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The Hawaiian Shirt Returns to the Island

Finlay Renwick
·3-min read
Photo credit: Circle Films / Mr Porter
Photo credit: Circle Films / Mr Porter

From Esquire

Over the last five(ish) years, the Hawaiian shirt has gone from humble to haute, becoming the favoured summer canvas for designers to project their most delicate and daring visions. We’ve seen Frankenstein prints at Prada, photos of flowers picked from the designer’s Antwerp garden at Dries van Noten and original paintings by Raymond Pettibon at Dior.

But much like wide leg trousers, avocado green bathrooms and the return of populism in Europe, trends inevitably return to the source, which means that this summer the printed shirt has gone full retro Honolulu, with big, bright, cartoonish flowers and lots of red and yellow the pervading themes. If the last few years have been about the high fashion, avant- garde pursuit of the camp collar, this summer we’re looking at a luxury all-inclusive on the Big Island vision of Aloha style.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

The origin story of the Aloha shirt typically goes like this: in the Twenties, Japanese women living in Hawaii began to use excess kimono fabric to create shirts for men, resulting in a, for the time at least, unusually vibrant piece of menswear that perfectly suited the relaxed atmosphere and dress codes of island living. It soon developed into a ubiquitous totem of Hawaiian tourism, the shirt to wear if you’re a fun guy who likes to have a good time, or at least drink loads of punch and get pathologically sunburnt once a year.

While their aims might be slightly loftier than the pink haoles who descend onto its gentle shores to gorge on crab legs and cocktails, this summer a host of designers have looked to Hawaii for inspiration. When I spoke to him on the phone last April, Casablanca head honcho Charaf Tajer was in Hawaii to both hide out from the coronavirus and dream up his brand’s summer 2021 collection, which references brilliant pink sunsets and palms lilting in the island breeze. At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccerello’s plans to move his runway to a Hawaiian island were scuppered thanks to the pandemic. The clothes, however, borrow heavily from old school holiday-wear, with shell necklaces, hibiscus prints and the shirt of the season (there’s always one), a red, black, pale blue and purple floral unisex piece in silky lyocell that is the ultimate tacky holiday shirt refracted through a luxury Parisian fashion house lens. You can imagine lots of celebrities being photographed in it once the Paparazzi Industrial Complex is back open for business. Another look from the collection sees a flowery shirt worn open under a black shawl collar suit jacket and square aviators. A bit menacing. A bit taking it easy, brah.

Elsewhere, YMC has created everything from a classic Aloha shirt to a matching denim jacket and short set in a fun and gaudy floral print. Ralph Lauren has shirts that are swimming in Americana leisure references: surfing, lounging, snorkelling and more lounging. Even Tom Ford, a designer who typically shies away from overt print in favour of expressing his view of daring through fabrication,, has created a long-sleeve Hawaiian going out shirt that is glamorous and fun and very Seventies. In fact, there's so much kitsch floral in the collection that it's found its way onto backpacks, boxer shorts and a particularly decadent silk robe.

Photo credit: Saint Laurent
Photo credit: Saint Laurent

While it’s hardly the most cutting-edge design in the history of designs, it makes sense that this summer – one that we hope will be markedly different to the last, full of fun and relaxation and holidays and crab leg buffets and getting pathologically burnt by a pool somewhere – is punctuated by an icon of lazy summer dressing.

The Aloha shirt is back. Here’s hoping we have plenty of opportunities to wear one.

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