Did Hawaii’s Famous Aloha Shirts Really Originate from The Land of the Rising Sun?

  • Most people are aware of what kimono and aloha shirts are and what they look like. However, not many of us may know that there is indeed a connection between them. This may be an “aha” moment for most but yes, the aloha shirt has its roots from the Japanese kimono!

    Aloha shirts

    The Aloha shirt is a style of dress shirt which is also known as the Hawaiian shirt. It is characterized by bright colors and typically features floral patterns or generic Polynesian patterns. Aloha shirts are worn by men and women as casual, informal wear. The shirts are usually collared, short-sleeved, buttoned and have left chest pockets sewn on.

    Kimono garment

    On the other hand, the kimono is a traditional Japanese garment which is T-shaped. Its earliest form was inspired by the traditional Chinese Hanfu clothing which refers to the historical garments of the Han Chinese people. Nowadays, the kimono is usually worn by women during festivals or certain formal events. Men may also wear them during weddings, tea ceremonies, or other special occasions.

    Connection between the kimono and aloha shirt

    According to an advertisement by Honolulu Advertiser on the 28th of June 1935, the sales of Aloha Shirt first started at Musashi-ya shoten in Honolulu which was a shop opened by Chōtarō Miyamoto, a Japanese immigrant. Honolulu Advertiser was the largest daily newspaper in Hawaii which ceased publication in 2010.

    After the death of Chōtarō in 1915, the business was taken over by his son, Kōichirō Miyamoto who used Kimono fabrics to sew Aloha shirts sold at the shop.

    19th and 20th centuries

    In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were many Japanese people who migrated to Hawaii in search of better living. Many of them worked at sugar cane plantations and they usually wore palaka, which is an open-necked shirt decorated with a splashed pattern. It was said that the modern aloha shirt was inspired by the design of palaka.

    The kimono brought by the Japanese immigrants were usually only worn during special occasions, perhaps due to its tight-fitting nature and hassle to put on. When the kimono became worn out, the fabric was then used to sew palaka and this unique design inspired Hawaiian locals to create and wear similar shirts.

    Were you surprised by this revelation? I have noticed that the cloth patterns do look a tad similar, but perhaps it’s because I have only recently discovered that there is a connection!

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