Hawaiian Shirt Friday: just a day at the end of the week when you can take some liberties with the workplace dress code? Or is it a day when barriers between people are broken, common ground is found, and authentic connections are made?
That may sound like some lofty work for a simple (albeit delightful) article of clothing. But hear us out…
The history of Hawaiian Shirt Friday is all about bringing people together
Hawaiian shirts – or aloha shirts, as they were originally called and as they are still known in Hawaii – were first introduced in the 1930s. And boy, did they have panache.
The bold prints featuring the flora, fauna, and culture of Hawaii had never been used for button-down shirts like these. They immediately found a market for locals and tourists alike.
At first, they were tailor-made on commission or in small batches. But then Ellery Chun had the genius business idea to make ready-to-wear aloha shirts in larger quantities. From there, the shirt’s popularity only grew as Waikiki beach boys, Honolulu businessmen, and mainlanders on vacation all clamored for them. They quickly became a staple of Hawaii’s textile industry.
Then, shortly after Hawaii became a state in 1959, a group that wanted to support the local garment and textile businesses had another big idea. The Hawaiian Fashion Guild proposed Aloha Friday, where all were encouraged to wear aloha shirts in the workplace. It was, you guessed it, a hit.
Over the next several decades, Aloha Fridays made it to the mainland and slowly spread eastward. And a growing group of folks gladly united under the banner of these breezy, floral button-downs.
By the 1990s, it had morphed into “Casual Fridays” for mainlanders – but Hawaiians stuck with the original Aloha intent behind the day. In fact, while the contiguous US continues to wrestle with what “casual” means in the workplace, “aloha attire” is an accepted form of dress for nearly any environment and occasion in Hawaii. If you ask us, Hawaiians still have the right idea.
Hawaiian Shirt Friday is more than a break from business attire, it’s a patch of common ground
There is a lot more going on with Hawaiian shirts than meets the eye. Just consider the many cultural influences that make up its iconic style (as detailed by the fashion journalist and native Hawaiian Alexis Cheung):
- It had a Western-style silhouette (similar to the palaka, a heavy cotton work shirt worn by plantation workers and originally inspired by Western sailor shirts)
- It was cut from Japanese kabe crepe fabric (originally used for women’s kimonos)
- It was made by Japanese and Chinese tailors (who originally immigrated as plantation field workers)
- And it was worn like a Filipino barong tagalog (a beautiful, gossamer dress shirt), always untucked and outside of the pants
The rich, multicultural origins of the shirt created a lovely composite, where the garment became greater than the sum of its parts. What a deep concept behind Hawaiian Shirt Friday, eh?
Or at least a reasonable explanation for why Hawaiian shirts look good on everyone.
And whether they realize it or not, some businesses are taking this concept a step further. Just like the very early days when aloha shirts were made with custom block- and screen-printed fabrics, these organizations are creating their own unique designs for their groups.
These custom Hawaiian shirts are layering new meanings that are specific to their group onto both the garment and the ritual of Hawaiian Shirt Friday. At least one day a week, they get to join together in the simple act of wearing one meaningfully designed and great-looking team shirt.
Hawaiian Shirt Friday brings the Aloha spirit into your office – and your life
Fun fact: Aloha spirit is so important to Hawaiian culture that it is defined in their state constitution. Chapter 5 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes says:
”’Aloha’ means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. ‘Aloha’ is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.”
We don’t know about you, but to us, setting aside one day to channel that spirit is the least we can do in the name of creating real connections with each other.
And no matter what custom designs or unique meanings you apply to your Hawaiin shirt, no matter your job title or your personal identities, there is the constant undercurrent of “aloha” in the Hawaiian shirt you wear.
We think that if we all waded into that current more often, the world might be a better place.
Candor Threads is a custom apparel company that has been connecting groups through wearable comradery for over 38 years. If you would like to learn more about our custom apparel options, contact us today!