The traditional Hawaiian shirt– also known as an “Aloha” shirt– is a very special, if divisive garment. In the 1950’s and 60’s when travel to Hawai’i first became popular among mainlanders, many Americans embraced the shirts as symbols of exotic travel, souvenirs representing both the problematic “other” and a salubrious reminder of leisurely vacations past. Since that time, Hawaiian shirts have taken on a lovable, kitsch-y role in pop culture, with hipster icons like Burt Reynolds and Nic Cage leading the charge. People still love wearing Hawaiian shirts– both seriously and ironically. And today, the best Hawaiian shirt shops on Oahu feature a mix of both aspects, and an awareness of the role that Hawaiian shirts still play in the iconography of island life.
This much remains true: Hawaiian shirts are still one of the most popular souvenirs people buy when visiting Hawai’i. Below, we detail where to find the best Hawaiian shirts on the island of Oahu, the most visited island. This list focuses specifically on shops in and around Honolulu, which is the fashion capital of the Hawaiian islands. Read on for details. Aloha!
Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts
This iconic Hawaiian Shirt shop boasts the largest collection of aloha shirts in the world– literally. Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts is a must-visit when traveling around the island. With over 15,000 garments in stock at any given time, there’s something in this shop for everyone. Vintage, new, foreign, and used shirts come in every color and design imaginable. They also stock sleeveless shirts, dresses, scarves, infant clothes, matched sets, and more. You name it; Bailey’s has it.
Over the years celebrities like Burt Reynolds, Jimmy Buffett, Patrick Swayze, Tommy Lee Jones and Anthony Bourdain all became regulars at this iconic shirt shop, which easily stocks the best Hawaiian shirts on Oahu. It’s also a mecca for Japanese pop stars– just look at all the photos around the shop. Nicholas Cage reportedly spent $10,000 here on a $4000 shirt vintage shirt, two one-of-a-kind $2000 shirts, and a few others items. (But don’t worry: not all the shirts at Bailey’s are that expensive. Many of them are $20.)
As I wrote in a previous Instagram post about this shop, Owner David Bailey “is consistently buying and thrifting unique archival shirts that capture the spirit of this particularly endearing niche of Hawaiian culture.” As a result, Bailey’s stocks a wide variety of sizes and colors, including 1920s silk kimono style as well as old school Hawaiian dresses that they don’t even make anymore. Overall, expect lots of 1970s polyester. For a certain kind of shopper, it’s Heaven on Earth.
I generally recommend that those staying in Honolulu or Waikiki take an Uber to Bailey’s. (You can also walk, if you’re staying on the East end of Waikiki.) Then, after shopping, have a meal at Obama’s favorite plate lunch spot, Rainbow Drive-In. Located right next door to Bailey’s, it’s another local landmark that’s been serving classic plate lunches since 1961.
Nā Mea Hawaiʻi
Nā Mea Hawaiʻi— “a place for cultural exchange, education, and local goods”– is a very special store. If you’re looking for a truly local, one-of-a-kind Hawaiian shirt on Oahu, this is a great place to get it. The collection of aloha shirts here is small, but they only stock local designers. It’s super authentic and always community-driven. Plus, you can rest assured that your money is going back to a local person.
In addition to shirts, the store stocks some amazing local artisanal products, from rare Ni’ihau shell leis to traditional Hawaiian quilts. There’s also an extensive book collection, including songbooks and children’s novels detailing local folk history. You can also find Hawaiian Koa wood products, prints by local photographers, and locally made personal care products like soap and body lotion.
Take your time perusing and feel free to ask questions. Everything at Nā Mea Hawaiʻi celebrates community, education, and local craftsmanship. The quality is bar none, so it feels like both an art gallery and a shop. So, even if you don’t find the Hawaiian shirt of your dreams, you won’t regret your visit.
Manuheali’i is a modern aloha collective of unique graphic shirts, sweetheart dresses, and tops for men, women, and children. Mostly locals shop at this store, which is known for bold, brightly-colored geometric patterns. (They make some of the best Hawaiian shirts on Oahu, but you won’t find any hibiscus prints or flamingos here!) Instead, expect seasonal collections of abstract tribal patterns. It’s very “hip”.
Most designs harken to naturalist Hawaiian patterns like banana leaves, ferns, and snail shells. And as a family owned and operated business since 1985, ‘Manu’ has a loyal following among native Hawaiians. (They are also especially popular on Instagram.)
Each Manuheali’i garment comes attached to a little “fun fact” card that teaches something about Hawaii’s landscape and/or culture. For example, a recent tag on a garment I bought detailed the endangered species status of native Hawaiian tree snails. (There are 41 species of O’ahu tree snail endemic to the island, all of which are necessary for ecosystem health. Sadly, experts estimate that there are only a few hundred of each snail species left.)
The store has two galleries: one in Honolulu and another in Kailua. Both boutiques are aesthetically minimalist, but full of color. Overall, Manuheali’i strives “to reflect the ties to our culture and people through ever-changing designs,” the owners write. “It is a humble mission to continue to create Hawaiian clothing that evokes the spirit of Hawai’i and inspires clear feelings of aloha.”
The combination aloha shirt shop and shave ice stand in the SALT at Our Kaka’ako marketplace is one of the coolest places to get a Hawaiian shirt on Oahu. Hipsters and cool kids love Kahala‘s modern, trendy, slim-fit styles, which have been designed and manufactured in Honolulu, Hawai’i, since 1936. With muted colors and stylish tailoring, these shirts wouldn’t feel out of place at a boutique in Los Angeles or Brooklyn.
Accordingly, the brand draws celebrities and travelers alike. Kahala was the aloha shirt brand that John Wayne used to wear in movies (literally). Look for the iconic Duke’s Pareo pattern (on the shelf in the picture, above) which surfer Duke Kahanamoku popularized in the 1960s. Comfort-conscious shoppers appreciate that Kahala’s shirts are crafted from 100% enzymed, stone-washed cotton poplin material, which softens over time. (Unlike traditional polyester Hawaiian shirts, these won’t stiffen, shrink, or itch if you use the wrong detergent.)
Today, Kahala is highly regarded for their long history and durable product. We love the charming stacks of colored shirts lining the shop walls. Best of all, this is still a family-owned local business, dedicated to prioritizing local manufacturing. And while you’re there, you can also try one of the Best Shave Ices on O’ahu, made in-house. (If you’re feeling inspired you can even choose a color that matches your new shirt. 🙂 )
Taj Clubhouse is an adorable children’s clothing and toy shop with a delightful collection of baby and infant aloha shirts. (They also make clothing for small children, but it’s definitely a store for little ones only.) In additional to Hawaiian shirts, Taj also stock bathing suits, aloha dresses, and matching pant sets. Conveniently, the store is located in the Ward Village shopping center in downtown Honolulu, right across from some of the area’s best restaurants like Merriman’s and Piggie Smalls.
The store also sells adorable t-shirts, tote bags, and cool-looking UPF 50+ rash guards for kids. They also have stuffed animals and functional play items like teething rings. All clothing features aloha patterns, Hawaiian motifs, and nautical themes.
If you’re traveling as a family or looking to buy gifts for infants or new babies, this is THE place to go. Conveniently, Taj is also located in the same complex as Nā Mea Hawaiʻi and Noa Noa Hawaii, so you won’t have to go far to shop for the whole family.
Want more O’ahu travel guides? See our articles on the Best Coffee Shops in Honolulu, the Best Restaurants in Honolulu, and where to get the Best Breakfast in Honolulu. By popular demand, we also published a breakdown of where to get the Best Shave ice on O’ahu. (“Shave Ice” is a classic Hawaiian dessert that you have to try before you leave the island.)