Hawaiian Clothing and the Tradition of Aloha Friday

by Scott Murakami December 14, 2013

Aloha Friday and Hawaiian ClothingHawaiian shirts were first created way back in the 1930s. In Hawaii, Hawaiian shirts are called "Aloha shirts" by locals and are as much a part of Hawaii's culture as Hawaii's ethnic diversity, cuisine, and lifestyle. Hawaii's warm and humid tropical weather, combine with a casual lifestyle, make the standard business suit impractical for everyday business attire. So in 1947, the local government encouraged people to wear Hawaiian shirts to work during the hot summer months. Over the years, Hawaiian shirts evolved from summer wear to everyday wear. On Fridays in particular, some people used to wear their favorite Hawaiian shirt or Hawaiian dress to work. The term "Aloha Friday" describes this tradition.

The Hawaiian shirts and dresses worn by most of Hawaii's workers are not the stuff you see on TV or in the movies. When most people think of Hawaiian shirts, they envision vacationers relaxing at the beach or partying at a college luau party while consuming some form of alcohol wearing a bright, colorful, loud shirt. While this may be the norm for Hollywood, Hawaii's workers wear subdued colors to work. Perhaps part of the reason is that in Hawaii, people do not associate the Hawaiian shirt with a tropical vacation in Hawaii because they already live in Hawaii and probably see the beach or ocean everyday while driving to work. But that doesn't mean that the Aloha Friday tradition is dead in Hawaii. During lunch hour in Honolulu's business district, Hawaiian bands entertain lunch goers and passersby at Bishop Square. The mixture of Hawaiian music and local cuisine make for a fun and relaxing escape from the confines of corporate offices.

Some Hawaii companies take Aloha Friday to another level by allowing or even sponsoring a "Pau Hana Friday", which is usually the last Friday of the month. On Pau Hana Friday, people may finish work just a little bit early to enjoy pupus (Hawaiian appetizers) like poke, pipikaula, and your beverage of choice, including beer or wine. It is a good way for people to interact with co-workers in non-work situations to build morale and trust (hopefully). In some offices, the musically inclined might even take the opportunity to play the ukulele or guitar to create an almost luau-like atmosphere.

The Aloha Friday equivalent on the mainland is Casual Friday. At some companies, particularly those on the West Coast, if there happens to be a person or two from Hawaii, he/she might wear Aloha wear on that day. It usually starts with one person, then a few office mates or cubicle neighbors might be inspired to wear a Hawaiian shirt. Slowly but surely, the office Casual Friday becomes the office Aloha Friday. Of course, there are some companies that have very loose dress codes and people might wear Hawaiian shirts everyday. Even in highly traditional companies, like those in Japan, are beginning to adopt non-suit dress codes. That is the first step towards Aloha Friday.

The power of wearing a Hawaiian shirt to work, or anywhere for that matter, is quite remarkable. The simple act of putting on a Hawaiian shirt or Hawaiian dress, especially a nice colorful one, is like putting on a different attitude. Suddenly, the person looks happier, feels happier, and can appreciate the fun and simple things in life. This has worked in Hawaii for many decades and we encourage everybody to give it a try.


Scott Murakami
Scott Murakami

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