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The Best Hawaiian Shirts to Buy Right Now

Say aloha to peak vacation drip, courtesy of shirt-makers that are actually from Hawaii.

three hawaiian shirts
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When the sunshine hits, so do warm-weather fits, and no other wardrobe piece says tropical locale quite like the classic Hawaiian shirt. (Well, maybe a pair of linen pants.) Decked out in vivid colors and allover prints, the Hawaiian shirt, or aloha shirt, signifies vacations and weekends alike. But you may not know about its complicated history.

What Is a Hawaiian shirt?

This is a question full of a rich, complex history that, frankly, requires more context than we can provide. But, here we go. The Hawaiian, or aloha shirt, sits at the crossroads of tradition, migration, history, and cultural exchange. It is the direct result of several cultures immigrating to the pacific islands during a late plantation-era Hawaii to work on prosperous sugarcane farms.

Chinese workers came with silk; Japanese with rayon; barong style shirts came from Filipinos; and the United States brought collared shirts. This assortment of cultures birthed the earliest versions of the aloha shirt. No one is sure who the definitive inventor of the Hawaiian shirt is, but there are a few shirt makers we can credit.

Who Invented the Hawaiian Shirt?

First is Kōichirō Miyamoto, a man who ran his father's dry goods shop, Musa-Shiya Shoten, for over 10 years before solely focusing on shirt-making. According to his wife, Dolores Miyamoto, actor John Barrymore visited their shop in the early 1930s and asked if they could use kimono fabric, known as yukata cloth, to make him a shirt. Afterward, Miyamoto started advertising yukata-made tops for his shop, deeming them "aloha" shirts. Miyamoto is typically credited with the first documented use of the term due to an ad that ran in the Honolulu Advertiser on June 28, 1935.

Elsewhere, Ellery J Chun, a Chinese merchant, sold Hawaiian shirts out of his store in Waikiki, King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods. He claims he started selling shirts made out of Japanese rayon, typically used for kimonos, in 1932 or 1933. His idea came after seeing Japanese youth dressed in rayons and local Filipino boys wearing traditional barong shirts. Chun was the first to trademark the term “aloha shirts” in 1936.

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As the years went on, several other shirt makers — like Surfriders Sportswears Manufacturing, Kamehameha, Waikiki Reef, and Branfleet — began offering their Hawaiian shirts made with Japanese patterns and fabrics like rayon and silk. These shirts were made to combat Hawaii's hot, humid conditions — they fit oversized to allow airflow. The garments became popular with locals, vacationers and veterans who served in World War II, which came back from the pacific wearing them. By the end of the 1930s, Hawaiian shirts made the city $600,000 annually, historians tallied.

But as the decades went by, so did the number of shirt-makers who claimed they originated the Hawaiian shirt or coined the term “aloha shirt." Aloha patterns were sometimes hand-painted or drawn and derived from imported kimono fabrics. Designs often depicted the rich histories of the creators themselves, illustrating migration experiences of immigrants and the local land of Hawaii — hence why so many Hawaiian shirts vary in iconography. Some may carry Japanese symbols like Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms, others with native Hawaiian icons like orchids and rainbows.

How Do I Know if My Hawaiian Shirt Is Authentic?

If you’re worried about cultural appropriation, understand that the birth of this shirt stems from the practice. Today, the shirts represent an exchange of cultures exported around the globe and commercialized to the masses. You’ll likely encounter floral and all-over print shirts in the style of traditional Hawaiian shirts, but that doesn’t mean it’s authentic or a story told through its imagery.

That said, in 1981, the Department of Agriculture enabled a law requiring all products labeled “Made in Hawaii” to have 51% of their value through manufacturing, assembly and production in the Islands. They later amended this rule to include labels such as “Produced in Hawai‘i” and “Processed in Hawai‘i.” If you’d like to support local producers, look for this tag. It helps the local economy and supports the practice of storytelling via shirt-making.

The Best Hawaiian Shirts

    More Collared Shirts for Men


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          Best Overall Hawaiian Shirt
          Kamehameha Garments Rainbow Isle
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          Loud yet beautiful and classy, this shirt from Kamehameha Garments is the prototypical Hawaiian shirt. Its print is a commissioned painting by Japanese artist Emiko Kuroyanagi from the 1970s, and it fits how you'd expect it: loose and oversized as hell. It's made from rayon to give it a lovely sheen and comes equipped with tropical-themed coconut buttons. And yes, it’s made in Hawaii.

          Best Upgrade Hawaiian Shirt
          Kahala Pilialoha Collector's Edition Shirt
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          The Pilialoha shirt takes inspiration from the large prints of the aloha shirt’s golden era — from the 30s to the 50s — and is made with Japanese rayon that gives it a quality silky texture. It’s got a picturesque scene of a couple canoeing together beneath native flora and palm trees, and it’s also a limited run, so collect this piece pronto. Kahala shirts fit a little more tailored than traditional aloha shirts, so size up if you want that baggy look.

          Best Budget Hawaiian Shirt
          Lavahut Honeymoon Aqua Shirt
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          This bright print proudly shows off the blooming hibiscus of Hawaii. Its aqua hue is eye-catching, and its oversized silhouette gives off the vibe that you’re on vacation and it's too warm out for a tee. Grab this shirt for an affordable, loose piece proudly made in Hawaii.

          Saturdays NYC Summer Bloom Canty SS Shirt
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          Leave it to cool-sleazy surf shop Saturdays NYC to make a lax shirt fit for casual Fridays and weekends alike. This particular shirt looks like an updated version of a dadcore Puritan shirt you’d find at Goodwill, except bold, gorgeous, and, of course, tasteful. It’s made with lyocell, which is lighter and drapes a little better than rayon, and fits boxy for a clean look.

          Reyn Spooner Hikin’ 808
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          This shirt from Reyn Spooner, an aloha shirt authority since the 60s, is a hand-painted island map of sorts, showing off iconography from the island of O'ahu. Sport adventure landmarks like the Koko Head Stairs, Lanikai Pillbox, and Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail, and catch a breeze while doing it. It's made with the brand's proprietary Spooner Kloth, giving it some extra wrinkle resistance, but it has a tailored fit so size up if you want some drape.

          Levi’s ‘The Sunset' Camp Shirt
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          Much like its jeans, denim maker Levi's produces its tasteful tops at affordable prices, and this camp shirt is no exception. It's got a wide-open spread collar to air out your chest, and its collage of sunsets recalls the glory of warm summer days.

          Todd Snyder Short Sleeve Camp Collar Shirt
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          Todd Snyder takes a cue from other Hawaiian shirtmakers and taps into the past for its floral inspiration. A counter to the typical bright and sunny aloha shirts, this one has an interesting mix of fall colors that still leans tropical. It's made with cotton and elastane to provide a bit of stretch, and it's cut large.

          Chubbies The Visual Ferner
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          Chubbies is a king of spring and summer leisurewear and its Visual Ferner shirt fits right in for the heat. This black aloha shirt is decked out in Hawaiian ferns and hibiscus, and it’s made with rayon for extra sheen. Grab this versatile top and match it with a basic pair of chino shorts, or some nice linen bottoms.

          Tori Richards Walking Tall
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          Pay homage to a plant Hawaii shares with many of its immigrant inhabitants: the bamboo plant. Made by Tori Richard, a Honolulu-based shirtmaker for over 60 years, this print depicts watercolor illustrations of the hardy stalk with pops of neon hues. It's made with a blend of silk and lyocell for sheen, drape, and a hint of tradition. Just be wary of the retailer’s slim cut.

          Bonobos Stretch Riviera Short Sleeve Shirt
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          Say aloha to this resort-ready shirt from Bonobos. Floral and bright, this piece is made of cotton and has some added stretch from elastane. Grab it in one of its other seasonal prints. Size up for a relaxed look.

          Avanti Hawaii Hawaiian Maiden
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          Avanti Hawaii is another store that takes inspiration from the golden years of aloha shirts. In a warm, bright red, the back of this piece shirt has an oversized print of a postcard-esque Hawaiian woman surrounded by native plants, while its two chest pockets and collar continue the flower motifs on the front. It's eye-catching, beautiful, bold, and pays homage to some of the earliest designs seen in Hawaiian shirt lore.

          Portuguese Flannel Villa Laura Vacation Shirt
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          This pastel, chalk-like pattern by Guimarães' Portuguese Flannel is a soft kind of loud. Covered in fish scales and ocean motifs, this pink top has a brilliant colorful vibe that’s befitting for the beach. The lyocell fabric also helps create a tasteful drape.

          Classic Fit Floral-Print Camp Shirt
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          Put some prep in your aloha shirt with this floral Polo Ralph Lauren piece. Leaning more tailored than others on this list, it’ll look solid tucked into a pair of slacks or jeans, and still casual with its authentic coconut buttons.

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