Culture

Inventor of Hawaiian Shirt Says Final Aloha

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Alfred Shaheen, the inventor of the "aloha shirt" worn by everyone from returning World War II vets to Elvis Presley to slob frat boys to fictional fruit-drink pitchman and rageaholic "Punchy," has died at the age of 86. His technically and culturally innovative shirts didn't just throw bright colors and shimmering fabrics out into circulation; they were one small but noteworthy contribution to the ongoing and wonderful globalizing and mongrelizing of post-war society and fashion. From The Los Angeles Times obit:

Elvis Presley wore a Shaheen-designed red aloha shirt featured on the album cover for the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack in 1961.

Born into a family established in the textile business, Shaheen maintained high standards by controlling the process from start to finish at the factory he built in Honolulu.

He hired professional artists and silk-screened their designs on silk, rayon and cotton fabrics he imported to Hawaii. Then his seamstresses cut and pieced together garments that were sold at his own shops and other retail outlets in Hawaii or exported to the mainland and around the world.

"He was a genius," Dale Hope, art director for the Honolulu-based Kahala shirt maker and author of "The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands," told The Times. "He knew more about the inner workings of all of the elements of printing, the garment business and wholesaling and retailing and distribution. He was really a bright, sharp and smart man."…

Most of the patterns featured three to five colors that laborers applied to silk screens by hand, saturating the fabric. Artists in the Shaheen studio had more than 1,000 dye colors to choose from, including innovative metallic shades, and they consulted rare books, libraries and museum collections. Sometimes Shaheen sent the designers on field trips to Tahiti and other exotic locales to soak up the culture for future work.

More here.

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  1. Artists in the Shaheen studio had more than 1,000 dye colors to choose from, including innovative metallic shades, and they consulted rare books, libraries and museum collections

    Sounds like they were experimenting in alchemy. Searching for a philosopher’s shirt, mayhaps?

  2. RIP.

    To: All Initech Employees:
    From: Lumbergh, B

    Subject: Change for Friday

    All employees, we are saddened to announce the passing of Mr. Alfred Shaheen. As such, all employees this Friday shall don a Hawaiian shirt. And jeans.

    if you could do that, that would be greeeaaaat.

    super duper. thanks a bunch.

  3. People have given me a few Hawaiian shirts over the years. They are not my style really, but I have noticed that, if I wear one out and about, people treat me differently. They expect less.

  4. I never would have imagined that one guy invented the Hawaiin shirt.

    That’s impressive, to come up with something that becomes so widespread that it seems to be just part of the background.

  5. Shaheen didn’t invent the Hawaiian Shirt, but he certainly made them mainstream.

    A Japanese emigre invented them in the 30s using leftover kimono fabrics sewn into a “western” style shirt for the tourist trade.

  6. “Sometimes Shaheen sent the designers on field trips to Tahiti and other exotic locales to soak up the culture for future work.”

    That sounds like the best job ever.

  7. None of those images of Punchy have him in an Aloha shirt. There’s nothing more fun than thumbing your nose at winter and wearing an Aloha shirt in February.

  8. Is “Aloha Shirt” the “in-the-know” name for a Hawaiian shirt?

  9. They are not my style really, but I have noticed that, if I wear one out and about, people treat me differently. They expect less.

    Magnum pulled it off. Maybe you need a mustache, a Ferrari, and a PI license?

  10. I’ve lived in fear all my life of the day I give up and put on that fateful Hawaiian shirt.

    1 WG 1 DAM
    -2 AGILITY -2 CHARISMA +3 UNEMPLOYMENT

  11. Epi – that and zehn inches

  12. That’s impressive, to come up with something that becomes so widespread that it seems to be just part of the background.

    Like those pioneering trolls on BBS and Prodigy, Shaheen will forever be remembered as a cultural flashpoint.

  13. Wow, RIP dude, RIP. I still have a few of those shirts hanging in my closet!

    Jess
    http://www.web-privacy.pro.tc

  14. VM, highnumber is only five foot five? Is he actually Tom Cruise?

    -2 AGILITY -2 CHARISMA +3 UNEMPLOYMENT

    Charisma bottoms out at 3, dude. It can’t get any lower.

  15. The best quality aloha shirts are still made in Hawaii.
    I wear one to work every day (after wearing a tie for 18 years). My three-year-old daughter picks one out for me from my vast collection every morning. Life is good.
    And I do find that strangers are much more willing to chat when I’m wearing an aloha shirt than back in my tie days.

  16. And anyone who tucks in an aloha shirt should immediately be sacrificed to the volcano goddess (not to be confused with the soccer star)Pele.

  17. Epi-

    I can grow the mustache and fake the license. Can I borrow your Ferrari? I’ll return it with a full tank of gas.

    Thanks a bunch.

  18. “Can I borrow your Ferrari Fiat?

  19. Lowered expectations. Strangers acting friendly. Giving up.

    All from one article of clothing.

    Love it.

  20. I lived in Hawaii in the seventies, and Shaheen’s was a good brand, although not as good as Cane Haul Road and a couple of others. Interesting that Shaheen is considered the originator (although the story about the Japanese immigrant rings a bell for me too).
    I still wear the few good ones I’ve picked up from recent visits there–they make an acceptable alternative to a turtleneck plus jacket, especially in the summer.

  21. “Is ‘Aloha Shirt’ the ‘in-the-know’ name for a Hawaiian shirt?”

    It would be a little weird to sell a shirt in Hawaii called an Hawaiian shirt. That’s like selling french fries in France, canadian bacon in Canada or a danish in Denmark.

  22. I tried to give up my aloha shirts for the winter this year, but got chewed out by an office friend for even making the attempt.
    “The one spot of brightness in this damned Ohio winter,” I think is how she put it.
    And I drive a Saab. But I don’t think that counts.

  23. I’ve lived in fear all my life of the day I give up and put on that fateful Hawaiian shirt.

    1 WG 1 DAM
    -2 AGILITY -2 CHARISMA +3 UNEMPLOYMENT

    fwiw, a nice (e.g. Toni Richard/ Tommy Bahama) Aloha shirt is considered pretty standard business attire out here. They also start at 60 bucks or so apiece.

    (The bums actually tend to wear long sleeved shirts)

  24. My prayers are with the beloved family and friends of Alfred Shaheen. Being an islander myself (Samoan); I’ll remember him best when I sport one of my shirts on a nice hot summer day. To put an island spirit on the world through your aloha shirts was (and still is) quite a legacy to leave behind.

  25. Aloha shirts are great, go with whole laid-back parrothead non-conformist lifestyle. As one who wears suits, ties, french cuffed shirts and shiny shoes most work days, a pair of topsiders, shorts and tacky shirt just fels RIGHT.

    I own about 67 of them, although only about a dozen are “real Hawaiian ” ones.

  26. Aloha! Thank god for the invention of the Hawaiian Shirt. Fridays just wouldn’t be the same without it. My favorites come from Kapo Trading Company

    They have so many to choose from.

    Thanks for the memories!

  27. Mr Sheehan was a great man, and did move mountains for the rest of us. But isn’t Misu Shiya shirtmaker one of the first? And the passage of the ‘aloha’ in ‘aloha shirt’ done by a committee?

  28. We should have a National Hawaiian Shirt Day. We have a National Bean Day but not one for an iconic American garment.

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