is wearing a Hawaiian shirt cultural appropriation?

No definitive answer exists, and opinions on the matter vary greatly. Some believe that Hawaiian shirts can be worn by anyone, regardless of cultural background. Others believe that only those of Hawaiian descent should wear them, as they are a symbol of the culture.

And still others believe that anyone can wear a Hawaiian shirt, but only if done so respectfully and with an understanding of the culture. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide what they believe is appropriate.

history of the “Hawaiian” shirt

The “Hawaiian” shirt is a type of clothing that originated in the islands of Hawaii. It is typically made from brightly colored fabric and features patterns or images that are associated with the Hawaiian culture, such as flowers, surfboards, and palm trees. The shirt is worn by both men and women, although it is more commonly seen on men.

hawaiian shirt
“Hawaiian” shirt

The history of the Hawaiian shirt is unclear, some believe that the first shirts were made in the early 1900s when local Japanese women were able to adapt the kimono fabric for men’s shirts. Another source states that the modern Aloha Hawaiian shirt was created by Ellery Chun, a Chinese merchant in a store in Waikiki. It wasn’t until the 1930s – 1940s that the shirts became popular with tourists.

As mentioned, many believe the Hawaiian shirt was adapted from the Kimono, which is of Japanese background. Others say that it was from a Chinese Merchant. So if someone claims that the Hawaiian shirt is cultural appropriation to the Native Hawaiians, one can provide these counterpoints.

One thing for sure is that the Hawaiian shirts we see today are a result of mass production and marketing.

So raising the argument that Hawaiian shirts are culturally appropriating is a tough one to make and to counter because there are a lot of “it depends.”

It depends on if you are talking about the original Hawaiian shirts made, the Hawaiian “Aloha Shirts” of today, the occasion in which the shirt is being worn, and the intentions behind the wearer.

what people think

If we take a quick look at some forums on Quora and Reddit, we can see that many people believe that it is not cultural appropriation to wear Hawaiian shirts.

Common statements made by others include:

  • “anyone can wear a Hawaiian shirt”
  • “the shirt isn’t truly a part of Hawaiian culture”
  • “it does not risk offense”
  • etc.


It appears most people don’t see wearing the Aloha “Hawaiian” shirt as cultural appropriation.

But again, I think it boils down to the intentions behind the wearer. If they are just wearing it because they love the shirt then more power to them!

If the person is wearing it with the intention of mocking Hawaiian culture, then that’s a problem — see the difference?

Let us know, do you think wearing a Hawaiian shirt is an example of cultural appropriation?