In the world of classic menswear, the Hawaiian shirt is the eccentric outlier. Unapologetically wild and rambunctious, it flies in the face of conservative style with its loose fit, vibrant colours and tropical patterns. It’s arguably the original statement garment – something that can bring a pedestrian look to life with one snap of its floral fingers – and it’s actually a hell of a lot more versatile than you might first assume.
Hawaiian shirts don’t have to be teamed up with board shorts and flip-flops. Sure, you can wear one on the beach while parading around in your trunks, but they can also be teamed up with tailoring to put some spring in a formal outfit’s step, styled smart-casual for summer dates or dressed down with sportier pieces.
Thinking of adding a Hawaiian shirt to your warm-weather wardrobe? We don’t blame you. Keep reading to learn more about this colourful modern classic, including history, what to look for and which brands are best to buy from.
So what exactly makes a shirt ‘Hawaiian’? Well it doesn’t have to be from Hawaii for a start. Also known as ‘Aloha’ shirts, they’re now made all over the world. The thing that unites them is a comfortable fit (never too tight or fitted), shorts sleeves and a colourful all-over print, which is usually floral or tropical in its design.
Nobody can pinpoint the exact moment at which Hawaiian shirts came into existence, but it’s theorised that it could have happened when a Japanese tailor living in Hawaii cut a shirt from kimono cloth. Others suggest the style may have its roots in the Philippines, or possibly Tahiti, where cloth was often printed with colourful images of hibiscus, fruit and other exotic motifs.
People often confuse Hawaiian shirts and camp collar shirts, but these are two different things. A camp collar shirt is identifiable by its flat, open collar. A Hawaiian shirt is identifiable by its colourful all-over print. It may or may not have an open collar, and a camp collar shirt may or may not have an all-over print.
Traditionally, Hawaiian shirts fit loose. This makes them breezy and cooling to wear in hot climates and adds to their laid-back vibe.
That being said, if you’re planning to wear yours tucked in or with tailoring, then it makes sense to go for a slightly more fitted design.
Hawaiian shirts vary a great deal in terms of the colours on display. It’s up to you just how bright you want to go.
If you want to keep things understated (well, as understated as you can be while wearing a floral shirt) stick to two-tone designs and dark florals.
Hawaiian shirts usually feature prints that are tropical in nature. These could be flowers, palm trees or fruit. However, as the style has evolved, Hawaiian shirt prints have become much more diverse.
You can find pretty much anything printed on one these days, but we say as long as it’s bright, summery and fun, it still counts.
Based in Honolulu, Tori Richard has been making clothes out of beautiful printed fabrics for over 60 years. Hawaiian shirts start at around £100 and range from tonal floral prints to stunning large-scale illustrations.
There are hundreds of styles to choose from and they’re all handmade in Hawaii. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
Shop now at Tori Richard
Onia is one of our favourite premium resortwear labels. It has made a name for itself creating upscale, high-quality versions of breezy beach classics like swim shorts, linen pants and summery all-over print shirts.
Most of the brand’s short-sleeve shirts feature a camp collar design with a slightly fitted cut that will suit those looking for something trimmer and more flattering than a traditional baggy Hawaiian shirt.
They start from around £100, and patterns range from tonal and understated to wild and vibrant, but always tasteful.
Shop now at MR PORTER
Portugal is becoming increasingly known as Europe’s premier destination for quality textile manufacture. Case in point: the fantastic shirts they’re churning out at Portuguese Flannel.
The brand makes all sorts of shirting and casualwear, from Oxford button-downs to overshirts, but it also produces some fantastic short-sleeve patterned options that fall firmly within Hawaiian territory.
Again, most printed shirts in the range are camp collars, and there are some fantastic styles to choose from. We’re particularly fond of the more abstract, tie-dye versions.
Shop now at END.
You might know Orlebar Brown as the brand that popularised tailored swim shorts, but the British label has a whole range of stylish beach and casualwear, including Hawaiian-style shirts.
On the whole, you can expect the patterns on offer here to be a bit more subtle and subdued than what you might find elsewhere, but the quality is on point and the fits are flattering.
Shop here if you’re looking for a modern, versatile take on a classic Hawaiian shirt, with a trim fit and tasteful colour palette.
Shop now at MR PORTER
Looking for a luxurious spin on this vacation classic? We’d advise you to take a look at the silk options available from Frescobol Carioca.
The Roberto silk shirt is available in a couple of beachy abstract prints, and the fabric is soft and cooling to keep you looking sharp even in sweltering temperatures.
Shop now at Farfetch
Gitman Bros. is a historic American shirtmaking institution, and the Gitman Vintage line takes inspiration from the brand’s archives to recreate classic styles with contemporary twists.
The label’s short-sleeve shirts are available in some pretty outrageous patterns that change from one season to the next, but always feature eye-catching imagery and bold, vibrant colours.
Shop now at END.
Endless Joy’s unusual designs are inspired by mythology and Balinese culture. These are by no means your run-of-the-mill Hawaiian shirts. They’re striking, dark, often slightly macabre and in contrast to the floweriness of the traditional garment.
That being said, there are still plenty of bright and colourful options if that’s your thing.
Shop now at SSENSE
If you’re after the real deal, Go Barefoot is one of the best brands to buy from. It’s one of the last remaining original and authentic Hawaiian shirt companies, keeping the classic style alive.
With loose fits, classic collars and eye-catching floral prints, these shirts are the real deal, with every garment designed in Hawaii and handmade in California.
Shop now at MR PORTER
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