Patagonia’s history of the world’s most famous souvenir: The ‘Aloha shirt’

Mark Sandvold, a fixture in Hawai'i paddling for years, paddles into a wave at Tongg's wearing a Canoes aloha shirt for a photo shoot. Photo: Darrell Wong

Mark Sandvold, a fixture in Hawai'i paddling for years, paddles into a wave at Tongg's wearing a Canoes aloha shirt for a photo shoot. Photo: Courtesy of Darrell Wong

If you’ve ever visited Hawaii, there’s probably one lurking in the deep, dark depths of your closet: An Aloha shirt.

You know it, you might even love it, but you probably don’t know much about it other than it’s the most enduring and identifiable souvenir ever created. As it turns out, the history of the Aloha shirt is as colorful as its fabrics.

"The Aloha Shirt" offers a full-color history on the world's most colorful garment. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia

“The Aloha Shirt” offers a full-color history on the world’s most colorful garment. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia

Enter “The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Island,” a newly re-released coffee table tome from Patagonia that explores the Aloha shirt’s rise from humble origins in the Great Depression to its starring role in a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and as a symbol of pride among surfers the world over.

The Waikiki beachboys were known for spontaneous beach parties. Chick Daniels cuts loose with his

The Waikiki beachboys, (front row from left) Coconut Willie Cohen, Panama Dave, bass player Mystery Cockett, guitarist Melvin Paoa, Duke Kahanamoku, Kalakaua Aylett and Jimmy Hakuole next to Don the Beachcomber. Photo: Courtesy of the Waikiki Beachboys Collection/Grady Timmons

Author Dale Hope is a second-generation Aloha shirt maker who inherited his parents’ clothing business when the garments were considered a spiritual badge, and later served as creative director of the legendary Kahala label, working closely with Patagonia on its Pataloha label. Throughout the hardcover, full-color book, Hope calls on interviews, archival imagery and personal ephemerae to track the long history of the Aloha shirt to today, as the shirts are experiencing a revival.

Aloha shirt fabrics move through the rope washer. Courtesy of Camille Shaheen Tunberg

Aloha shirt fabrics move through the rope washer. Courtesy of Camille Shaheen Tunberg

New to this edition are added features about the Aloha shirt’s permeation into surf culture, with vintage surf world photography, a chapter on Patagonia’s Pataloha shirt and introduction by legendary surfer Gerry Lopez — not to mention a tribute to surf icon Rell Sunn written by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard.

The book’s re-release coincides with a new Patagonia shirt inspired by Rell and her “aloha” spirit.

California pioneer big-wave surfer and surf industry garmento leader Walter Hoffman at his beachside home taking time for his ukulele. Photo: James Cassimus

California pioneer big-wave surfer and surf industry garment leader Walter Hoffman at his beachside home taking time for his ukulele. Photo: Courtesy of James Cassimus

“What began as a business to produce shirts for the growing tourist trade somewhere along the line morphed into something more,” writes Gerry Lopez in the book’s forward. “Something totally local, a rendering of the ‘Aloha Spirit’ into a garment one could put on and after taking off, would still leave some of that residue of that spirit on the wearer.”

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