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The Aloha shirt, often mistakenly called the Hawaiian shirt by non-natives, is a style of dress shirt originating in Hawai'i, a state of the United States. It is currently the premier textile export of the Hawai'i manufacturing industry. Often short-sleeved, Aloha shirts exported to the mainland United States and elsewhere are often brilliantly colored with floral patterns or generic Polynesian motifs and are worn as casual, informal wear.
Aloha shirts manufactured for local Hawai'i residents are often dull in tone, if not uniformly colored or color-coordinated, and are adorned with traditional Hawaiian quilt designs or simple plant patterns in muted, non-flashy colors. Aloha shirts manufactured for local consumption are considered formal wear in business and government.
The shirt's origins are traced back to the early years of the Kingdom of Hawai'i upon the arrival of Congregational and Presbyterian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands. These early Christian settlers from New England imposed strict dress codes on the native Hawaiians and forced many to wear quick-sewn shirts made of various fabrics available to the missionary seamstresses at the time.
Modern Aloha Shirt
The modern Aloha shirt was first manufactured commercially in the early 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods, a store in Waikiki. Chun began sewing brightly colored shirts for tourists out of old kimono fabrics he had leftover in stock. The Honolulu Advertiser newspaper was quick to coin the term Aloha shirt to describe Chun's fashionable creation. Chun trademarked the name. The first advertisement in the Honolulu Advertiser for Chun's Aloha shirt was published on June 28, 1935. Local residents, especially surfers, and tourists descended on Chun's store and bought every shirt he had. Within years, major designer labels sprung up all over Hawai'i and began manufacturing and selling Aloha shirts en masse.
The popularity of the Aloha shirt boomed in the United States after World War II as major celebrities sported the Hawaiian wear. President of the United States Harry Truman wore Aloha shirts regularly during his tenure in the White House and in retirement. John Wayne and Duke Kahanamoku endorsed major designer labels while Bing Crosby, Arthur Godfrey and Johnny Weissmuller entertained while wearing them.
The corresponding Hawaiian wear for women is the muumuu. Like the Aloha shirt, muumuu exports are often brilliantly colored with floral patterns of generic Polynesian motifs designed for casual, informal wear. Muumuu for local Hawai'i residents are more respectful in tone, adorned with traditional Hawaiian quilt designs in muted colors.