Category: hawaii
Tiki Month 2010
Tiki Mood

On Choosing a Good Hawaiian Shirt

Elvis in hawaiian shirt ukelele As I write this post, I'm wearing one of my new Hawaiian shirts I bought myself for Tiki Month. I slip one on before I go down to the Basement Bar to help get in the Tiki mood.
Really? You have to change clothes just to mix up a drink? It sounds a bit excessive to me.
Of course I don't have to. I want to. For Tiki to work, you need to commit to it. Not for a month, like I'm doing, but for however long you are at it—even if only for an hour at a time. The more you do to put yourself in the mood, the more fun Tiki becomes. One of the easiest ways to change your mood, even your personality, is to change your skin. Don't just wear the Hawaiian shirt, rock the Hawaiian shirt. As the (sorta) great Larry Dierker said, Have you ever seen anyone with a Hawaiian shirt on who wasn't having a good time? At the start of the month, I went looking for some cool new Tiki wear. And I also went looking for some answers. I found them both (via the magic of Google) at This website had a huge selection, and I was surprised at the prices, so I ordered three, instead of the two I intended. Then I dropped a line to the contact email and started a fun conversation with Bill Newton, the sales manager and co-owner. He taught me a lot about the shirts, and pointed me to some good web resources as well. First off, the industry name for the Hawaiian shirt is Aloha shirt, a term trademarked by the Father of the Hawaiian Shirt, Ellery Chun of Waikiki. I suppose Tiki aficionados should briefly remove their hats at mention of his name. In about 1935, Chun made his first shirts out of old kimono fabric which wasn't selling. This was concurrent, but not connected, with the start of the Tiki movement. In Hawaii, the Aloha shirt is worn as business, even occasionally as formal wear. This reflects both the climate and the culture of the islands, and you can see a similar process in Bermuda and other tropical British colonies with the adoption of the Bermuda short. Choosing one of these shirts can be hard, as selections can be as wild the individual prints. I counted over 350 styles just of men's shirts on Bill's site, so it helps to try to narrow your search. Bill told me there are two general categories of Aloha shirts, Traditional (or Hawaiian) and Contemporary (or Californian). Roughly speaking, Traditional Aloha shirts will have a floral or native tapa pattern, whereas Californian Aloha shirts have louder colors and will probably have things other than flowers on them. Godd Hwaiian Shirts Green TraditionalTraditional designs generally cover the whole shirt evenly, and the colors are usually relatively muted. A common design choice is called Reverse Printing, where the shirt is made with the printed side of the fabric on the inside, muting the pattern even more. This kind of Aloha shirt is particularly popular for Hawaiian business wear, and is often worn tucked inside the waistband. I had thought that reverse print had died out, but Bill told me that style of Traditional Aloha just doesn't sell well on the mainland anymore. He also was clear that while he sells a lot of Traditional-styled shirts, the ones that sell over here are still quite different than the ones "real" Hawaiians wear. Jumping Fish (Cream) Good Hawaiian ShirtsContemporary Aloha shirts are the much better selling, but less authentic, Aloha style. These shirts have designs with all sorts of things, such as pictures of "woodies", or pictures of WWII aircraft (or cocktails). Another type of California Aloha shirt has scenic depictions of palm trees, beaches, etc. A final type of contemporary shirt is the one with the horizontal floral band, usually with a smaller band around the sleeves. In either case, the vast majority of Hawaiian shirts actually manufactured in Hawaii are made of cotton, with some rayon, and very little silk. Interestingly, the most expensive shirts on Bill's site are the Rayon ones, not the cotton. All sell right now in the $30 to $50 range. When Bill and his partner started Good Hawaiian Shirts, they wanted to support and nurture actual Hawaiian made garments, so all their main inventory is Hawaiian made. But their industry is under heavy price pressure from Southeast Asian makers, and business is business. If you want to compare, they have a page of Low-Cost Imported Hawaiian Shirts as well. I asked Bill what his favorite Aloha shirt was that hung in his own closet. His two favorites are a solid blue bowling shirt with a vertical stripe of flowers on the left side, and a reverse print floral for business meetings. Neither are available from his website, since they wouldn't sell well enough on the mainland. Here is his runaway best-selling shirt: Sunset Palm in blue from Good Hawaiian Shirts Please understand, advises Bill, no local would ever wear this shirt, unless he's making a joke. If you want to wear an Aloha shirt on your trip to the islands so you'll fit in, choose carefully. On the other hand, if you are hipping out at a Tiki bar in LA, or warming up in your basement in Ohio with a Zombie, this is a great shirt! Remember, for the glorious gonzo that is Tiki, design authenticity is not a requirement. Bill would just want you to remember that unless your shirt was made on the islands, don't call it a "Hawaiian shirt"! Lots of people besides Tiki lovers buy Aloha shirts, of course. Bill told me his favorite "person" in the world is "Hawaiian Shirt Guy", the guy with twenty shirts in his closet, who wears them whenever he is happy, and makes everyone he meets think that Aloha shirt = Happy.
Nick Nolte Hawaiian Shirt
Possibly NOT Bill's idea of Hawaiian Shirt Guy
Another set in interesting customers he has are an ice fishing club who buy their shirts two sizes too big, so they can wear them over the top of their parkas. Those guys may not know it, but they understand Tiki.... No matter what style you prefer, whether you have only one shirt or thirty, if you are going out or staying in, or if you are throwing a party or just going away for an evening with your significant other, The Shirt is essential equipment. Just ask the
Tiki Month 2009

Who Were the Elders of Tiki: Don the Beachcomber

{NOTE: This is part of a three part series of posts. The other Elder of Tiki, Trader Vic, is profiled here. And my examination of which of these two really invented the Mai Tai can be read here.} don the beachcomberIf Trader Vic was the Henry Ford of Tikidom, Don the Beachcomber was its Francis Drake. As Tiki month winds up here at the Pegu Blog, I am examining the two great Elders of Tiki. Last post profiled the Trader, and now it is Don's turn. Of the two, Don was the first into the game, both into the restaurant business and into the tropical theme. He led a life of high adventure, before and after becoming a restauranteur, and dabbled throughout his life in fiefdom building, the society pages, diplomacy, war, and the occasional act of good-natured piratical behavior. Don was born saddled with the impressive name of Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. At age seven, he went to live with his colorful grandfather in Louisiana. From the old man, he learned the art and power of charm. He also learned the art and power of the con. It is likely quite fortuitous for a lot of people that throughout his life, Don generally used those powers for good. As he grew up, he bummed around the world on tramp steamers and by other means, learning as he went the technical skills of cooking and making drinks. In 1933, he found himself in Los Angeles with a few bucks in his pocket and he decided to meld his powers of mixology, hospitality, and the art of illusion to open a restaurant in an abandoned Hollywood tailor shop. He called the place Don's Beachcomber, and soon thereafter he came to be called Don the Beachcomber by his clientele. He changed the name of the restaurant to fit the usage, and a legend was born made. He continued to change his name throughout his life, wandering through Donn Beach-Comber, to Donn Beachcomber, and finally coming to rest as Don Beach (I think). He created a true illusion for his customers, taking caribbean rum mixology, presenting it in a polynesian environment, and ensuring everyone had a great time. And if the register receipts were insufficient for his tastes for the evening, Don would turn a sprinkler on over the front door and roof. He'd point out it was raining and convince everyone to wait it out inside and have another round or three. When the cuban embargo began, Don's chief reaction was disgust that it interrupted his supply of cigars. Treating the law as he often did when it inconvenienced him, Don took the long way round. Using his extensive import/export connections, he had cigars shipped from Cuba to the Far East. There he had them relabeled and repackaged as Philippine product and he breezed back into the states with them. He may have been the man who invented this dodge, but many have followed. Or so I hear. During the Second World War, Captain Beach-Comber was detailed to manage the R&R for General Jimmy Doolittle's air force. He followed (or occasionally preceded) the allied advance up Italy and into southern France, requisitioning anything that wasn't nailed down in the name of making things comfortable for Our Boys, and occasionally himself. This part of his life was really pretty fascinating, and you can read about it, as I did, in Scrounging the Islands with the Legendary Don the Beachcomber: Host to Diplomat, Beachcomber, Prince and Pirate It was written by and for a family member, and is a choppy, though pleasurable read. After the war, Don moved the base of his operations to Hawaii. There he built a new palatial restaurant, and expanded to a wide variety of hospitality initiatives. He had a treehouse private dining room, and he created the commercial luau. Thank or curse him for that. He fought his fellow magnates who were developing too fast to suit his tastes, and he fought the local government for not allowing him personally to develop faster. He fought to preserve the pristine beauty of Hawaii, but imported non-native species of flora whenever it suited him to "improve" an area. He tried building a floating casino in the Far East, but when various mob figures and British governors foiled him, he made the ship work anyway, as a restaurant. don-mixHe was a genius in promoting ideas, and fearless in executing them by hook or by crook. But underpinning it all was his skill with drinks. He invented madly, producing a huge body of work, including a bunch of the bedrock classics. Many of them are lost in their original form today, because he guarded his recipes so jealously. He even went so far as to pour his liquors into unlabeled bottles, and kept his various syrups and mixes, as well as their ingredients, secret. His bartenders were just trained to make a Zombie, for instance, with 1 shot of bottle #7, 2 of bottle #2, 1 of bottle #47, and a splash of #17.... The mystery surrounding his drinks was part of the magic of drinking with Don. The man was a savant, with a true commitment to his vision, and to his customers. But while he built a vast array of bars and restaurants and resorts, and was clearly a brilliant businessman, his commercial works did not survive the demise of either himself or of the Tiki era. I imagine so much of the success of all his ideas rested on the personal touch of Don himself. The greatest elements of his ventures rested upon regular performances by the man himself. Many of his businesses were high-wire acts to begin with, and such ventures cannot long survive without the risk taker-in-chief around from day to day. Today, there is but one spot on the map where Don the Beachcomber's direct legacy remains; a single ember of the flame burns on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lift a glass with me to his memory, and to the flame rising again! don-the-beachcomber-map abc
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