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Trends & Subcultures

02 March 2017

Hawaiian shirts: Why every man needs one in their wardrobe

Hawaiian shirts are making a big fashion comeback in all their tropical glory. Gone are the days of your dad dancing in a brightly patterned Aloha shirt on holiday. No, it's labels like Gucci and Saint Laurent, or style icons like Jared Leto, that are why every man needs a Hawaiian shirt in his wardrobe.

mens hawaiian shirts

Forget the primary colours favoured by Magnum PI, we’re talking moody hues and abstract prints. The men’s Hawaiian shirt trend is surprisingly versatile; layer over a simple white T-shirt, or button it to the top and tuck it in – it looks good whatever your styling preferences. 


The vintage tourist look


In Hawaii, the Aloha shirt is a dress shirt that's worn on formal occasions, with many of the traditional patterns holding a deeper meaning. In the early 50s, the advent of faster air travel meant tourists flocked to the Pacific Islands and the colourful printed shirt became – for a while – the standard tacky souvenir for holidaymakers. However, there was one man who dramatically raised the profile of the men’s Hawaiian shirt trend. Alfred Shaheen came to fame in the mid-50s, offering a high fashion alternative to the in-your-face, synthetic Aloha shirts people were taking back to the States. His artistic prints, clever tailoring and innovative dyes (and possibly Elvis’ 1961 Blue Hawaii album) placed the tropical print shirt in fashion history. 


Today, the prints are more subtle and the wearers younger. There’s been a design overhaul to make this traditional piece work in an urban environment. CEO of cult Swedish brand Our Legacy, Jockum Hallin, told The New York Times: “Our flowers and palm trees are done in a rough graffiti style, and our tropical 'greeting shirt' has more the look of a dark farewell than a warm welcome.” As menswear veers towards the casual, we’re seeing a dark interpretation of Hawaiian shirts for men by some of the most surprising fashion houses. Dries Van Noten and Valentino shirts had a tropical flair throughout 2016, signalling that this trend has staying power. 


Tony, Tarantino and Thompson 


While Elvis showcased his wondrous selection of Hawaiian shirts in the 50s and 60s, it was a couple of decades before they showed up once more on the silver screen. It wasn’t really until 1983 that tropical shirts for men were made cool again by a leading man. Enter: Tony Montana. Extravagant and ostentatious, Al Pacino’s infamous drug baron exhibited his personality through his clothing. His fondness for bright-verging-on-gaudy Aloha shirts echoed his Cuban heritage, but it was also a useful cinematic tool – in the legendary chainsaw scene, his costume consists of eye-watering primary hues, maintaining his position at the centre of everyone's attention frame after frame. 


Not long after Pacino’s turn as the ill-fated drug baron, Tarantino cast Christian Slater as Clarence Worley, star of his darkly comic crime thriller True Romance. A hardcore Elvis fan, Clarence channelled the King’s love of Shaheen’s shirts with eye-catching palm prints in primary hues. From then on, there’s been a slew of famed actors leading the Hawaiian shirts trend for men. We’ve seen notoriously offbeat actors like Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage proudly wearing theirs with a surf-rock attitude, while Johnny Depp borrowed his from Hunter S. Thompson for the biopic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as the young Romeo cemented the Hawaiian shirt into contemporary fashion – his youthful energy, tragic storyline and energetically printed shirts contrasted with the Shakespearean language to create a modern classic. 


Not just dad’s favourite shirt anymore


If you’re still to be convinced why every man needs a Hawaiian shirt in his wardrobe, you need only look to some of the coolest kids on the block who've been showing appreciation for its tropical style. Jared Leto is frequently spotted in a vibrant yet offbeat island design. Having begun his foray into the men’s Hawaiian shirts trend in 2014 at Coachella with a Prada version, he now favours floral print Saint Laurent shirts paired with an oversized Pharrell-style hat. 


For a slick, contemporary style, Hawaiian shirts pair well with skinny jeans and cowboy boots. Think Slimane's sleek ‘new look’ for men with Saint Laurent denim complemented by sharply tailored Alexander McQueen coats.


Alternatively, take inspiration from the latest Beckham – Brooklyn is the epitome of laid-back LA style. His oversized Hawaiians paired with cropped trousers are the perfect example of how to make this look your own. Opt for chinos by Thom Browne or Etro trousers for an offbeat aesthetic. 


Floral, palm or tropical print shirts for men are a growing phenomenon. As menswear embraces a more casual tone, brighter shades and bolder patterns are coming to the forefront. From heritage brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent, to up-and-coming labels like Our Legacy, we’re seeing an upsurge in Island-inspired outfits. And if you’re really still asking yourself why every man needs a Hawaiian shirt in his wardrobe, just think… WWTD? What would Tony do? 

 Why every man needs Hawaiian shirts in his wardrobe 1
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