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The Aloha Shirt and Ethnicity in Hawai’i

by Linda B. Arthur

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Hawaii’s aloha shirt features brightly colored textiles; this article presents the design evolution of these textiles used in the aloha shirt for each decade from its origin in the 1930s to 2000. Based on a study of over 1,000 shirts and textiles, this study shows that Hawaiian prints and the aloha shirt developed as a result of contributions from several, ethnic groups in multiethnic Hawai’i where there is no ethnic majority. Throughout the decades of the twentieth century, the Hawaiian prints featured in the aloha shirt provided visual testimony to the importance of ethnicity in Hawai’i. This article posits that in a multiethnic society, ethnic dress can function symbolically as a cultural marker representing inclusivity rather than exclusivity. In Hawai’i, the aloha shirt has become a symbol of a pan-ethnic identity and visualy separates insiders from outsiders. To those who live in Hawai’i, it is a visible symbol of their multiethnic heritage.

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