Hawaiian shirts are now “problematic” symbols of colonialism

April 13, 2021 • 9:15 am

Oy! I wake up this morning to find, thanks to the Guardian, that my beloved Hawaiian shirts—technically, “aloha shirts“—have gotten the stink-eye from the Perpetually Offended. According to the paper—or rather, according to a Princeton academic, clearly empowered to be an arbiter of culture, these colorful shirts, worn by locals (Asians, Native Hawaiians) and immigrant mainlanders alike, are now “problematic.” The article below, which shows eminent people like Bill Murray and Rihanna wearing Hawaiian prints, tells us that we are being colonialists by wearing them.

An excerpt from the article:

The return of the Hawaiian shirt has been celebrated in the style press, as celebrities including Bill Murray, Rihanna and Sophie Turner have been seen to wear them.

But according to Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton [she’s also an associat4e professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware], people should think twice before wearing the garments.

“They are the fashion equivalent of a plantation wedding,” said Anishanslin. “They could be seen as fashionable embodiments of the history of American colonization, imperialism and racism against Hawaii’s indigenous inhabitants. People might want to think twice about whether the look is worth the weight of its associative past.”

Yes, they could been seen that way—if you’re looking hard for reasons to police culture. But the Hawaiians themselves don’t seen them that way. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they were supposedly invented by a Chinese inhabitant of Hawaii, though the origin of this garment is still somewhat of a mystery:

According to some sources, the origin of Aloha shirts can be traced to the 1920s or the early 1930s, when the Honolulu-based dry goods store “Musa-Shiya the Shirtmaker” under the proprietorship of Kōichirō Miyamoto, started making shirts out of colorful Japanese prints. It has also been contended that the Aloha shirt was devised in the early 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of “King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods”, a store in Waikiki. Although this claim has been described as a myth reinforced by repeated telling, Chun may have been the first to mass-produce or to maintain the ready-to-wear in stock to be sold off the shelf.

So in what sense are they the result of “American colonization and imperialism”?  Answer: they’re not. And if native Hawaiians and, in fact, nearly everyone wears them, what harm is being done? Even if there were an “associative past”, which is highly doubtful, the aloha shirt is an object of pleasure, brightening up the islands and bringing more color to an already colorful place. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re wearing an aloha shirt. An island custom is “Aloha Friday,” when many workers, including lawyers and businessmen, wear these shirts instead of more formal attire.

But it gets worse, for the white-supremacist “Boogaloo Boys“, who advocate revolution, have adopted the aloha shirt as an unofficial uniform. The article goes on:

Hawaiian shirts have also been co-opted by the “Boogaloo” movement: white supremacists who advocate war against the federal government.

Not true! While some in the Boogaloo movement are white supremacists, others are allies of people of color, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The unifying aim of the Boogaloos is civil war against the government, not white supremacy. But never mind, for Dr. Anishanslin has a narrative to spin. There’s more.

About five years ago, Hawaiian shirts became part of the “dadcore” trend. Then the “Boogaloo” movement chose to combine them with camouflage trousers, body armour and weapons.

“It might not be an aesthetically pleasing combination but it’s a smart one, in terms of picking out your fellow members of the group in the crowd,” Anishanslin said.

Frankly I don’t give a rat’s patootie about what Anishanslin or any other Pecksniff thinks. I don’t wear my aloha shirts with camo pants, body armor, or weapons, so I’m not worried about accusations of being a proud boy.  I have a pretty big collection of aloha shirts, and intend to keep wearing them. Here’s a bit of my closet:

Anishanslin’s solution: anti-racist aloha shirts. Once again an object of joy is turned into a political statement:

Anishanslin also believes celebrities such as Cara Delevingne and Justin Bieber who have recently worn Hawaiian shirts have a chance to help to reclaim them.

“Why not design Hawaiian shirts that use anti-gun, anti-racist, pro-peace iconography and slogans?” she said. “Why not, perhaps importantly, hire indigenous designers to create them?”

And then they show Justin Bieber, who by wearing a racist Aloha shirt, is being a racist, for, as Ibram Kendi tells us, if you’re not an antiracist, you’re a racist. There is no middle ground:

Isn’t it often the case that the advocates of this kind of cultural fascism are white? Indeed, Anishanslin is clearly a PONC (person of no color):

This fracas about aloha shirts is a prime example of performative wokeness: pretending you’re engaging in helping the downtrodden while actually doing noting to help them—what you’re doing is singling yourself out as particularly moral and perspicacious.  What, exactly, is the harm done when white people wear aloha shirts along with all their other fellow Americans in Hawaii?

h/t: David

57 thoughts on “Hawaiian shirts are now “problematic” symbols of colonialism

  1. Wow, that is one of the crazier stories I have heard this week. It’s like a wedding on a plantation? Such morons. The Hawaiian shirts are an industry over in Hawaii. That is where most of them are made. Industry is far and few between over there so lets kill what industry they have. Some of these people are so sick, I don’t think there is much hope for them.

    1. It’s always the height of arrogance when people like this don’t understand the history they are railing against. They don’t bother to investigate what they are offended about and instead assume they have enough developed skill in manipulating observations to fit their bias (which they think of as theory) that they don’t have to. Ironically, this kind of ignorance, trumpeted through their Dunning-Kruger bugle, is the height of the very thing they despise: white privilege.

      1. ‘It’s always the height of arrogance when people like this don’t understand the history they are railing against.”

        Yeah, but this “academic”/”expert” (how is she an “expert,” as the paper claims?!?) did get an article in The Guardian about how virtuously anti-racist, anti-colonialist, etc. she is, and about her discovery of yet another form of racism, and that is what’s really important. Her standing among her peers just shot up several points. She could be openly panned by 90% of the population and this would still be a huge win for her.

      2. Well said. I remember Aloha Friday when I worked in Hawaii. Everyone wore Hawaiian. We also sold tons of Hawaiian wear in the BX. The styles and colors changed almost ever year and you did not want to get out of date. That is how they sold more just like any other clothing. Ah, the good old days. Even the news people on TV wore Hawaiian.

      3. Did the Hawaiians domesticate cotton (Africa and northern South America)? Did they invent cloth? Did they invent bathing suits? Did they invent jeans and shorts? Did they invent . . . ? And on and on through the Amazon catalog. People have been borrowing since the days of Homo habilis 2,000,000 years ago when some habilian discovered that a sharp stone could open up an animal better than teeth. What a great idea, and, by the time Australopitheans were developing into Homo erectus and leaving Africa, the tool of the era was the hand ax which was very popular. Again, by the time that Homo erectus was evolving into Homo sapiens the tool kit was even more complex. Neanderthals used spears to hunt. What a great idea. And, by thetime Homosapiens made it into the Western Hemisphere stone tools had been developed into spear points which had even more killing power as demonstrated by the extinction of many species not long after they arrived. By 5-600 AD the bow and arrow was the killing tool of choice and made killing other humans far easier so it was adopted almost everywhere from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. Clothing of animal hides was adopted and adapted until Hawaiin shirts (which borrowed scissors, sewing machines, buttons and, would you believe money)? Do they wear clothing which is identical to that which is worn on the mainland? Would you believe that Hawaiians speak English? What about rice from China, wheat from the Middle East, and drink milk from cows – also Middle East? The evolution of Homo sapiens is one of constant borrowing. Look how popular iron is and guns . . . .

    1. I think that’s why it struck a nerve with Jerry. He’d have to go out and buy a new wardrobe.

  2. According to the paper—or rather, according to a Princeton academic…

    Makes you wonder just how much confirmation-bias-searching the reporter had to do before they were able to find someone with the ‘right’ woke perspective on the subject. “Called Hawaiian style expert #1, they don’t agree. Called Hawaiian style expert #2, they don’t agree. Called Hawaiian style expert #n, they don’t agree…hey, look, there’s someone in Princeton who I can use!”

  3. Yes, Tiki culture generally is under attack for cultural appropriation, and god, isn’t it a wonderful mishmash? I don’t like the acronym PONC, can’t we just use NC, as is ‘no class’, as in “I’m going to call you ‘covid pandemic’.” “Why?” “No class.” (By way of “Fat Albert”.)

  4. You are condemned to wear white patent leather shoes, white patent leather belt, red and white checked pants, a white polo shirt, gold chain necklace, pinky ring and perpetually golf, as befits you. No other fashion or activity would be appropriate or allowed. Obviously no one would stereotype your white self. We are all destined to follow our stereotypes. We have returned to the dark ages, we are all born into roles and cannot move. This is why we must see the kulaks killed, the descendants of the landlords shamed and sent to the countryside for reeducation.

  5. Ha! I knew the Aloha shirts were going to be put on the naughty list. I have some others that I think may be added but we will see. I figured Aloha shirts and Classics would be among them. I think dream catchers will also be on the forbidden for the white people list though that may be already the case.

    1. Futons. I’m waiting to be told I can’t have/use a futon.

      Dave Chapelle needs to update his “racial draft” skit, but with items and clothing. “White people, you can keep futons, but you have to take water beds too.” “You got yourself a deal.”

  6. To borrow words from the headline of the linked article, people want to think twice about paying any attention whatsoever to pretty much anything such arrogant dweebs say or write.

  7. This is problematic — to me. I like Hawaiian shirts and own several. Hell, I got married in a Hawaiian shirt (on the deck of a Polynesian restaurant owned by some friends of mine and where I tended bar for a while before law school. The bartenders and waiters there all wore Hawaiian shirts every shift, as did the guys in my wedding party on the blissful day the missus and I plighted our troth to one another).

    I’ve always associated Hawaiian shirts with the rise of so-called “Tiki Culture” in the mid-20th century (of which the Polynesian joint I worked at was a remnant).

    I ain’t givin’ this one up to the Woke or to the asshole Proud Boys without a fight.

    1. Just another quickie. What you did not see much of in Hawaii were suits. I worked in an office and nobody wore suits. It just did not work and it was too hot. You have to go back to the old Hawaii Five O TV show to see suits. Those cops all wore suits and anyone who had been to Hawaii knew that looked really stupid.

  8. You know, every time I talk to a non-white person about garbage like this, they always disagree with it. I train at an MMA gym, so the people I know there are extremely diverse. They always think this crap is absurd.

    It reminds me of all those white people protesting that museum in Boston allowing people to try on kimonos, and of course the museum caved to them and the denigrating press they managed to whip up within days, as the Woke in the press must always side with such protestors. It wasn’t Japanese people who were up in arms about it (though I think maybe a whole two of them joined the protest eventually), but a bunch of white busybodies “speaking on behalf of the oppressed,” as they might say. In fact, the vast majority of Japanese people who were asked about it said they thought it was an honor to share their culture with others, almost as if they thought we’re all part of the human race and should be happy to celebrate each other!

    Maybe it’s time for white people to stop telling others how to feel and speaking for them. But no, that would mean that people like the author of this piece couldn’t get their ever-so-precious virtue points with public performances like this one, and that would not be acceptable.

  9. At a certain point we just have to go on with doing the things we like that are clearly inoffensive, and let the puritans wail away.

    And that feeling you have right now, of “screw this women and people who think like her….”….this is how many people feel about the Left at large.

    Fairly or unfairly, because of things like this, people will start to view the Left as the party of elitist school marms, and Trump v2 will be in offing.

  10. I’ve owned a few of the classic and colorfully loud Hawaiian shirts. But my preference is for the more subdued earth-tone patterns. They kinda look like… well, shirts. Are those considered “problematic”?

    1. If they’re made of cotton, the link to historical slave labour on plantations and modern-day Uyghur slave labour, and the enormous use of water to grow the crops, will get you in trouble. And if they’re made from polyester, then there’s the problem of microfibres in the oceans. Looks like it’s going to have to be nudity from here on – so much for civilisation… It was great while it lasted.

      1. Believe it or not, The Woke are critical of people who grow marijuana indoors, because of all the electricity they use !!!

  11. Nice collection! I live in inland Southern California; the summers are oppressively hot. Aloha shirts and Hawaiian dresses are usually made of silk or rayon, both natural fibers that are washable and cool to wear. My collection of secondhand dresses is composed largely of Hawaiian dresses that women bought when they were on cruises or vacations. They sell them on eBay, at yard sales or estate sales because they never wear them again at home.
    Before my partner died, I used to get him Aloha shirts – fortunately they didn’t have a lot of the baggage that they’ve taken on this past year.
    It bothers me that someone wants to take away my enjoyment of practical and beautiful recycled attire, and other objects of art and furnishings, with accusations of cultural appropriation or colonialism. I can’t think of a single time anyone expressed hostility because of my choice of threads. Even if that happened, I’d hope to have it together enough to push back. Aloha 🙂

    1. usually made of silk or rayon, both natural fibers

      After dissolution in a witch’s brew of alkali and carbon di-sulphide? Or (Lyocell process), dissolution in N-methylmorpholine N-oxide
      That is one of the more … creative ? uses of the word “natural” that I’ve ever seen.
      OK, it’s made of cellulose – after all the chemical processing – but if Rayon is natural, then I’m going to search the forests for an MDF tree trunk growing grafted on an OSB rootstock.

      1. But because cotton, rayon and the dyes used in these shirts are all traditional treasures of Hawaiian indigenous culture, used since time immemorial, it matters little whether they are natural or not – it is cultural appropriation and trauma-inducing exploitation for non-Hawaiians to wear them.

        Hmmm. I see my wife, born in Hong Kong, mother-tongue Cantonese, is wearing European clothing AGAIN! I’d better speak sternly to her.

        1. She Who Must Be Obeyed should add a few other cultural appropriations to even things out.

  12. My work shirts, which I don’t wear lately b/c I don’t go into work, are ALL Hawawian shirts and what can be called lounge shirts. I refuse to budge on this. It’s the hill I will die on.

    But I won’t wear a grass skirt or coconut shell bra, ok?

    1. You’re shunning the Bear Necessities! Baloo will be the next to be cancelled now that you’ve pointed out his “trans”gressions.

  13. Can I nominate “problematic” as the worst word of the 2020s? Every time I see it I cringe, knowing that what follows is bound to be performative.

  14. Membership of the body for professional surfers, the World Surf League, is going to plummet too, presumably.

  15. I accompanied a British Government Minister on an official visit to Malaysia many years ago. The first thing the High Commissioner said when we arrived was: “We’ve got to get you some batik shirts. Your opposite numbers will be terribly offended if you’re not wearing them at tonight’s formal dinner”.

    I’ve still got mine in the wardrobe. Is this now a disgraceful act of cultural appropriation? If so, why? If not, why not?

    By the way, I was alarmed to see that Ms Anishanslin has spent a year rooting around in the Royal Archives at Windsor. Goodness knows what the outcome of that might be.

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t see the entire royal family being cancelled – I can’t imagine she could dig up any dirt we don’t already know about their links to colonialism/patriarchy/etc. Though maybe the crown will pass directly to Queen Meghan, which could be entertaining for us (small “r”!) republicans.

      1. I wouldn’t be worried about what she might have dug up, only about how she might distort and exploit it.

        And, thankfully, there is zero chance of there being a Queen Meghan, outside the wet dreams of the Sussexes’ fanbase, which is some consolation for us (small ‘m’) monarchists.

        1. Maybe when Liz pops her clogs the succession will be decided by a Big Brother-style popular vote on social media to engage the youth with the monarchy, or something? An outcome based on looks, intelligence, the possibility of an “hair apparent”, would all be an improvement…

          1. No need for any of that: we’ve got the next three generations lined up already. Should last us for the rest of the century or so.

          1. Well, for a start she’s made it quite clear that she prefers Hollywood to Holyrood (or Windsor, or Buck House, or…) And Harry’s dished his chances by trotting along after her. Plus, as mentioned above, we’ve got the succession pretty well nailed down already.

  16. Zara Anishanslin’s breathless website is worth inspecting. She is obviously (and admittedly) a frantic exhibitionist. For those who crave attention, the pose of perpetual offense at something—yesterday about pronouns, today about kimonos, tomorrow about Hawaiian shirts—is a handy gimmick. My hunch is that the (generally white) academics who use these gimmicks to gain attention are also compensating for failure or fraudulence in their conventional academic specialties.

  17. Since about a year or so I wear these colourful shirts systematically. We don’t want the Bogaloo Bois to have a monopoly? Now don’t we?
    Sies! It is the woke that are problematic.

  18. Never brought a Hawaiian shirt in my life. Have brought several “completes” for casual wear when I was working in West Africa, which are comparable to your Hawaiians for colour and patterning, but comprise loose trousers and a baggy shirt well-suited to tropical temperatures.
    Am I culturally appropriating them because I don’t wear them in the springtime snowdrifts of Scotland?

  19. It would appear that Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton [she’s also an associat4e professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware] has been successful for doing this sort of thing, and in a competitive environment (the academic elite) she must keep trying to push the envelope to stay ahead of her competitors.

    Or as Jerry says “performative wokeness: pretending you’re engaging in helping the downtrodden while actually doing noting to help them—what you’re doing is singling yourself out as particularly moral and perspicacious.”

  20. I dare say Hawaiian shirts have employed many native Hawaiians in sales and the manufacturing of… we have something you might like come and get it. If anything they (Hawaiians) should market the genuine shirt as a point of difference as to opposed to “fake”

  21. What kind of plant may a white male feature on his shirt?

    I think Biden should wear pants, the upper edge of which are just tangent to the lower limb of his gluteals. Or, as a matter of principle, a skirt? Or, as a compromise, a kilt? Investigative reporters could sleuth about to determine what if any drawers he wore. (Paisley boxers, anyone? Or maybe Distressed Pumpkin bikini briefs?)

  22. Another cultural item that is supposed to be typically Hawaian, and which is undergoing a recent expansion of popularity is the ukulele, which is Hawaiian really only by name. It was originally a variant on the European renaissance guitar as brought around the world especially in South America from the 1500’s onwards mainly by the Portuguese. It arrived in Hawaii in late August, 1879, brought by Madeiran and Capo Verde migrants. There is a newspaper article pinpointing the event and which tells the story with enthusiasm.

    Emulation is one of the greatest compliments. Vive l’echange!

  23. Just wait until they find out that Garycon (a Dungeons & Dragons convention held each year in commemoration of the game’s co-inventor, Gary Gygax) has a “Hawaiian shirt photo” on the Sunday of the con, because they were his preferred clothing.

    These people ruin everything they touch.

  24. That’s quite a collection you’ve got there professor. I only have 3 which I bought in Honolulu many years ago, enjoy AND WILL CONTINUE TO ENJOY wearing in future. I don’t think anybody is going to think of you and I as Boogaloos or White Supremacists. We’re merely good dressers!
    Damn I miss Hawaii – it is what more of America should be like. Aloha!

    David A.
    as in “h/t David”

  25. “the aloha shirt is an object of pleasure,” I suspect that’s the core issue. Someone’s having pleasure? How can we spin this so they feel guilty about it?

  26. Surely that is too modern to be cultural colonialism? It post-dates the colony. Also the shirts are not Hawaiian if not a traditional design…

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