From Al Pacino to Ace Ventura, the Hawaiian shirt has been elbowing its way onto the silver screen since the 1950s, but why is its presence so controversial?
Love them or hate them, Hawaiian shirts have a very special place in cinema (admittedly mostly limited to the 90s, but still a special place) and they’ve managed to brighten up our screens from the days of Elvis Presley to those of Adam Sandler. Here’s a look into why this tourist’s staple is so loved by Hollywood.
Thanks to Alfred Shaheen, often credited with bringing the Hawaiian shirt to us mere mortals, Elvis wore the infamous top on his Blue Hawaii album cover and, although he was not the first to wear one, this is arguably where Hollywood’s fascination begins. Whilst Presley is busy serenading women on beaches, the Hawaiian-shirt-shaped seed is planted but, sadly, it largely disappears from our screens for a few decades. However, just as it seems that the shirt has seen its last days in the cinema sun, the 1980s arrive.
The 1983 film ‘Scarface’, starring Al Pacino as Tony Montana, not only brings the shirt back to mainstream cinema, but also seemingly begins a weird cinematic link between violent gangsters and the floral garment. For example, the shirt appears to be a Quentin Tarantino favourite, appearing in a fair few of his films including ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) and ‘True Romance’ (1993). Here they are accessorised with guns by the men who wear them, a leaf taken from Tony Montana’s book and a far cry from Elvis. Brad Pitt even dons this combination in yet another Tarantino film (I told you he liked them), ‘Once upon a Time in… Hollywood’ (2019). However, Pitt is no newbie to the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing-thug trope, effortlessly sporting one in ‘Fight Club’ (1999) as the sadistically violent Tyler Durden twenty years earlier.
Although criminal gangs may have tried to reclaim the Hawaiian shirt, the comic heroes beat them, and the garment became the uniform of comedic male leads (as well as dads on holiday) everywhere. While Jason Segel and Adam Sandler tried (and Adam Sandler really did try), the king of the Hawaiian shirt is undeniably Jim Carrey, which is made clear in ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ (1994). The man we have to thank for this match made in heaven is, however, Chunk of ‘The Goonies’ fame, who introduced the shirt to comedy protagonists when he burst onto the scene in 1985. This top was then quickly swept up by Tom Selleck in ‘Three Men and a Baby’ (1987) and the rest is history.
Although it has appeared in various colours and patterns and on various wearers over the years, there is one Hawaiian shirt that stands out above the rest, however. It is, of course, Leo’s in William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (1996). Nobody wears it better (sorry Jim)