The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘Art of the Aloha Shirt,’ indispensable for collectors

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 24•15

AlohaShirtBookCoverEvery casual guy, it seems, loves aloha shirts from Hawaii, and that includes your WoWasis review staff. They’re not typically all that expensive, and cotton and rayon fabrics hold up well with many wearings (not so, unfortunately, with Tommy Bahama silks — even with mild washing, we’ve found they tend to rip apart by the second year). Everything you’d probably ever want to know about aloha shirts is covered in clothing scholar Linda B. Arthur’s landmark book The Art of the Aloha Shirt (2008, ISBN 1-59700-586-X), co-written by DeSoto Brown.

An extraordinary aloha shirt print

An extraordinary aloha shirt print

The book discusses the entire history of this garment, with information on fabrics (who knew how tricky rayon was, in the early days), printing methods, and distribution and sales minutiae. The illustrations are exceptional, encompassing period photos and advertisements interspersed with color photos of the shirts themselves. Fashion historians will love this book, as it breaks the aloha shirt history down by decade. Much of the graphic material comes from the University of Hawaii’s Historic Costume Collection, where Arthur is a curator. Brown, a wonderful collaborator, has himself authored several books on Hawaiian historical subjects. The scholarship shows.

The large format, 100 page book is endlessly fascinating, especially in describing the crafts of hand-blocking, silk-screening, and roller-blocking. The illustrations are all-encompassing, including examples of Eugene Savage’s menu cover creations for the Matson ship Lurline, which were converted into shirt prints. The prose often leans toward the poetic:

This golden age lasted until about the middle to late 1950s-not really a very long time. In retrospect, when the output of this period is reviewed, the huge number of prints created was astonishing-and how eye-popping some of them were. Glowing, riotous, vibrant; hula dancers, throw-net fishermen, exploding volcanoes, palm trees. Recognizable actual places: Diamond Head, Aloha Tower, Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana Park, Nu’uanu Pali. Actual people: Waikiki beachboys, Hilo Hattie, Hawaiian royalty. All aspects of Hawaiian culture and artifacts: kahili, poi pounders, fishhooks, musical instruments, feather capes. And flowers! Every possible flower: bombax, bird of paradise, angel’s trumpet, night-blooming cereus, lehua, torch ginger, vanda orchids. Occasionally, everything all mixed up: pineapples and grass houses and canoes, coral and fish intermingled with flowers, footprints and crabs.

AsiaPromoBannerArthur and Brown make it a point of saying that there is much misinformation out there in terms of origin of the shirt, and this book aims to correct it. They certainly have the bona fides to make a compelling argument. The book is highly recommended for clothing historians, people interested in Hawaiian culture, and anyone who has at least one Hawaiian aloha shirt in his or her collection. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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