The Hawaiian shirt needs no introduction. We know all too well the garishly printed, slightly oversized shirt that gullible dads or obnoxious male leads in comedy flicks wear to an island holiday scripted to go wrong. And if you’re a maverick in popular culture, you’ll be able to trace back its genesis to Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii period to Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice of attire in Romeo + Juliet in 1996 — going through multiple cycles of cool and uncool.
And decades later, the presence of the bad vacation staple is just as palpable. Peppering the best runways (Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Prada, Gucci, Dries Van Noten and more) and style setters’ wardrobes with a confection of palm fronds, fruits, flowers and seascapes, what unprecedented vigour does the Hawaiian shirt have?
Baz Luhrmann, director of Romeo + Juliet, is partly responsible for establishing the Hawaiian shirt’s icon status by dressing his LA-hailed Montague clan completely in technicolour renditions. In an interview with Opening Ceremony, Luhrmann explained its significance: “The Hawaiian shirt as fashion will wax and wane in its relative cultural coolness at any given moment. But there will always be — if we’re lucky — some lingering symbolic palimpsest of Romeo as that young boy in the Hawaiian shirt, who literally ‘wore’ paradise on his back.”
If back then Luhrmann paved the way to the reemergence of the camp-collared piece by tying it to his ‘90s Romeo interpretation, Hedi Slimane cemented its stardom. After a move to the West Coast during his creative tenure, Slimane fell hard under the spell of LA’s grunge-chic SoCal style. His Spring 2016 collection resurrected and gave a new lease of coolness to the garment.
With Slimane’s stamp of approval, the Hawaiian shirt made its slow but steady climb. Not long after, fellow menswear stalwarts the likes of Miuccia Prada, Dries Van Noten, and then-Gucci creative director Frida Giannini followed suit by subtly slipping it into their seasonal offerings.
Harry Styles and Jared Leto were among the first stylish dudes who caught on the tropical bug — championing the piece at casual outings, music festivals, or even onstage at their own concerts. It was official: The Hawaiian shirt became a symbol of rockstar nonchalance.
The Spring 2018 circuit paid further testament to the fact that the Hawaiian shirt has fully shed its once-cheesy veneer. Demna Gvasalia served acidic statements, including the piece as part of Balenciaga’s dadcore comfort pieces. Kim Jones did a psychedelic take for Louis Vuitton by throwing it on his surfer trooper with wet locks fresh from riding the waves. Miuccia Prada turned it into Prada’s comic book superhero gear with collars duly popped.
Infused with ineffable cred, the Hawaiian shirt is set to make digital cash registers light up for more seasons to come. Adding louche ease and quirkiness to your sartorial routine, why not invest in one or three? Say aloha to fashion’s current de rigueur obsession.
(Main image: Phil Oh; featured image: Imaxtree)