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Professor explores roots of aloha attire on TV program

Ethnicities mix and mingle in the collection of aloha attire curated by Linda Bradley, professor in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. Bradley’s 24-year exploration of Hawaiian fashion earned her a spot on the public television program Hawaii Fashion Now, which aired in April. (Photo by Seth Truscott/WSU)
Ethnicities mix and mingle in the collection of aloha attire curated by Linda Bradley, professor in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. Bradley’s 24-year exploration of Hawaiian fashion earned her a spot on the public television program Hawaii Fashion Now, which aired in April. (Photo by Seth Truscott/WSU)

Professor Linda Arthur Bradley’s 24-year career exploring the roots of aloha attire has earned her a spot on public television.

Bradley, a professor in the WSU Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, was featured on the first episode of Hawaii Fashion Now, which was filmed in January and aired last month on Hawaii’s Olelo 53 public TV station. On the show, she traces the history of Hawaiian garments from the missionary era to the multicultural, postwar explosion of aloha attire.

“My whole career has been about how we express who we are, what we believe and value, through clothing and textiles,” said Bradley, who has written several books on Hawaiian fashion. Her studies began in the 1990s, while teaching at the University of Hawaii, and continue at WSU, where she researches dress, culture, body and appearance topics.

When Bradley came to Hawaii in 1991, aloha shirts were at a low point, made of polyester fabrics and bad prints, she recalled. Her research helped stimulate the academic community and designers alike.

“As my work received attention, designers in the United States and later worldwide started looking at what was in print – much of it my work – and Hawaiian prints for menswear took off,” said Bradley. Designers like Prada took notice.

“Today, the most expensive aloha shirts that are mass produced exceed $1,400,” Bradley said.

Hawaii’s clothing, prints and designs mirror the ethnic diversity of the islands as well as their beauty, Bradley has found.

The characteristic Hawaiian men’s shirt, for example, combines a western body with Japanese fabric, created by Chinese tailors, and eventually incorporating indigenous Hawaiian motifs. The trend of wearing it loose, outside the trousers, originated with Filipino immigrants.

“You have five ethnic groups who brought different traditions, and it all lands on the aloha shirt,” said Bradley. “It helps us visualize multicultural harmony.”

Bradley’s written work on Hawaiian apparel is currently in publication in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Merchandising, Encyclopedia of Ethnic Clothing in the United States, and Clothing and Fashion in American History.

• You can watch Linda Arthur Bradley discuss aloha apparel here.

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