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Article: Did You Know That The Aloha Shirt was...

Everyone has heard of island time, that magical clock setting where life moves slower and weekends start on Fridays after lunch. Across the globe, Hawaiian shirts have become icons of casual wear and a wearable symbol of the leisure life. While they’re staples of weekend and vacation dress codes, Hawaiian shirts are also popular as casual work attire. Ever wondered why these shirts are the ideal office fashion for those who want to dress down at work? You may be surprised to know that the beloved Casual Friday style originated in Hawaii.

How Did It All Begin?

In the 1930s, a Chinese merchant named Ellery Chun began stitching shirts for tourists out of old kimono fabrics. His designs quickly became all the rage, and his stock of printed shirts was snapped up by tourists and surfers alike.

Then, during WWII, the popularity of aloha shirts exploded as GIs brought these printed creations back to the mainland from Hawaii. This mass export of aloha shirts coupled with an influx of vacationers traveling to Hawaii solidified the popularity of these shirts for the mainstream public.

The city of Honolulu began allowing workers to wear casual sports shirts during the summer in favor of the fashionable, but oppressively hot suits of the late 1940s. Not long after their introduction into the workplace, the trend became a unique island custom. In the early 1960s, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild hit on the idea to promote aloha shirts as the new, work-appropriate sports shirts for mainstream business. Worn by both locals and visitors, the colorful, patterned shirt designs were forever cemented into Hawaii’s fashion consciousness.

Operation Liberation

Getting Hawaiian shirts to become accepted business attire was approached in several ways. First, the Hawaiian fashion guild, with the help of visionaries like Reyn McCullough, took the loud and ill-fitting touristic aloha shirts of the 1950s and re-envisioned them with subtler and more sophisticated patterns. With button-down collars and careful details and fabrication, these modernized aloha shirts became known as the “Brooks Brothers of the Pacific” and were rapidly introduced as business-acceptable attire in the tropical climate of Hawaii.

The push to have Hawaiian shirts embraced as business attire was a success. When the Hawaiian Fashion Guild started its Operation Liberation campaign, they distributed two aloha shirts to every member of the Hawaiian Senate and House of Representatives. After several months, the popularity of these shirts within the government sector had risen to such heights that a resolution was passed where it was recommended that aloha attire “be worn in summer months for comfort and to support the 50th state’s garment industry.”

When the resolution passed, it was embraced quickly, and soon it became common practice for employees all over Hawaii to wear aloha shirts on summer Fridays. Encouraged by their success, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild lobbied for an Aloha Friday, when men could wear these shirts to work year-round on Fridays. By 1966 this relaxed Friday mindset was officially dubbed Aloha Friday, and employees were encouraged to wear aloha shirts every Friday.

Aloha Friday to Casual Friday

Eventually the popularity of this trend grew beyond the islands to businesses across the U.S. Californians were the first to embrace this trend, and from the West Coast it spread rapidly across the country and developed into what you know today as Casual Friday.

These days, in Hawaii, aloha shirts are worn in the office every day of the week as regular business attire. Aloha Friday still exists, but it is no longer marked strictly by the sight of many businessmen sporting their Hawaiian shirts. Instead, it is more of a state of mind, a way for Islanders to say TGIF and get ready to slide into the weekend.

Now that you know the origins of Casual Friday, why not bring it back to its roots with an upscale take on the aloha shirt? Reyn Spooner was one of the first to reimagine the traditional aloha shirt and has built a legacy in the fashion industry. The Reyn Spooner line of aloha men’s shirts anchors a broader spectrum of casual wear for the entire family, including a children’s line and accessories for both men and women.

Chinese merchant, Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods

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