Hawaiian Shirts Get over Their Daddy Issues

The tropical print, once a staple for dads on vacation, finds new life among queer culture and women in the workplace.
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Everyone wants to be a dad on vacation, sans the cargo shorts. There’s nothing more opulent, more indulgent than a middle-aged man taking time off from work to embarrass himself in a foreign land, completely unconcerned with the repercussions of his cultural snafus. There’s a lack of pretense, a commitment to self-care, inherent to his attitude; while his wife and kids pore over tour schedules and activities to fill the time, the dad lazes by the pool and nourishes an equally ebullient sunburn. Integral to the dad on vacation is the Hawaiian shirt, a short-sleeve button-down host to a multitude of bright-colored botanical patterns. Once a decided fashion “don’t,” the Hawaiian shirt has found new life this summer, well beyond the beach. 

Palm Angels’ Men’s Spring 2020  collection featured the tropical print heavily, evoking a cross between billionaire playboy and bohemian wanderer. The reach extended from the short-sleeve button-down to bomber jackets and blazers, adding a sophisticated edge to a motif that could dangerously verge on tacky. The subdued color palette also steps away from the coconut-studded beachside to the streets of a small Meditterranean town. 

Some, however, have embraced the unabashed camp of the Hawaiian shirt in full-force. Shia LaBeouf sports the print in his now cult-famous streetwear style, a devout follower of the gorpcore, hiking trail-meets-runway mentality. The shirt also harks back to his Disney channel days as the titular character in Even Stevens. Disney teen style is not known for its subtlety, and the Hawaiian shirt is just one of the ways trends have been shifting to the louder and bolder. Stranger Things’ newest season also takes a page from the fashion of 1985, dressing its characters in electric patterns and prints. Police Chief Hopper most notably covets a peach-colored button-down, declaring it “something fresh.” El also ditches the pale babydoll dress and oversized hand-me-downs for a Keith Haring-esque jumpsuit and scrunchie and a canary-yellow Aztec print that really jumps out against the Upside-Down. 

Eleven's new look makes a striking statement against the void.

Perhaps the most devout followers of the Hawaiian shirt, however, come from an unexpected subculture. Lesbians and gay men alike have been co-opting the dad wear in a new branch of androgynous style, paired with anything from boyfriend jeans to board shorts. A Britney-esque tie at the front adds a playful, feminine twist to an otherwise frumpy outfit, while some may opt to button all the way up the collar for a more formal edge. Whether buttoned up, down, or gaping open with a white tank underneath, the Hawaiian shirt has become a summer staple to replace the lesbian’s warmer flannel and to add a tropical twist to the standard H&M printed shirt.

Like most trends that begin in subculture, they find a way to the mainstream. The polar opposite to the dad on vacation is the young working woman (lesbian or otherwise) who has adopted the Hawaiian shirt for the business casual. Tucked into a wide-leg pant or midi skirt, a parrot-studded print can make an office girl feel like she’s taking a much-needed vacation, even if she’s on her third coffee of the day. 

The Hawaiian shirt’s redemption arc follows the greater trend of younger millennials and Gen Z taking to thrift shops to dress like their fathers, whether it be called normcore, gorpcore, or dadcore. Bucket hats, another dad-on-vacation staple, have also birthed a new life, as have sport sandals, chunky sneakers, and the infamous Croc. Unlike these other accessories, the Hawaiian shirt is foundational enough to gain a different identity however style you wear it, always speaking for itself. If you want to make a summery statement, or if you just want to feel like a salaried executive taking a week off in Cabo, try a Hawaiian shirt. 

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