Blue Hawaii: Elvis’ Red Aloha Shirts

Elvis Presley in promotional art for Blue Hawaii (1961). His character Chad Gates never actually wore this actual shirt on screen, instead wearing a differently patterned red Aloha shirt.

Elvis Presley in promotional art for Blue Hawaii (1961). His character Chad Gates never actually wore this actual shirt on screen, instead wearing a differently patterned red Aloha shirt.

Vitals

Elvis Presley as Chadwick “Chad” Gates, young tour guide and U.S. Army veteran

Honolulu, Hawaii, Summer 1961

Film: Blue Hawaii
Release Date: November 22, 1961
Director: Norman Taurog
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Particularly on #AlohaFriday, Aloha shirts are an obvious necessity for life in the Hawaiian islands, though these tropical printed tops are enjoying a renaissance here in the continental United States this summer as well. But what makes the difference between an out-of-touch tourist and a stylish tropical traveler? To illustrate how to effectively pull off the decades-old Hawaiian shirt, we turn to prolific clotheshorse Elvis Presley.

Blue Hawaii was the first of a trio of movies the king filmed in the “paradise of the Pacific”, and—despite its questionable quality—finished as the tenth top-grossing movie of 1961.

The filmmakers were eager to show off the beautiful sights and scenery of the 50th state so a plot was cobbled together by Allan Weiss and adapted by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Hal Kanter that would showcase the “typical South Seas musical hullabaloo,” as reported by Variety following the movie’s release. Presley starred as Chad Gates, a recently returned Army veteran who ignores his stodgy family’s desire for him to take over his father’s fruit company in favor of becoming an island tour guide. Elvis being Elvis, of course, this also gives him ample opportunity for performance.

Chad invites his first group of tourists, a quartet of lovely young students and their equally attractive teacher, to a luau at the Island Inn where he performs “Hawaiian Sunset”, one of many original songs written for the movie by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett. Following the song, the most troublesome of these nubile students—the bored blonde Ellie (Jenny Maxwell)—flirts with a drunk tourist to the degree that Chad finds the need to step in and prevent Ellie from doing something she’ll regret…leading to a fight that results in Chad and his pals behind bars, where he sings “Beach Boy Blues”, my personal favorite of Tepper and Bennett’s contributions to the Blue Hawaii soundtrack.

What’d He Wear?

Let’s run down the basics of what makes a classic Aloha shirt as Elvis wears in Blue Hawaii worth your investment. (For a comprehensive breakdown of all of the King’s shirts in Blue Hawaii, check out this fantastic post from Aloha Spotter!)

Tip 1: A tasteful print.

As Elvis’ Chad Gates is meant to be a kamaʻāina (Hawaiian resident), he accurately opts for more muted or traditional printed shirts as opposed to the louder or more garish designs of Aloha shirts favored by tourists or newcomers (Malihini). Neither of Elvis’s shirts are decorated with tacky beach scenes or hula dancers, nor are there more than three colors present. Given that Elvis was hardly known for his restraint, this should set a simple parameter for all but the most daring of aloha-wearers.

The actual screen-worn shirt is broken into an imperfect burgundy grid of red and coral squares, each square filled with an abstract, Pacific-influenced brush-stroke pattern.

Chad gets an earful from his father after having to bail him out of jail.

Chad gets an earful from his father after having to bail him out of jail.

As our friend at Aloha Spotter points out, this shirt gets the most screen time of all of Elvis’ Aloha shirts.

Tip 2: A flattering fit.

Elvis’ Aloha shirts have a trim, straight cut that flatters the 26-year-old actor who, only a year out of the Army at the time, was likely in the best shape of his life during the production of Blue Hawaii.

ELVIS

The short-sleeved shirt has a camp collar (or revere collar) with a loop on the left to ostensibly connect with a button under the right collar leaf. The shirt has a breast pocket and five pearlesque plastic sew-through buttons up a plain front sans placket. The shirt is cut straight across the hem, meant to be worn untucked.

Tip 3: Welcome white.

If you’re even considering wearing an Aloha shirt, chances are that you’re expecting some warm weather and, as the inimitable sartorial expert Sir Hardy Amies would write regarding white summer-weight trousers only three years after Blue Hawaii was released, “there is nothing more comfortable to wear or more pleasant to see than those.”

Elvis dresses for his performances—first at the hotel bar, then behind bars—in a pair of light cream flat front trousers that balances the more chaotic and colorful tropical pattern of his upper half. The trousers have a shine indicative of a lightweight silk in the construction. The slim legs taper down to the plain-hemmed bottoms that break clean and high over his shoes.

Chad and his pals make the most of their time in jail.

Chad and his pals make the most of their time in jail.

Elvis’ shoes are the most ill-advised aspect of his outfit. He appears to be wearing the same black patent leather derbies he wore with his khaki service uniform, an already dressy shoe on its own but with a high two-eyelet lacing that extends the vamp down to the minimal plain toe that adds a degree of formality hardly fitting with this casual ensemble.

Not only do the formality of the shoes create a jarring contras, but the black leather disrupts the outfit’s laidback harmony. A far more harmonious choice of footwear would have been the sand-colored derbies that Chad wears with his bronze printed camp shirt and the briefly seen blue-and-green printed shirt.

Tip 4: Accessorize à la king… the King, that is.

Elvis wears his personal watch, a Hamilton Ventura that evokes Space Age style with its dramatically asymmetrical 31mm stainless steel case shaped like a triangle with the apex on the left at 9:00 while the hypotenuse extends straight down from 1:00 to 5:00 on the right side. Designed by Richard Arbib, the Ventura was introduced among Hamilton’s line of groundbreaking electric watches in 1957.

More than 60 years later, Hamilton has reissued the Ventura with the ref. H24411732. This quartz-powered tribute to the original 1957 model features the same distinctive mid-century styling and atomic elements, available for $845 through the official Hamilton site or discounted to $568 on Amazon. (Prices as of July 2019.)

Though Hamilton capitalizes on the Ventura being worn most recently in the Men in Black series, it was arguably Elvis who established it among the mainstream when he sported his futuristic Ventura in Blue Hawaii.

ELVIS

The Hamilton Ventura worn by Presley in Blue Hawaii has a black triangular dial with “atomic-style hour markers” and is strapped to his left wrist on a black double-ridged leather band.

On the pinky of the same hand, Elvis wears a diamond-studded gold ring, a surprising affectation for a humble young singer trying to cut it as a Hawaiian tour guide… but not surprising for the rock star he was in real life.

Chad wears his gold pinky ring and his futuristic Hamilton Ventura watch on his left hand.

Chad wears his gold pinky ring and his futuristic Hamilton Ventura watch on his left hand.

The Promo Shirt

Despite not featuring in the actual movie, the red floral-printed Aloha shirt that Elvis wore to promote Blue Hawaii has become iconic in its own right with replicas available online from companies like Aloha Funwear, Sun Surf, and HINOYA, though the latter appears to be sold out of the Elvis-approved red color as of July 2019.

Aloha Spotter has identified the pattern as Alfred Shaheen’s “Tiare Tapa” design, consisting of a large-scaled white floral motif against a subtle tonal backdrop of floral-filled squares. This shirt follows the more common contemporary image of the Aloha shirt that incorporates tropical imagery as opposed to traditional Hawaiian quilt and tapa designs.

Promotional photo of Elvis with Joan Blackman, who played Chad's girlfriend Maile in Blue Hawaii. Photos from this session were used to promote the soundtrack and the movie itself despite this shirt not being worn in the final cut.

Promotional photo of Elvis with Joan Blackman, who played Chad’s girlfriend Maile in Blue Hawaii. Photos from this session were used to promote the soundtrack and the movie itself despite this shirt not being worn in the final cut.

Curiously, Elvis wears a more traditional wristwatch than his screen-worn Hamilton Ventura for this photo shoot.

Elvis Presley as Chad Gates in Blue Hawaii (1961)

Elvis Presley as Chad Gates in Blue Hawaii (1961)

How to Get the Look

Aloha Friday is here! Elvis Presley provides a solid template for how to sport one of these shirts like a true resident with his red printed top and off-white trousers in Blue Hawaii.

  • Red-and-coral brushstroke-grid patterned Aloha shirt with camp collar, plain front, breast pocket, and short sleeves
  • Cream lightweight silk flat front trousers with slightly slanted side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black patent leather two-eyelet plain-toe derby shoes
  • Black socks
  • Hamilton Ventura electric wristwatch with 31mm triangular stainless steel case, black triangular dial, and black double-ridged leather strap
  • Diamond-encrusted gold pinky ring

Rather than the King’s ill-advised black patent leather derbies, I suggest a shoe that better harmonizes with the outfit’s color and casual nature, perhaps an Elvis-approved sand-colored suede lace-up shoe?

If you’re determined to follow Presley’s footsteps by sporting black footwear, I would recommend a napped leather like suede and a more casual style like moccasin loafers, driving shoes, or even chukka or desert boots.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and follow my friend Aloha Spotter!

One comment

  1. Gary Wells

    It’s a famous story in Elvis World that Colonel tried to get Elvis (ie Colonel) paid extra for providing part of the wardrobe – his own watch. At Graceland they have that large poster of Elvis in the red shirt but instead of Maile standing there people can stand next to King and get a snap.

    Like

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