Blue Hawaii: Elvis’ Brown Tapa Shirt
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
Summer kicks off this weekend in the Northern Hemisphere with beaches and warm destinations slowly reopening around the world after months of lockdown during the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever your summer plans include, I hope all BAMF Style readers enjoy a safe, healthy, and happy season whether enjoying time at home or safely traveling.
Travel or no travel, this is also the season for summer shirts and summer movies. The tenth top-grossing movie of 1961, Blue Hawaii was the first of three movies that Elvis filmed in the “paradise of the Pacific” and remains one of his most popular for its tropical style and memorable soundtrack, which includes dusted-off classics like the title track “Blue Hawaii” (originally written for Bing Crosby in 1937), “Hawaiian Wedding Song” as well as introducing “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, which would become a new standard for the King.
Elvis performs the song on screen when his character, recently returned Army veteran Chad Gates, serenades his girlfriend’s grandmother on her 78th birthday, curiously seeming to reveal his latent affection for the older woman rather than his actual girlfriend Maile (Joan Blackman).
What’d He Wear?
“Sure feels good to get back into civvies, mom,” Chad tells his mother (Angela Lansbury) after he finally changes out of his wet Army uniform into a brown tropical-print shirt and off-white slacks. The print is a classic tapa design, which my friend Aloha Spotter describes in his definitive guide to Aloha shirts as “typified by rough, abstract geometric patterns with a Polynesian, tiki, or tribal quality to them.”
As this design was particularly popular during the 1950s and frequently printed in brown colorways, Chad’s brown shirt with its tan and white tapa print neatly represents a prevailing trend in the era’s tropical attire. The short-sleeved shirt has a more structured spread collar with a loop rather than the familiar flat camp collar with dark brown buttons up the plain front and a straight hem, meant to be worn untucked. Though it’s difficult to discern against the shirt’s delightfully chaotic pattern, there appears to be a non-matching breast pocket.
(For a comprehensive breakdown of all of the King’s shirts in Blue Hawaii, check out this fantastic post from Aloha Spotter!)
Chad changes into cream lightweight trousers, a smart and seasonally appropriate choice. The way the trousers shine under certain light suggests silk or comfortably cool-wearing mohair in the trouser construction, likely the same trousers he wears with his red tapa shirt later in the movie. The straight-leg trousers have plain-hemmed bottoms which break high over his shoes, a pair of sand-colored suede casuals best seen as he leaps out of his red MG after arriving at the party for Maile’s grandmother.
Chad wears a diamond-studded gold ring on his left pinky, likely a piece of Elvis’ own jewelry as it would be considerably out of character for a modest young aspiring singer recently out of the Army.
Another piece that’s undoubtedly from the King’s own collection is his futuristic Hamilton Ventura wristwatch, instantly recognizable for its dramatically asymmetrical triangular case. This Space Age-inspired timepiece was designed by Richard Arbib and rolled out in 1957 as part of Hamilton’s innovative line of electric watches. Elvis’ screen-worn watch has a black triangular dial that follows the shape of the 31mm stainless case, strapped to his left wrist on a black leather strap.
More than 60 years after its introduction at the height of the Atomic Era, Hamilton has once again added the Ventura to its lineup, reintroducing this iconic design with the quartz-powered ref. H24411732 available from Hamilton or Amazon as of June 2020.
After arguing with his parents about his future and his unwillingness to work for his father at the Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, Chad speeds over to Maile’s family homestead for her grandmother’s birthday party, where Maile greets him with that most festive of Hawaiian finery, a floral lei.
What to Imbibe
Although Chad drinks straight pineapple juice when drinking with his parents, the Mai Tai is an unofficial star of Blue Hawaii, enjoying by most of the main characters including Chad’s parents Fred (Roland Winters) and Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury).
The most accepted history of the Mai Tai cites its origins in the expert hands of Victor J. Bergeron at his flagship Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California, though some have claimed that Vic was at least inspired by Don the Beachcomber’s similar Q.B. Cooler developed a decade earlier. Wherever the Mai Tai’s story truly began, it emerged as a favorite during the postwar Tiki culture boom that lasted well into the ’60s, thanks in part to the popularity of Blue Hawaii.
Using Trader Vic’s 1944 recipe as a basis, a typical Mai Tai includes rum (3 cl of amber Jamaican rum and 3 cl of Martinique molasses rum, according to IBA specifications), fresh lime juice, orgeat syrup, and orange liqueur like orange curaçao. The IBA specifications also add a small portion of rock candy syrup, while other recipes incorporate additional liqueurs, syrups, or fruit juices for flavors.
While the imbibers of Blue Hawaii tend to garnish their Mai Tais with a pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry, the original Trader Vic formula called for a half a lime shell inside the glass and a sprig of fresh mint at the edge. Alfred Tong’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Cocktails meets these garnish suggestions halfway, suggesting a mint sprig and slice of pineapple, in addition to fixing the drink with the additions of lemon juice, pineapple juice, apricot brandy, and Angostura bitters.
Maita’i roa ae!
How to Get the Look
Chad Gates is meant to be a kamaʻāina (Hawaiian resident) and dresses accordingly in tasteful aloha wear like this classic tapa print shirt, neatly complemented by tropical off-white trousers, summery suede shoes, and a futuristic watch that further qualifies Elvis’ style in Blue Hawaii as a significant time capsule from the aloha-meets-atomic age.
- Brown with tan-and-white tapa print short-sleeved shirt with spread loop collar, plain front, breast pocket, and straight hem
- Cream lightweight silk flat front trousers with slightly slanted side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Sand-colored suede slip-on shoes
- Cream 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
While not an exact pattern match, you can reflect the spirit of this shirt with the faded red cotton “Hawaiian Glyphs” shirt available from Aloha FunWear, this Wave Shoppe brown tapa shirt via Amazon, or this distinctive vintage Ui Maikai shirt at The Hana Shirt Co.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and follow my friend Aloha Spotter!
Not only my favourite movie but my all-time favourite movie character.
I have never seen a bamfstyle dedicate to The tramp. Such an iconic character from the silent film era of cinema.