Why is the US Military Such a Big Fan of Hawaiian Shirts?

Military groups ask us to make all kinds of custom apparel for them. But what’s the number one request? Hawaiian shirts

Well, that got us wondering: Why are they such big fans of Hawaiian shirts? 

If that question has ever tickled your brain (or your brain’s feeling ticklish now), we’ve got some insights and even more guesses. Here’s a roundup of 7 potential answers. But tell us what you think!

#1 There’s history there

When it comes to Hawaiian shirts, the folks serving in the military were a bunch of trendsetters. In fact, they were one of the big drivers of the shirt’s popularity on the mainland after WWII. 

When service members returned from their tours in the Pacific, they filled their bags with Hawaiian shirts. And the iconic style found a new home on beaches and at backyard barbecues all over the US. The rest is history.

#2 They’re a bit of sunny comfort when far from home

In 2017, a grassroots campaign called Hawaiian Shirts for Deployed Soldiers started – and it went viral. 

The woman behind the initiative, Gwen Pollard, said it all began when her son’s Hawaiian shirt made the other soldiers chuckle in 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. He asked that she send a few more for him to share. 

So she did. But then they asked for more. So Gwen put out the request to her network, and since then thousands of people replied with thousands of Hawaiian shirts with thank you notes for the soldiers tucked in the folds. 

Maybe it’s something to do with the easygoing optimism the shirts evoke or just that they’re darn comfy. Either way, they were a welcome gift that let so many deployed troops know the folks at home appreciate their service. 

#3 They represent a unique place and time with pride

Whether we’re talking about the original aloha shirts that were essentially wearable postcards from Hawaii, or their modern custom-designed counterparts – Hawaiian shirts have always been about reflecting a unique place. And for military folks who visit a whole world of places as a part of their service, Hawaiian shirts are a memento of those experiences.

One of our customers, Zoar Morales of the Marines Pegasus Squadron says, “Having these custom shirts made for our squadron has allowed our Marines to demonstrate unit pride out in town, on the streets of Honolulu, and on the beaches of Waikiki.”

Candor Threads Hawaiian Shirt 606th Air Control Squadron

606th Air Control Squadron weaving the Leaning Tower of Pisa into their Candor Threads Hawaiian Shirt design

#4 They are a meaningful (and fun) place to put unit insignias

Where you put military marks and unit insignias is a big deal. So they don’t get depicted on any old thing. Hawaiian shirts give military folks the chance to put their insignia on a custom-designed item that looks good on their group and is fun to wear. 

Plus, just like designing the unit insignia itself, designing a custom Hawaiian shirt can be full of meaningful symbols and images for the group. But unlike insignia design, we here at Candor Threads have a lot fewer rules than, say, the Army’s Institute of Heraldry

Pegasus Helicopter Squadron Hawaiian Shirt from Candor Threads

The Marine Pegasus Helicopter Squadron insignia on their Candor Threads Hawaiian shirt

#5 “Casual Luau” is a type of attire you might see on an invitation

The military has a lot of guidelines for what service members wear both on- and off-duty. It’s sort of their thing. 

So it’s no surprise that, if you are graced with an invitation to a military-related event, you will see some pretty direct instructions for the type of attire the occasion calls for. And “casual luau” or “casual island wear” is indeed a category of dress that includes (tasteful) Hawaiian shirts and top-siders. That sounds like our kind of party. 

#6 Hawaiian shirts bring their group together outside their uniforms 

Military uniforms are more than sharp-looking outfits everyone has to wear. For sure, they are about projecting a unified, respectful, and capable image. But they are also meant to create feelings of solidarity and comradery. 

Well, for military folks who want those good feelings of group belonging without donning a service uniform in their civilian lives, custom Hawaiian shirts are the best (and most eye-catching) alternative. Just ask the West Point ‘83 alums who sported their shirts for their class reunion.

people wearing custom West Point Military '83 reunion aloha shirts

“We wore them to an event at night, and the following day to the football game – they were so festive! Great comments all around. People said they Popped! Bottom line they were a great addition to our event.” – Mike Lyons, West Point ’83 reunion

#7 They can share the comradery with other important folks 

If you asked any military service member who was instrumental in shaping their experience in the service, we’d wager a guess that they wouldn’t just point to their fellows in arms. We’d guess that they’d also say their partners, kids, and parents played an important supportive role too (just ask Gwen’s son). 

Hawaiian shirts that are uniquely designed for a military group can be designed for their whole group – including the family that encouraged them and kept them going. This support network may not wear a uniform, but their contributions can get a little recognition through the simple act of getting to wear and share in the kinship of the Hawaiian shirt. 

Zoar Morales says, “Our unit family events are always painted green by Marines and relatives wearing their Pegasus Aloha shirts.” That’s a pretty compelling image Zoar. 

Maybe, in the end, simply bringing together all the people who have shared such a singular experience and visualizing that solidarity with iconic style is why the military is a big fan of Hawaiian shirts. That’s our guess. What’s yours?

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!

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