Football vs. Hawai’i this weekend
Slide show: Historic aloha shirt collection on display
Kickoff for the Seattle game is 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Qwest Field. See http://wsuinseattle.wsu.edu.
The shirt exhibit can be viewed at the CUB gallery on the Pullman campus through Sept. 30. The gallery website states that, during the academic year, the gallery gets more than 500 visitors daily - making it the most visible and visited gallery on the Pullman campus (see http://studentinvolvement.wsu.edu/default.asp?PageID=1518).
Shaheen transformed style
The collection includes a few shirts by renowned Hawai’ian clothing designer and producer Alfred Shaheen, who died in late 2008 at age 86.
WSU employee John Shaheen, director of Parking, Transportation and the Visitor Center, is a distant relative.
“I believe he was my father’s cousin, which would make him my third cousin,” Shaheen said. But said he never knew “Uncle Freddie” and never spent any time with him.
Alfred Shaheen is credited with transforming the shirts from tacky souvenirs into works of art – and spurring mass production, according to a May news article by Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios. Brightly colored rayon shirts made by Shaheen and others in the 1940s and 1950s, known as “silkies,” have become collector’s items, selling for thousands of dollars, he wrote.
Employee adds to collection
Publicity about the WSU collection after Alfred Shaheen’s death prompted donations of Hawai’ian shirts, including several recently from a WSU employee.
Malcolm Montgomery, program coordinator for Housing and Dining Maintenance Services, said he has collected and worn aloha shirts since the early 1980s.
“They’re comfortable and colorful,” he said. “They’re just fun.”
He bought none new, but found them for a few cents or a few dollars at second-hand stores and yard sales as far away as Spokane. Arthur gave him an unofficial value estimate for one as high as $100.
Most of the 20 shirts he gave to WSU were from the 1970s and 1980s. He has about 30 left in his wardrobe.
He said he gave them to WSU because he knew he would just wear them until they wore out. He figured some of the more collectible ones should be preserved for the public to enjoy.
“Besides,” he said, “now I have motivation to go and find new ones to wear.”
Cultural unity – and diversity
Arthur, who specializes in the connections between clothing and culture, said aloha shirts and fabrics are a unifying symbol for the ethnically diverse population of the Hawai’ian Islands.
“Ethnic Hawai’ians make up less than 20 percent of the population, and there is no dominant ethnic group,” Arthur said. “It’s clear that the roots of the aloha shirt are in the multi-ethnic community from which it originated, a population comprised of Japanese, Chinese, Samoans, Portuguese, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, Filipinos and a variety of Caucasian ethnic backgrounds.”
As immigrants came to Hawai’i starting in the mid-nineteenth century, bringing woven fabric with them, they also brought a variety of style and design elements from their native cultures, all of which contributed to the uniquely Hawai’ian shirts and fabrics.
The AMDT exhibit showcases design motifs from Hawai’i, China, Japan, Indonesia, Samoa and Tahiti. While some prints use classical motifs from the various cultures, others have taken liberties with traditional designs.
Faculty expert enhances collection
Arthur is recognized internationally for her study and writing on Hawai’ian textiles. She began adding them to AMDT’s historic costume collection when she came to WSU from the University of Hawaii in 2002.
Her books on the topic include, “Aloha Attire: Hawaiian Dress in the Twentieth Century,” and “The Art of the Aloha Shirt.”
Aloha shirts came into modern popularity when military personnel in the Pacific brought them home after World War II. Alfred Shaheen created a textile and clothing manufacturing industry in Hawai’i to meet international demand for the colorful prints.
“Before Shaheen came along, there was no Hawai’ian garment industry,” Arthur said. “There were mom-and-pop stores but no real modern industry.”