What Hollywood Has Taught Us about the Hawaiian Shirt

The Hawaiian shirt has suffered something of a PR crisis in recent years. A fashion staple of the Miami beach crowd in the 1980's, it is now more of an ironic piece of anti fashion. This is reflected by its presence on the silver screen as well as off it. During its heyday, it was an intrinsic part of prime time television – so often flaunted by Tom Sellek for his iconic role as Thomas Magnum that it almost deserved its own supporting credit. Likewise, fellow eighties icon Patrick Swayze was known to rock the colourful garment. However, following in the footsteps of the decade's other staples, such as the mullet and Molly Ringwold's film career, the Hawaiian shirt faced a precipitous decline.

It is worth remembering that every item of clothing you see in a film or television show is there on purpose. Costume designers spend months detailing the look of every character, as clothing is an excellent non-verbal way of providing background information about those on screen. Indeed, one of the first rules of film making is 'show, don't tell.' The Hawaiian shirt recently then has become a wardrobe staple of the unhinged and oddballs. Johnny Depp, for example, wears a suitably trippy item for his drug fuelled road trip in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as does James Franco in the biting satire Spring Breakers. By representing the antithesis of the wardrobe of the establishment – namely suits – these characters cement themselves as societal outsiders.

However, all is not lost for the humble Aloha – to give it its true name – shirt. It is beginning to see something of a resurgence. George Clooney was barely seen without one in his acclaimed family drama The Descendants, which was suitably set on the island itself. In the real world too – at least in countries where festival goers aren't limited to waterproofs and wellies – Hollywood favourites such as Jared Leto are leading the campaign to make the Hawaiian shirt cool again.

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