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A Short History Behind the Vintage Magnum PI Shirts

One of the most popular shirts created by the Pacific Clothing Company is the aloha shirt worn by Thomas Magnum, the lovable private investigator in the series Magnum PI. Today, everyone knows what a Magnum PI shirt looks like–a button-down, collared shirt with floral prints. Tom Selleck, who portrayed Thomas Magnum, supported this fad by making it a staple outfit in the TV show. The popular pattern has a Jungle Bird design on it, licensed to the Paradise Found’s parent company–Pacific Clothing. Nobody mentioned that the shirt was bought straight from the rack or it was custom-made for the actor. But it somehow became part of the signature outfit of Magnum PI. Later on, the producer figured its popularity and started to supply the shirts to the TV program. Hence, the popular aloha shirts became well-known by mere chance.

How It Started

Several things can signify the laid-back lifestyle in Hawaii, and one of such is the famous floral-printed shirts. Like in any other tales about the origin of a thing or event, the actual scenario that caused such popularity to this garment is left inconclusive. But there is always a general story that the majority has accepted about its origin.

Ellery Chun, a known Honolulu shirt producer, created shirts made of Japanese yukata fabric back in the 1930s. He marketed the first batch of garments with loud tropical designs in his father’s Waikiki-based retail shop, King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods. He sold it for $1 for each item and called it the Aloha Shirts. Chun is the first individual who copyrighted such a label.

Several tourists and locals were attracted and bought a lot of them. Over the years, the famous printed shirts gradually became a trend. Retailers had it mass-produced and did some tweaking on the garment, producing it with more bold colors and used silky rayon fabric. Artisans and designers started to illustrate their island’s scenery on the cloth, changing the conventional Japanese style for huts, surfers, palm trees, hula girls, and flowers. By the time it reached 1960, the state of Hawaii had observed the practice of wearing aloha outfits at work, which they had termed as Aloha Friday.

Tom Selleck as Magnum PI

The Shirt’s Features

The fabric used for the shirt has considerably evolved through time. Back in 1983, it was pure rayon. From there, it changed to a combination of pure cotton and rayon materials. The maker, Pacific Clothing, thought of making it to just use pure cotton in 1992. The production process used the same material for several years until it reached 2007–back to the original pure rayon.

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The shirt created an interesting part of popular culture and TV history. There are many aloha shirts in the market, and some are even as prominent as the Magnum PIs. However, only selected designs have made an iconic impact similar to Magnum’s bright red aloha shirt. The new generation has started to embrace wearing such floral garments when they go on beach trips or visit Hawaii. Everyone knew that the ideal men’s outfit for a casual day at the beach is a pair of comfy shorts and a Magnum PI aloha shirt.

Riley Brown
Written By

Riley is a history, lifestyle, and entertainment writer living in San Diego. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Multimedia from the University of Oregon. His work has been featured in many finance and lifestyle publications throughout the US. When he is not writing, Riley enjoys reading and hanging out at the beach with his dog.


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