Engineered Garments for several years now has been incorporating Hawaiian fabrics into its collections, my first memory of it being the bark cloth pieces made for the Spring/Summer 09 season. The current season was the jackpot though, if you had any tropical vacations planned this year, and highlights were several shirt designs including popovers, four pocket camp shirts (similar to the Guayabera), and the more traditional button downs. Other designers have since taken notice, and you can now find Hawaiian patterned fabrics in increasingly more collections.

Above – A popover from the current season which has a print fabric that was reversed around when cutting it off from the bolt, giving it a more subdued color palette. Turning the shirt inside out would show its true colors.

Below – A QT vest from last year, which in my case is more ideal for layering.

During my travels down to Hawaii this last spring, I was able to learn a bit about the local shirt and fabric industry and one of the better information resources I have found on its history is “The Art of the Aloha Shirt” by DeSoto Brown and Linda Arthur. Only a hundred pages in length, it does a great job of providing an overview of the industry through its mainstream debut in the 1930’s, fabric production, and the impact of different cultures and WW2.

An example of a shirt made with a Japanese fabric, which was readily available in Hawaii up until WW2. The earliest shirts were made with Japanese silks and cottons, and it was not until the 40’s when rayon would become popular – while it had been developed much earlier, it was too low in quality for printing and could not retain colors. On rayon, the book quotes manufacturer Alfred Shaheen: “[it] was garbage… It was flimsy and inexpensive… they came out with a rayon that was heavier, and it finally held the dyes. Rayon shirts with a smooth finish and Hawaiian prints were only seen after World War II. No one was printing that stuff before the war.”

An ad from 1939 targeting tourists showcasing new fashions made from Hawaiian fabrics.

A picture showing George Brangier, a co-founder of Branfleet (which would later become Kahala Sportswear, a then major supplier of island fashions to the mainland). Branfleet popularized a fabric they trademarked as “Pineapple Tweed”, which was a rough but strong linen, and was used in simple long sleeved shirts adorned with the Hawaiian crest and the motto, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

An ad from Oregon based Jantzen featuring a matching shirt and shorts Cabana set.

A vintage fabric described as a “chop suey” or “hash” pattern which combines many different Hawaiian themed design elements and labels. These were a highlight of the golden age when designers were creating many different styles to meet mainland demand.

The Art of the Aloha Shirt is luckily still in print and readily available through Amazon, though in a newer version with a different cover. The first edition shown above can still be found on ebay for slightly more however.

More reading on Wikipedia:
Aloha Shirts
Bark Cloth
Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono
Alfred Shaheen