From Kimonos to Local Motifs: The Transformation of Hawaiian Shirt Design

The first time visitors to Hawaii in the 1930s started wearing vibrantly-patterned Hawaiian shirt, the fashion spread fast. Celebrities and political leaders were among the ranks as Hawaiian shirts have become a status symbol for the elite.

Some early designers, like John Meigs studied Polynesian tapa cloth, which included Tahiti when they were developing of designs for early Hawaiian shirts. However, the identity of the first shirt maker remains unidentified.


No matter if you prefer floral designs such as beach scene prints or an abstract style It’s what’s in that Aloha shirt that draws you in. It’s a symbol of Hawaii’s distinct culture. This is one of the reasons it’s so adored across the globe.

According to the author Hope Bradley, the Aloha shirt came about through a “weaving together of cultures and styles” that came from five distinct sources. According to her, the shirt was first used as an “daydream of paradise” that was popularized by stars like U.S. Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku Elvis Presley, and Bing Crosby.

Hawaiian Shirt

Following WWII, when many American military personnel returned to Asia and the Pacific They brought Aloha tops for their loved family members. Since then, the shirt was transformed into the icon of fashion it has become today. It’s even been featured in films such as Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. A t-shirt with an Aloha shirt is an ideal way to communicate with fellow travelers around the world, and its meaning serves as a reminder of what’s important in life.


Although the floral patterns consisting of hibiscus, plumeria blossoms, and bird of paradise are the popular designs on Hawaiian shirts, the meaning for these symbols is much beyond their aesthetic appeal. The designs represent delicate beauty, positive energy as well as a connection to the beautiful natural surroundings that are exclusive to Hawaii.

Similar to nature-inspired designs that feature palm trees, waves, and sea creatures represent the kinship between Hawaiians as well as their environment. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt that is decorated by these pictures, one may feel like they’re a part of this breathtaking scenery.

It was in 1920 that Gordon Young wore his mother’s Hawaiian shirt to in the 1920s to University of Washington, igniting popular demand for brightly colored shirts. While designers such as John Meigs drew inspiration from the kimonos as well as Tahitian tapa cloth, they also introduced more Hawaiian-specific motifs into the designs of the tops. This increased local focus fueled its continued appeal of the Hawaiian shirt, and it soon found its way into the clothing of celebs as well as Hollywood elite.


In addition to the vibrant designs and colors, Hawaiian shirts also contain significant symbols. For example, hibiscus flowers symbolize beauty and love. Ohelo berries represent the protection. The symbols of these help us connect with each other, as well as embodying the spirit of Hawaii.

The initial Hawaiian garments were constructed from Asian textiles, including silks from kimono. They also included Oriental patterns. However, in the 1930s they started to introduce the local designs. The change was the first step toward creating one that would represent Hawaiian culture.

Nowadays, many people around the world sport Hawaiian tops to express their gratitude for the Hawaiian islands. Some people do not realize that Hawaiian shirts are a an enduring connection to Hawaiian traditions and heritage.

Despite being incorporated by the boogaloo group, Hawaiian shirt still symbolize an attitude of. The boogaloo movement has been connected to violence in the real world, but those associated with the group say they don’t advocate violent acts. But, a variety of fashion houses have announced that they will not be using Hawaiian shirt designs on their clothes.

Significance for culture

While some may view Hawaiian shirts as kitschy but they are a popular image of the culture. They represent Hawaii’s distinctive territory and people for locals and visitors alike. They also provide an opportunity to express self and self-esteem for many.

While the precise source of the shirt is a matter of debate The first recorded examples was created by Ellery Chun in the year 1936. He used leftover fabric from kimonos to create colorful, short-sleeved tops. They then promoted them under the name of trade “aloha” and an advertisement in the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper.

The popularity of custom hawaiian shirts with logo grew after Hawaii was made officially a US state in 1959. Mainland manufacturers tried to capitalize on the trend of fashion and so they started creating their own versions of the shirt that was inspired by the islands. In the past, a variety of famous people have been seen sporting Hawaiian tops. They include Tom Selleck, Jon Lovitz, Jared Leto, and Bruno Mars. These shirts even have had appearances in films like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, “Raising Arizona” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”.

Back to top