For nearly seventy years, nothing has denoted island living, even if you're just in the backyard, like men's tropical shirts. They can be the first and last word in leisurewear and work equally well for a stylish vintage-loving guy or a modern man kicking it in the sun.
History of Men's Tropical Shirts
The standard Hawaiian shirt, popularized by film stars like John Wayne and Bing Crosby, and later beloved of Magnum PI and surfers everywhere, first came into vogue in the 1930s. The floral patterned short-sleeved shirt, originally made from discarded kimono fabric, were an instant hit with both tourists and Honolulu locals. They were soon made with rayon, so that they could be sold cheaper and in a wider array of colors and tropical patterns. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, they were the only word in men's leisurewear. Worn with linen trousers and a loose jacket, they were perfect for cruises and vacations in hot climates. Popularly worn open at the neck, so that a man could forego a necktie and still look smart. President Truman and Elvis Presley alike were fans of the shirts. They could be found anywhere on the West Coast, so that you didn't have to go to the islands to look like you were enjoying the tropics.
Shopping for Men's Tropical Shirts
Today, with the Internet, choosing a tropical shirt is easier than ever. One good place to start is Maui Shirts. They have a wide variety of rayon and rayon-blend shirts in patterns ranging from the traditional floral to funny, such as beer bottles.
For a better selection of more authentic Hawaiian wear, go to Paradise Clothing Co., which has a nice range for men, women and kids - the whole family can match! They have men's shirts available in cotton, which is great for truly hot climates, as it breathes better than rayon. In addition, if you have a little more money to spend and want to be comfortable and look really good and traditional, they have some silk shirts. Silk is an even better fabric than cotton to wear in hot weather, because it has a higher level of breathability. Conversely, it keeps you warm in cooler weather. It also looks and feels elegant and allows you to be casual during the day and stylish in the evening. Currently, most of the patterned shirts available in silk are not authentic or appropriate for eveningwear, but they have some in plain or textured fabrics that would fit the bill just fine.
Vintage Men's Tropical Shirts
For the hepcat rockabilly guy who likes his threads truly authentic and snazzy, only the true vintage Hawaiian shirt will do. They are out there, but be aware that a fine one can run you as much as four figures. If you are happy to spend that kind of money, do so in person, not over the Internet. That's a shirt you want to touch and try on before you make that sort of investment. While the shirts were cut loosely, you have to remember that bodies have changed, so you're best off going to vintage shops and looking for the shirt that works for you.
If you're very serious about getting a great tropical shirt - or a collection - you should buy the comprehensive book on the subject: The Hawaiian Shirt by H. Thomas Steele. It gives you a ton of information on styles, fabrics and patterns so that you will learn how to distinguish between the real deal and a good fake.
If you want to look vintage but spend less, try Locals Only Hawaii, which makes reproductions of shirts from the 1940s and 1950s. You'll be ready for both the beach and the dance floor in one of those!