Known in Hawaii as aloha shirts, the tops became popular in the U.S. following World War II, as servicemen brought them back from Pacific islands and Asia, according to Mark-Evan Blackman, an assistant professor of menswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Then, amid a postwar South Seas island craze and Hawaiian statehood in 1959, "it became the thing [for tourists] to bring home a Hawaiian shirt," Mr. Blackman says.
The shirts got a celebrity boost after Elvis Presley sported one of designer Alfred Shaheen's Hawaiian shirts on the cover of the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack. Mr. Shaheen, who started manufacturing rayon Hawaiian shirts in 1948, is credited as the first mass manufacturer of Hawaiian shirts. The style, adopted by surfers, symbolized a relaxed, beachy lifestyle.
Tourists and suburban dads embraced the trend with gusto—too much gusto for some tastes. The shirts gradually came to be seen as gauche. Pop-culture icons associated with the shirts included Tom Selleck's character on TV's "Magnum P.I." in the '80s, and Kramer on "Seinfeld" in the '90s.
And of course, our own Sisyphus, who may disagree with the “gauche” assessment. Now that Hawaiian shirts are apparently making a comeback-albeit in a more sleek and stylish incarnation-on the fashion runways it will be interesting to see if Sisyphus continues to embrace the look that has come to be associated with him and his beachy lifestyle.
Every few years the “fashion” industry comes to recognize what Elvis, Magnum and I have known all along: Aloha shirts are awesome. If for some reason I am not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I receive complaints that I’ve made the world a little colder.
Rest assured, I am not some hipster who must jump off the bandwagon as soon as my style becomes mainstream.