A few months ago, I started noticing a grassroots style phenomenon unfolding before my very eyes. The first few times I saw it, I thought it was a coincidence, or at the very most a temporary flirtation confined to the social circle I happen to interact with on a semi-regular basis. But at a certain point, the frequency with which it appeared became too substantial to ignore: I kept seeing guys wearing Hawaiian shirts.
This act might seem relatively insignificant, but the context in which these instances occurred filled me with intrigue. In the past, I have typically witnessed a strong Hawaiian shirt presence in casual and/or somewhat kitschy settings — backyard barbecues, beaches, frat parties, dad closets, double-decker tourist buses, etc. But nowadays, I’ve noticed them cropping up in decidedly swankier digs — trendy restaurants, Instagram feeds, cool dive bars, house parties, street style slideshows, celebrity closets, high-fashion runways, etc.
When Dwayne Johnson was papped wearing one last week en route to his appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, it hit me, the bits and pieces of evidence arranging themselves into a seismic portent. Like a naked baby perched at the top of a Slip ‘N Slide, all it needed was a little push to stake its claim on the destiny that awaited. Allow me to do the honorable nudging: Friends, family and fellow gnats, the Hawaiian shirt has emerged as the Official “Hot Guy” Shirt of 2018.
What, exactly, is a “Hot Guy” Shirt?, you might very well be wondering. Allow me to paint you a picture:
+ First and foremost, it is a shirt worn by hot guys, a group of male specimens labelled such not because of how they look, necessarily, but because of how they act. When I say “hot,” I mean they are literally burning up — with aplomb. Noted hot guys include: Ryan Gosling, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeff Goldblum, David Beckham, Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, Jesse Williams, John Legend, Rodrigo Santoro, James Marsden and Henry Golding.
+ It is a lot like a “going out” top, but machine-washable.
+ It is a shirt that finds its way into almost every man’s wardrobe over the course of the year in question by virtue of the fact that the hot guy contingency has deemed it worthy of representation. Women eventually opt in as well by virtue of the fact that “hot guy” shirts have a record of looking great tucked into jeans and paired with strappy sandals or layered over a swimsuit and moonlighting as a coverup, i.e., the infamous “hot guy” shirt of 2016: J.Crew’s navy gingham button-down.
+ It is a shirt that proffers a glimpse of just the right amount of chest hair.
+ It is a conversation starter.
I’m not sure what came first, the proliferation of brands spotlighting Hawaiian shirts or the men who appear to have taken to them like a wayward hair to a freshly applied coat of lip gloss, but one thing’s for sure: they’re everywhere. Dries Van Noten, Fendi, Valentino and MSGM served up renditions during Men’s Fashion Week in June. The Boston Globe ran a story a few weeks ago touting the Hawaiian shirt’s renaissance amongst a younger crowd, stating definitively: “It’s no longer your father’s Hawaiian shirt.” But how did it go from “your father’s Hawaiian shirt” to the clearest contender for Hot Guy Shirt of 2018? Why is this current moment in time such uniquely fertile ground for Hawaiian shirts to thrive?
I posed this question to Michael Sard and Chris Galasso, the founders of Tombolo, a newly launched brand dedicated solely to creating the perfect Hawaiian shirt. “Hawaiian shirts are flourishing because they represent the confidence to step out of line,” they wrote to me over email. “It is the ultimate wearable form of self-expression.” Therein lies the answer. In 2018, self-expression is a prime differentiator — an antidote to the trend ubiquity reinforced by social media and an increasingly rapid news cycle. It makes perfect sense that the official Hot Guy Shirt would evolve from its more classic predecessors (the aforementioned gingham number, henleys, black button-downs, et al.) into something more versatile. Even if everyone is wearing Hawaiian shirts, very few Hawaiian shirts are exactly like.
Okay, I’m done with my hot guy spiel. Please meet me in the comments and tell me if you’ve seen male specimens wearing Hawaiian shirts right and left, too. (Though I should tell you I was literally just standing behind a man with a cool beard and cool sunglasses wearing one in line at Sweetgreen, so no matter what you say, I’m fairly convinced).
Feature Images by Melodie Jeng and Patricia Schlein/Star Max via Getty Images.