You may have heard the terms ‘aloha shirt’, ‘Hawaiian shirt’ and ‘Cuban shirt’ before. But perhaps you don’t know what exactly they are, and if they are even different.
So, is there a difference between these 3 types of shirts?
Aloha shirts and Hawaiian shirts are two names for the same shirt – there is no difference. However, Aloha shirts and Cuban shirts are distinct shirt types and have several differences, most importantly the color and pattern of the fabric they are made out of.
That’s the answer in a nutshell. But let’s discuss these shirts in more detail, so you know the differences between them and are better equipped to choose a shirt that’s right for you.
Aloha Shirt Vs Hawaiian Shirt: Is There A Difference?
The Aloha Shirt and the Hawaiian Shirt are simply two names for the same colorful, collared, buttoned, and short-sleeved dress shirt. There is no difference between them.
Here’s an example of a Hawaiian shirt a.k.a Aloha shirt on
They originated in Hawaii in the 1920s to 1930s and usually have bold, colorful designs and images, typically with floral or palm tree motifs to give off a tropical vibe.
The reason there are two different names for this type of shirt comes down to the shirt’s history.
The term ‘aloha shirt’ was first coined in the 1930s by Ellery Chun, who owned a dry goods store. But the aloha shirt as we know it today had already been hanging around for several years by this point, possibly first appearing in the 1920s or early 1930s.
At this time, the ‘aloha shirt’ was made of Japanese fabric and was worn untucked in Filipino style, designed by a Chinese tailor, and produced in Hawaii.
The creation of the aloha shirt style was therefore influenced by several different cultures, including the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and of course the Hawaiian.
Ellery Chun had a hand in popularising the aloha shirt, by turning his dry goods shop into the first mass producer of these shirts and trademarking the ‘aloha shirt’ name.
The aloha shirt became incredibly popular with tourists and local surfers, and soon enough other retailers were producing these shirts due to high demand.
On the Hawaiian islands, they are still referred to as aloha shirts, whereas they tend to be referred to as Hawaiian shirts by the mainland populace of the US.
This is the reason that this same shirt has two different names.
Aloha Shirt: Key Features
The aloha shirt (or Hawaiian shirt) is a type of collared, buttoned, short-sleeved dress shirt that is usually made with printed fabric and often worn untucked.
The buttons often span the full length of the shirt. The neck shape is usually in a V-neck, and these shirts often have a left shirt pocket sewn in.
Hawaiian or aloha shirts are meant to be loose-fitting shirts and are made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton, rayon, or silk, designed to be suitable for warm climates, such as in Hawaii.
They are acceptable as casual wear, however, in Hawaii, they can be seen as entirely suitable business-casual wear, especially if an event such as a semi-formal wedding calls for ‘Aloha attire’.
They were traditionally worn by men, but can also be worn by women.
The great thing about aloha shirts is that because they can be found in so many different patterns, they give off a sense of being unique, and this is one of the reasons they are still so popular.
Aloha Shirt Vs Cuban Shirt: Is There A Difference?
The difference between aloha shirts and Cuban shirts is the pattern and color of the fabric. Cuban shirts tend to come in plain, earthy tones, whereas aloha shirts usually feature bold floral and tropical patterns.
There are also a few other subtle differences between these two otherwise very similar shirt types.
Here’s an example of a Cuban shirt on
Here’s another example of an Aloha shirt (a.k.a Hawaiian shirt):
Let’s break them down.
1. The Pattern
As we have touched upon, aloha shirts usually have a very bold, very colorful floral or tropical print that they have become so well-known for.
Cuban shirts, on the other hand, usually come in solid colors which are typically earthy tones, such as greys, off-whites, blues, greens, and black.
You can find some Cuban shirts which are patterned, but these patterns tend on the whole to be more subtle than the patterns that aloha shirts have, such as simple stripes.
This is the most obvious difference between Cuban shirts and aloha shirts at first glance.
Aloha shirts, as we discussed earlier, often have a single pocket sewn in on the left side of the shirt.
Cuban shirts, although they can also come with a single left pocket, often have double pockets, one on either side.
The pockets on Cuban shirts may also have flaps adorned with matching buttons.
Aloha shirts, however, tend to have an open left pocket with no buttons attached and no flap to close the pocket.
This is more of an aesthetic difference instead of practical; not many people make use of these pockets as the outer fabric of the pocket is lightweight, making any objects inside very obvious.
3. Side Slits
Aloha shirts usually do not have any side slits incorporated into them.
One subtle difference between these two types of shirts is that some Cuban shirts do have these side slits built-in.
This is not a very noticeable difference at first glance, but it is one way to differentiate between aloha shirts and Cuban shirts.
The traditional aloha and Cuban shirts were both designed to be loose-fitting, almost boxy with their straight hem design.
However, one difference between the more modern variation of Cuban shirts and aloha shirts is that modern Cuban shirts tend to have a slightly more fitted cut in the body and often have tapered sleeves.
This gives them a smarter look, and the slightly more snug fit outlines the figure more than the aloha shirt does.
This gives people the option to wear Cuban shirts in smarter settings than you might an aloha shirt.
However, never fear, you can still find Cuban shirts that are more traditionally shaped if you prefer the loose, relaxed look.
Aloha Shirt Vs Cuban Shirt: How To Choose
As Aloha shirts usually feature a bold, colorful pattern, and Cuban shirts are more subtly patterned, it is best to choose to wear a Cuban shirt to smart-casual events, and Aloha shirts for truly casual settings.
This is by far the main deciding factor when choosing what type of shirt to buy or wear.
Let’s go through this in a little more detail.
1. Type Of Event
When choosing between wearing an Aloha shirt and a Cuban shirt, the most important thing is to ask yourself what kind of event you are attending.
Both of these shirt types are suitable for summer events, due to their lightweight, breathable fabric and loose fit.
But if you are attending a smart casual event, such as an informal beach wedding, a Cuban shirt may be more appropriate as it has a slightly smarter look compared with the aloha shirt.
The aloha shirt, on the other hand, tends to fall more strictly into the casual wear category, given its propensity to loud colors and tropical motifs.
This sort of shirt would look out of place at even most informal weddings unless the bride and groom have stated this is acceptable wear.
The only situation where aloha shirts are considered business-casual is if you live on a Hawaiian island. Aloha Fridays are where employers are encouraged to let their employees wear aloha shirts on the last day of the workweek.
So if you are attending a smart casual summer event, it is better to opt for a Cuban shirt than an Aloha shirt.
One other factor to consider is the ongoing maintenance and care your shirt will require.
On the whole, if you want a shirt that is lower maintenance, consider getting an Aloha shirt.
Aloha shirts tend to be made of synthetic materials which are usually better at remaining wrinkle-free when washed.
Cuban shirts, on the other hand, often come in linen, a material that is notoriously easily wrinkled. Therefore a little extra care needs to be taken when washing a Cuban shirt.
This is not absolute, however, as you can still find Cuban shirts in synthetic materials that are designed to be less prone to wrinkling.
It is just something to keep in mind when choosing between the two.
3. You Want To Wear It With A Suit
Lastly, when considering between these two related types of shirt, think about what you are going to be wearing it with.
Both shirts are great in that they can go with a whole variety of different garments – be it shorts, blue jeans or chinos.
However, if you want to wear a light-colored summer suit, it is best to go for the Cuban shirt option.
This is because, as we discussed before, the Cuban shirt has a slightly more formal edge than the Aloha shirt, so is better paired with a suit.
It can also come in more modern form-fitting styles, which can be tucked into trousers for a slightly more formal look.
Their more muted tones and subtler patterns also mean they won’t dress down your suit too much.
So, if you want to rock that smart casual summer suit style – choose a Cuban shirt.
Because these shirts often have several different names, there can be some confusion when it comes to defining them and knowing which is which.
Hopefully, I’ve clarified the main differences between the Aloha shirt and the Cuban shirt. In addition, you now know that Aloha shirts and Hawaiian shirts are literally the same things.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.