I don't know how the world works but I do know that there is a book called 'The Tipping Point' and an ex advertising executive tried to explain to me how certain things build a latent momentum in society and at a certain point it tips and goes into being a full scale trend or fad. Why did I create a Hawaiian polka dot six months ago ? I told myself that it was because I had fondly recalled souvenirs we brought back for my grandmother from a family trip as a child to Hawaii . But perhaps there was a latency developing in me from things I had seen on Instaspam or Selfbook. I don't really know.
But onwards I went with my silk design and I knew most people would think it was a crazy idea - the only person who believed in me was a contact at an English silk mill who thought it was super-hot.
Fast forward to about one month ago and I was seated with two old friends I hadn't seen in some time and I explained my business and stretched out my turnover so I looked like I was financially doing better than I really was, and perhaps I exaggerated how much my customers adore my products, but hey, we all need a little bit of bullshit to help things along in life.
My friend stopped me as I walked him through my new silks - "wow" he said, "that reminds me of Double Rainbouu Hawaiian shirts". And, as is usual, I put my cell phone down, he picked up his, and we switched looking at screens. And boy was I excited. Colour flooded my screen and I was totally obsessed from the get go. Wow, wow, and more wow.
Sadly, the website didn't have a phone number and because I couldn't get any size information I managed to forget the name of the business, but the concept ignited my interest in Hawaiian shirts. I was in the process of getting back samples of my Hawaiian polka dot as a t-shirt but I was salivating over the thought of wearing a proper Hawaiian shirt around town. Why? Because I was bloody sick of the Sydney heat and terrible sweat I had the moment I put on a shirt. And I was sick and tired of t-shirts. I was upset that as nation we hadn't worked out a national costume for the summer months - we ought to have been in Balinese sarongs or walking around with G-bangers a la the Indigenous Australian population we usurped this land from. In fact, as I finished the book the other night "The Coat Route" by Meg Lukens Noonan (a fantastic read by the way), there was reference in a chapter of her book as to why Australians had adopted clothes that didn't fit with the climate. As one historian wrote, commenting on Australian menswear, it was a symbol of our wish to enter modernity that we adopted, contrary to the first Australian settlers, more dark and sombre tones to emulate the British and many of the lighter colours and fabrics that had first been worn by early colonial Australians were done away with.
The Hawaiian shirt resembles a nice bridge between the clothes of Europeans and that of those who might live in the Asia Pacific Rim. The history of the Hawaiian shirt is in fact Asian if we're honest. It wasn't a Polynesian invention at all. The first Hawaiian shirts were made from Japanese yuzen kimono silks and were originally sold through "Musashi-ya", which had been established by Japanese immigrant Chōtarō Miyamoto, who opened the store in 1904. His son then took over the business and slowly the Hawaiian shirt evolved into something more familiar that we know today, with a spurt in demand and growth in production when in the 1930s a Chinese merchant named Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods, a store in Waikiki, began moving large volumes, then after the war when ex-servicemen returned to the mainland stints on Hawaii. After the 1950's the garment became more ubiquitous when the cost of flying and the distances that could be flown meant that more people vacationed in Hawaii. It didn't hurt when in the 1960's the local government made it official summer garb or that singers and movie stars like Elvis Presley wore them, or that Harry S Truman wore one (perhaps with some irony given their Japanese origins) on the cover of a Time Magazine edition.
To my mind though the greatest reference point for them remains Magnum PI, the 80's cool cat who drove a red Ferrari and sported a huge brown moustache. His selection of shirts was top notch and to this day he is my pinup reference and perhaps the reason I was wanting to sport a Hawaiian shirt this summer.
In the end, I purchased mine from Double Rainbouu - the brain child of two ex Ksubi creative directors of their denim division, Mike Nolan and Toby Jones. In a nutshell, they take a Warhol pop-art chic design aesthetic and make eye-popping and playfully sexy garments with the core product being Hawaiian shirts.
And whilst I don't think Hawaiian shirts should be our national garb - because of course they are Hawaiian (or Aloha shirts) - I do think they are a closer fit to what our nation needs for a summer ensemble, more than polo tops, more than t-shirts. We need something for our summers that is light, protects against the sun and vibrant in colour. Because, let's face it, we're not living in rainy Britain and it's 2017.
|Double Rainbouu - a remake on the classic Hawaiian shirt|
|Elvis Presley in a Hawaiian shirt for Blue Hawaii|
|80's heartthrob Tom Selleck in one of his signature Hawaiian shirts.|
Watch a video on the traditional making of yuzen silk in a workroom in Kyoto. Kimono silk was the original use in the making of Hawaiian shirts.