By: Thomas Stubbs, Contributor
“It’s Official: The bad vacation shirt is cool again,” proclaimed an article in last March’s issue of GQ Magazine. Author Megan Gustashaw’s shock was evident, and understandable. The Aloha Shirt (For that is what they call the garment in Hawaii. You know the old joke about what they call Chinese food in China? Same idea.) had long been consigned to the back of your Grandpa’s closet, a tacky bit of fashion flotsam against whom cool had been granted a permanent restraining order.
But then something weird happened. Some hip young teenyboppers decided that bright colors and tropical patterns were pretty cool, and before you could say “fashion is fickle,” trendy celebrities and unsmiling runway models everywhere were trading their starchy button-downs for the silky soft comfort of the Islands.
I couldn’t have been happier. You see, I had long counted myself among the true believers, we who mourned the Aloha Shirt’s undeserved fall from grace. For years, we looked in vain for a return to the enlightened age of yesteryear, when the thought of floral prints evoked mustachioed private investigators who drove Ferraris and bantered with fussy British Majordomos. It was a beautiful dream, but one that I feared would never come true.
It has, dear readers, it has. The Aloha Shirt is back, and to celebrate, I’ve put together a guide to help you find a good one. There’s many an almost-but-not-quite shirt out there on the market these days, but only those that sport these features are the real deal.
Essential Elements: The Collar and Buttons
A true Aloha Shirt has coconut buttons and a “camp” collar. The buttons are easy enough to spot; if they’re brown in color and organic in texture, you’re good to go.
The camp collar is seldom seen on anything besides Aloha Shirts these days, but it has a long and distinguished history. Favored in tropical climates, the collar is identified by its low profile—it doesn’t stand up against the neck, but lays flat around it—and the way it extends downward to include the shirt front. This creates the appearance of tiny “lapels,” and makes it so that the highest button you could possibly fasten is at least one position lower than that of a shirt with a standard collar. This frees up the neck and allows air to circulate through the shirt much more readily. Heat doesn’t stand a chance.
No buts about this one. If the collar and buttons aren’t right, it’s not an Aloha Shirt. Moving on.
Often Overlooked: Material and Fit
There are three types of fabric from which a true Aloha Shirt is made: cotton, silk, and rayon. All three are equally well-suited to tropical climates and wear well. The question of which material is best for you is purely a matter of personal taste. Cotton is the thickest of the three, making for a heavier but more structured shirt. Silk has a certain sheen that appeals to many. Rayon is the lightest of the fabrics, and the most common. The choice is up to you.
Fit is a tricky thing with Aloha Shirts. They are meant to be somewhat loose so that air can circulate in and out. One of the unfortunate legacies of the “ugly vacation shirt” epoch, however, is that many wanna-be Aloha Shirts are cut like parachutes, and thus aren’t flattering in any way whatsoever. Avoid these like the plague. Try for a shirt that’s just a bit looser than a formal button-down. Put another way: if you can’t bowl, the shirt’s too tight. If the sleeves reach down to your elbows, it’s too loose.
What It’s All About: Choosing the Right Print
An Aloha Shirt’s print is its most distinct and—from an enthusiast’s perspective—most glorious feature. It is what gets the shirt—and you—noticed. Pattern-wise, the sky’s the limit. If you want a shirt depicting Susan B. Anthony fighting a Velociraptor, follow your heart, man. A word of advice, though: be mindful of the shirt’s colors. Do they complement one another? Do they look good on you? The answer to those questions will mean the difference between a novelty item you wear to party once and a lifelong partner in crime (or, in Magnum’s case, crime-solving).
Well, I’m crowding 800 words, which is as long as an article about something like this ever dare be. Best of luck, my friends. Mahalo!