Finding the Perfect Aloha Shirt

There are few things more distinctly Hawaiian than aloha shirts. Japanese dry goods stores in Honolulu fashioned the first aloha wear out of leftover kimonos in the 1930s. Servicemen stationed in Hawaii brought them to the mainland after the Second World War and Elvis made them cool in the 60s. Five decades later and they’re still worn from the beach to the boardroom as a symbol of the islands’ laid-back attitude.

Here are our picks (priced from low to high) for Hawaiian shirt shopping in Honolulu.

ABC Stores

This convenience store chain has an impressive aloha wear section in each of its 37 locations in Honolulu. With virtually everything priced under US$20, you can grab a tube dress in red hibiscus (perfect for a beach cover-up) or a men’s scenic aloha shirt with coconut buttons, even if you don’t plan to wear it off the island.

Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts

Nicolas Cage once dropped more than US$10,000 on six shirts here but you can find one for as low as US$3.99. The small store is crammed with more than 15,000 new, used, vintage and brand name shirts (Tommy Bahamas run for about US$25). Plan on spending at least an hour rummaging through pineapple, guitar and automobile motifs for the perfect one-of-a-kind shirt.

Hilo Hattie

Hawaii’s largest retailer of Hawaiian fashions and gifts has a 80,000 sq.-ft. showroom, located on Nimitz Highway, that will keep the whole family entertained with the Guinness World Record’s largest aloha shirt (size 400 XL), live performances, hula and ukulele lessons and a café with macadamia nut lattes. The keiki won’t even notice you bought them matching bamboo shirts (prices start at about US$18 for children, US$27 for adults).

Tori Richard

All of Tori Richard’s shirts are designed in-house using muted colours, mother of pearl buttons and super soft fabrics like cotton, lawn and silk. Prices start at around US$80 for men and women, making them ideal for business or island weddings. And you’ll be in good company: they’ve designed shirts for Hawaii Five-O, George Clooney in The Descendants and Jimmy Buffett.

Three tips for finding the perfect aloha shirt from David Bailey of Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Wear:

1. Look for made in Hawaii: yes, they’ll be a bit more expensive than shirts made elsewhere but they’ll also be better quality (and authentic!).

2. Pick the right pattern: subtle (like turtles or palm trees) for business, sunset or floral for a classic look and bright alcohol motifs are most popular with young adults.

3. Choose cotton: it breathes best in Hawaii’s humid climate and lasts longer than silk.