Handmade Memories: Vintage Aloha Shirts on Hawai‘i
A new collection of vintage aloha shirts comes tagged with stories and memories.
If anyone knows aloha shirts, it’s Dale Hope. A longtime surfer, sailor and paddler, former creative director of Kāhala Sportswear, and author of the coffee-table book The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands, Hope has been immersed in the local clothing industry since his parents founded Sun Fashions Hawai‘i in 1953.
Now, Hope is drawing on those years of aloha shirt experience for a limited release of 250 vintage shirts called Hope for Man. These wearable pieces of history—some never worn, others lightly used—come from Hope’s own collection, Hawai‘i and California thrift shops, the Rose Bowl Valentine’s Day swap meet and the closets of friends all over the world. “I put out the word to people, ‘I need the shirts that I gave you,’” Hope says.
The collection showcases 35 years’ worth of Island fashion trends. Collar widths expand and shrink depending on the decade in which the shirt was created, and the 210 different prints include local flowers and fish, a psychedelic paisley whale and a protea wreath originally featured on a 1988 cover of HONOLULU Magazine.
For Hope, the shirts also bring back memories of the friends he met as part of the Tongg’s Gang, the neighborhood surf club of his teenage years, with whom he would collaborate on textile designs as adults. A shirt called “Glass Balls,” for example, a print inspired by the floats from the nets of Japanese fishing boats that used to wash up on Hawai‘i beaches, reminds Hope of taking photos of floats and giving them to his old Tongg’s surfing buddy Nicky Black, “a fantastic illustrator and goofy-foot,” to draw.
Hope says this new collection is all about the personal touch. “I made shirts so that my friends would want to wear them,” he says. In a world where provenance counts, Hope for Man provides a connection back in more ways than one. Hope for Man is being sold at Mu‘uMu‘u Heaven in Kailua, with prices ranging from $80 to $150.
A History of the Aloha Shirt
From Dale Hope’s The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands and his new vintage collection, here are a few key epochs in Bishop Street’s favorite shirt.
1930s–1950s: The Golden Age
Small mom-and-pop Honolulu shirtmakers created the first aloha shirts in rayon, followed by larger-scale manufacturers like Kamehameha and Kāhala.
Cotton reigned, with bold, floral Jams and faded reverse prints.
A revival of silky retro prints in polyester gave way to the resurgence of new but classic designs in cotton, linen and silk blends.