Classic aloha - Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii

The King is no longer with us, but his style endures. Elvis Presley became one of the earlier popularizers of aloha shirts through his 1961 film Blue Hawaii in which he and others in the cast are featured in various classic Hawaiian shirts. We’ll take a look at the alohas highlighted in the film, including the iconic red and white shirt that’s become so famous.

Over the course of his teenybopper movie period, Elvis made three movies based in Hawaii: Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls, Girls, Girls (1962), and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966). Surprisingly, Blue Hawaii is the only one where Elvis actually dons an aloha shirt himself. In the others there are secondary characters and extras wearing colorful Hawaiian-style garb, but Elvis himself sticks to less vibrant fare.

In Blue Hawaii (costume design by Edith Head) audiences are treated to a 26-year-old Elvis playing the role of Chadwick Gates, a Hawaiian local returning home from the army. He’s not keen to take up the family business from his father Fred (Roland Winters), so he joins his girlfriend Maile’s (Joan Blackman) company as a tour guide. He’s assigned to guide an attractive visiting schoolteacher and her equally-attractive group of students. Flirtatious island antics ensue as Chad hosts the group, deflects romantic advances from the students, and manages his girlfriend’s jealousy. By the end of the film, Chad has settled things with his father regarding the family business. Chad and Maile’s wedding is the final scene.

The red Shaheen shirt

Elvis as Chadwick Gates with costar Joan Blackman as his girlfriend Maile Duval
Elvis as Chadwick Gates with costar Joan Blackman as his girlfriend Maile Duval

The most recognizable aloha shirt from Blue Hawaii, arguably the Elvis Hawaiian shirt, is in fact not even in the movie! The famous red and white button-up was only used for promotional photos and the soundtrack album cover, it never appears in the film.

Album cover of the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack
Album cover of the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack

Promotional photo from "Blue Hawaii"
Promotional photo from "Blue Hawaii"

The shirt itself is the “Tiare Tapa” design by Alfred Shaheen. Shaheen, a WWII fighter pilot and Whittier graduate, was a pioneering and influential midcentury Hawaiian textile manufacturer. His firm was among the largest in Hawaii and one of the first to vertically-integrate the whole aloha shirt production process from art to printing to construction. Shaheen’s business was booming domestically and abroad by the late 1950s when Hawaii achieved statehood.

“Tiare Tapa” was one of Shaheen’s most popular designs, available on shirts, dresses, hats, and more for years prior to Blue Hawaii’s debut. The print, which overlays Tiar√© flowers on a tapa pattern, was created by Shaheen’s lead artist Robert Sato.

Tiare Tapa design on dresses

Left: Tiare Tapa on swimwear. Right: Shaheen design team, Robert Sato on the far left.

The red Shaheen shirt is sufficiently famous that attentive fans can occasionally spot it elsewhere. The Sopranos referenced it when guest star Jon Favreau wore the same pattern in his appearance as an aspiring mafia film director.

Jon Favreau wearing a replica "Blue Hawaii" shirt in The Sopranos
Jon Favreau wearing a replica "Blue Hawaii" shirt in The Sopranos

Although the iconic red shirt is never actually seen in the film, a blue version of the same design does make an appearance. It’s worn by Tucker Garvey (Steve Brodie), a drunk and obnoxious club patron who Elvis winds up fist-fighting.

Steve Brodie as Tucker Garvey, wearing a blue version of the famous Elvis shirt
Steve Brodie as Tucker Garvey, wearing a blue version of the famous Elvis shirt

Where to get it

Replicas of the red shirt can be found online from a few retailers, including Aloha Funwear.

Yours to own!
Yours to own!

If you visit Elvis’s home at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, replicas of this shirt are available in the gift shop under the David Carey Originals label. I have one myself!

Other Elvis shirts

If Elvis doesn’t wear the red shirt in the movie, what does he wear? Here’s a guide to all of Chadwick’s aloha shirts from the film, presented in order of appearance.

Brown and white tapa print

The first Hawaiian shirt Chad wears is brown, with a dense geometric tapa pattern in white. He wears the shirt while discussing his future with his parents, then later at a party for his girlfriend’s grandmother. He’s wearing the shirt when he sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Chad with his mother Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury)
Chad with his mother Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury)

Mustard and brown

Next is a dark mustard-yellow shirt with brown-outlined panels and orange accents. Chad wears this out on a picnic with Maile, during his tour guide job interview, and again later near the end of the film.

Chad interviewing with Mr. Chapman (Howard McNear) to be a tour guide
Chad interviewing with Mr. Chapman (Howard McNear) to be a tour guide

Black and white knotted

The next shirt is a black and white pareu-style print, given an extra twist, literally, by knotting in the front. This shirt is only on screen for about 20 seconds as Chad gives surf lessons to the visiting students.

Chad gives surf lessons
Chad gives surf lessons

Red and gold boxes

The Hawaiian shirt Elvis wears for the longest period of time is a red and gold repeating square pattern shirt. This shirt is worn as Elvis sings “Aloha ‘Oe” at a club, gets in a scuffle with troublemaking patrons, and gets tossed in jail.

Chad is chided by his father after getting in a barfight.
Chad is chided by his father after getting in a barfight.

Yellow with brown palm trees

Chad wears a yellow shirt with a brown palm tree pattern while on the phone with Maile. Based on the way the light hits it, this one might be silk. Also interesting because the pattern is only on the front - the back is mostly blank.

1-800-ALOHA
1-800-ALOHA

Blue and green

While taking the students to Kauai, we very briefly see Chad in a blue and green aloha shirt. It’s hard to make out the pattern in the film, but based on some behind-the-scenes stills I found, it appears to be the same design as the mustard and brown shirt form earlier, simply with a different color scheme.

Chad in Kauai
Chad in Kauai

Cream with thin brown pattern

The last aloha shirt Chad wears in the film is a cream colored button-up. The pattern is in brown but is difficult to identify. Perhaps canoes and oars? Tiki torches?

Chad and Maile, excited to be starting their own tourism service
Chad and Maile, excited to be starting their own tourism service

Other characters

Elvis isn’t the only actor wearing gorgeous aloha shirts or island-style clothing. It would be a shame to overlook some of the other great costumes from the film. I’ll sign off by highlighting a few favorites!

Author

Lincoln

Taking care of business (in a flash) since 2019