Inside Out Hawaiian Shirts

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inside out Aloha shirt and a touristy whale shirt

When you think of a Hawaiian shirt, you probably envision something bold, colorful and fun. It’s the iconic tropical vacation shirt. In Hawaii, however, Aloha shirts are commonly worn as work attire in offices around the state. And because of this, these shirts must look professional enough for the corporate work environment. Would you feel comfortable handing over sensitive tax documents to an accountant in a colorfully loud Hawaiian shirt covered with belly flopping whales?

To serve the needs of the workforce, Aloha shirt manufacturers came up with Hawaiian prints that are more subdued in color and design. Bright high-contrast colors were replaced by muted colors or even tone-on-tone colors (ie dark blue with light blue instead of white). Loud parrots and sunsets were replaced by mellower floral, scenic and abstract designs. These changes alone made many Aloha shirts more appropriate for the professional office environment. But manufacturers went one step further and started making the shirts “inside out”.

The top side of the fabric has strong contrast and colors. The back side (aka reverse side) of the fabric looks faded by comparison.

The top side of the fabric has strong contrast and colors. The back side (aka reverse side) of the fabric looks faded by comparison.

Hawaiian shirt fabric typically has the design printed on one side. The colors on the printed side look just like the designer intended when creating the graphics on computer. But the colors on the underside of the fabric look faded. Making an Aloha shirt “inside out” immediately gives any shirt a more subdued look. Taking an existing print and making the shirts inside out turns out to be a cost-effective way of creating work shirts from existing designs. Manufacturers have the option to make the shirts right side out or inside out, depending on the intended market without the expense of creating two different prints (one regular and one faded). This faded look caught on and has been popular for decades and remains so today.

If you walk into any office in Honolulu, you are almost certain to see someone wearing an inside out Hawaiian shirt. You’ll also see men wearing subdued right side out Aloha shirts. You will almost never see an employee wearing a super loud and glorious “touristy” Hawaiian shirt. As awesome as those shirts are, that’s a different kind of look for a different kind of setting.

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