Hello To The Hawaiian Shirt

Prada Hawaiian shirt SS 2014

Prada’s Hawaiian shirt from Spring/Summer 2014

Inside an MRT train on the east-west line, two young guys sharing an iPad Air were looking at Hawaiian shirts on the ASOS website. Their fascination was at odds with their geeky get-up. “Nice, hor,” said one. “Will I look good in this?” he asked, genuinely interested. “No,” said the other, “you’ll look very uncle.” Let’s just ignore the lack of deference for the generation probably over-influenced by Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii. When youngsters seek fashion advice from other youngsters, they get as much help as Lilo got from Stitch (on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, no less!). In a quick, nearly rude reply, a very real, appealing, and practical trend was knocked down.

Let’s just assume that the second guy had not seen the current profusion of shirts with Polynesian flowers or tropical fruits. To him, we owe this intro.

This season’s trend is really led by Prada. Their Hawaiian shirts are classic short-sleeved dress shirts, but the prints are all picture postcard. Prada is never known to do anything so vanilla; their interpretation takes the casualness of old-fashioned aloha shirts down several notches by fashioning them with a dressier collar (instead of a stand-less spread), and rather than repeated patterns of tropical blooms, theirs, such as this (above), is a compelling composition of islanders rowing malias, as if off to a confrontation with an unseen tribe. And those painterly clouds, they’re heavy with art-cred!

Uniqlo tee & shirt SS 2014Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics comprise of shirts and tees

Prada’s Hawaii high is destined to trickle down to the masses. Right on cue is Uniqlo. Taking to collaboration rather than innovation, they paired with 61 year-old Hawaiian shirt maker Iolani Sportswear for a collection of tees, shirts, and shorts that sport the manufacturer’s vintage prints. While Uniqlo’s marketing images are a tad too literal in their interpretation of the current aloha cool (leis on the head? Surely not!), the co-branded separates can be put together to effect the print-on-print look so evident in fashion mags these days.

Hawaiian shirts, also known as aloha shirts, were really souvenir buys American holiday makers to the island brought back home with them in the 1950s. (If you need a parallel, it’s like Singaporean men going to Bangkok for the first time and returning with Singha Beer singlets). The shirts have, in fact, been around since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the Fifties when pop stars—from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra—wore them with such regularity that a trend was spawned. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why some of the young today associate the Hawaiian shirt with avuncular tastes. But the fate of the Hawaiian shirts did change in the spring-summer season of 2000.

Jil Sander, in a departure from her usual solid colours, introduced Hawaiian shirts for both men and women that year. The women’s pieces in barely-there colours teamed with skirts in aloha prints of pastel shades were especially well received. They generated a mad search for vintage Hawaiian shirts, especially those by RJC (Robert J Clancey) who made some for the Japanese market with the fabrics inside out so that they yielded a much softer colouring. It was a make-over for kitsch, and one that brought to the wearer a smile as wide as a tribal Tiki’s.

Prada cotton Hawaiian shirt, SGD1,250,  is available at Prada stores. Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics, SGD 29.90 for shirts and SGD 24.90 for tees, are available at Uniqlo Bugis+

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