, obnoxious shirt.
In fact, it isn’t. The New York brand’s pared-back, tonal prints are much easier on the eye than some of their colourful counterparts, meaning they needn’t be banished to the back of the closet the minute you get back from holiday.
Honolulu’s Tori Richard is a brand with a serious pattern-making pedigree. Known for blending Eastern and Western influences, the heritage label’s eye-catching designs often take many days to conceive.
The results are mesmerising and have seen this small Hawaiian brand become famous the world over for its pioneering use of prints and fabrics. These are Hawaiian shirts in their purest form.
If the mere thought of dropping a month’s rent on a shirt isn’t enough to make you wretch up your dinner then Prada is always going to be a solid choice.
Colourful, Cuban collar shirts have long been a staple item in the luxury Italian label’s summer collections. Yes, the price is utterly ridiculous. But deny it all you want, there’s a small part of you that’s tempted to take out a second mortgage just to get your hands on one.