From Hawaii to Oklahoma: The History of the Aloha Shirt shows the iconic button-up’s beginnings

Great State

SHAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) – Put your shades on and stick an umbrella in your drink.

This is that perfect poolside shirt you bought on vacation and haven’t had the courage to wear since.

But there is a history to the traditional Hawaiian or Aloha shirt that goes back to the 1930s and is explained in a traveling exhibit that curator Delaynna Trimm showed us at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum.

“We were fascinated by the exhibit,” she says, “because this is something that everyone has at least one of.”

If there is a father of the Aloha shirt it would have to be former newspaper reporter, house designer, Navy man, and artist, John Meigs.

He went by ‘Keoni’ (Hawaiian for John) while living in the islands.

Meigs is personally responsible for more than 300 shirt patterns in what was the Aloha shirt’s first wave.

“Some of these examples date to the late 30s and early 40s,” points out Trimm.

Waikiki Sand, Bird of Paradise, Fern Garden.

These were the names he gave to a few of his creations.

Those first Aloha shirts depicted Native Hawaiian life and branched out from there.

Walk to another room at this museum and you can see the same ideas put to use decorating Native American clothing.

Trimm insists, “What we do as humans is start out designing what we are used to, what surrounds us.”

Screen prints, bright colors, the Aloha shirt eventually traveled all over the world.

John Meigs eventually moved to New Mexico and settled on art as a career.

But his shirt patterns survived him, a colorful history and bright legacy still flowering today.

The exhibit runs until Oct. 17, 2021.

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