Tuesday Trivia: Thanks, Hawaii, for 'casual Fridays' at work

J. H. Osborne • Sep 25, 2018 at 5:15 PM

This week’s Tuesday Trivia: the Hawaiian roots of “casual Friday” in the American workplace.

The easing of dress codes on Friday, among many American office workers, might seem like a relatively recent development. But it has actually been a trend for several decades, and its roots might surprise you. It all started with those loud, loose-fitting, un-tucked “Hawaiian shirts.”

They’re actually called “aloha shirts” and were originally churned out to be sold to tourists as “walking postcards” well before Hawaii became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959. But a couple of years after that date, manufacturers of the shirts decided the try and get some of the local market. They designed some muted versions and launched a campaign to get local business folks to wear them to work.

• 1929 — Commercial sewing is introduced at the Territorial Trade School, which joins with the University of Hawaii in 1964 and becomes Honolulu Community College in 1966.

• 1935 — Local shirt maker Musa-Shiya uses the term “aloha shirts” in a June 28 advertisement. Tropical prints are popular among tourists, but not locals.

• 1936 — Tailor Ellery Chun trademarks the aloha shirt and begins its mass production. His sister, Ethel Lum, designs motif stamps for fabric, creating a "Hawaiian print." Prints start to appear on mu‘umu‘u, making them more acceptable for everyday wear.

• 1946 — The Honolulu Chamber of Commerce appropriates $1,000 to study aloha shirts and prepare suitable designs for clothing businessmen could wear during the summer months. But after decades of wearing typical business attire brought to the islands by missionaries, many businesses wanted to maintain "proper" suit-and-tie looks no matter how hot it was.

• 1947 — The first Aloha Week commences in October, attracting tourists for cultural activities and celebrations. Aloha wear is donned at the Holokū ball, parade and Makahiki festival.

• The city and county of Honolulu, and later the territorial government, began to allow employees to wear sport shirts from June through October yearly. Aloha shirts were allowed only during Aloha Week each fall.

• By the early to mid-1960s, designers came up with shirts in dignified, subdued designs, and a clothing manufacturers’ group launched a campaign to institute Aloha Friday. The Hawaiian Fashion Guild's "Operation Liberation" delivered two aloha shirts to each member of the state's legislature and asked that government workers be allowed to wear them on Fridays. Some credit Aloha Friday officially becoming a tradition in 1966 when Wilson P. Cannon Jr., president of the Bank of Hawaii, started wearing aloha shirts to the office.

• The aloha shirt is influenced by five ethnic groups, textile scholar Linda Arthur Bradley says. Early shirts were shaped Western-style, primarily made with Japanese fabric, constructed by Chinese tailors and worn outside the pants, a style tip from Filipinos. Hawaiian design elements were introduced in the 1930s.

• Aloha Friday eventually grew to expand into the mainland as casual Friday.

Sources: Unviversity of Hawaii Community Colleges, Honolulu Magazine, www.hawaiihistory.org.