I thought it might be interesting to start a new series of posts here on the blog looking at the details of vintage garments that Mr Rat and I have in our closet. Most patterns have very little information about choosing seam finishes, even though seam finishes and other small details like button choice and placement become crucial design elements.
Since Mr Rat just finished his first ‘Aloha’ shirt and has another one cut out and sitting on our sewing desk waiting to be assembled, I thought I’d start the series by looking at a few of his vintage Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirts that we have found at thrift stores in Los Angeles over the past few years. I chose the three I am going to highlight today for their variety---maybe some other time I will highlight some of his other ones.
A few notes about what all of his vintage Aloha shirts have in common: they are all 100 percent cotton, and generally the older ones and the ones that are truly from Hawaii are usually turned ‘inside-out’ so the paler side of the cotton print that we would usually assume is the ‘back’ becomes the ‘front.’ They all have very little top or edge-stitching. I’ve also noticed that they rarely use any interfacing. Usually the only places they have stitching visible on the outside is on the collar and the pocket. The pockets are always meticulously pattern-matched to the surrounding print, and there is usually just one, generally on the left side. They all have straight bottom hems, because they are generally worn untucked, I believe.
For individual details, first let’s look at the Surfline Hawaii shirt at the top of the post, which is probably from the late 60s or early 70s, judging by the shape of the collar. The cotton on this one is much rougher and thicker than the other shirts in Mr Rat’s collection. It may even be barkcloth, which is a traditional Hawaiian textile. The collar is a true ‘convertible’ collar, with a little piece of elastic on one side and a tiny button hidden under the collar on the other. Mr Rat usually wears it open.
The buttons are wood.
The inside seams are mostly finished with a serged edge, except the yoke, which is clean finished so no edges are showing. The back of the shirt is gathered into two small pleats at the yoke. The collar is understitched around the back to help it roll correctly. The hems on the bottom edge and the short sleeves are rolled and stitched very close to the edge.
The most unusual finishing detail is the front facing: it is cut so the selvedge edge of the fabric forms the outer edge of the facing.
Next let’s look at this Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. It also has a convertible collar, but this one lacks the upper button to really make it convertible. The collar is topstitched, but only around the upper section. It also has a meticulously matched single front pocket and wooden buttons.
The inside seams are also serged, including the front facing. The hem at the bottom and on the sleeves is machine blind-stitched.
The back yoke is very similarly treated to the pink aloha shirt, with two small pleats at the shoulder blades. The yoke is longer than the pink shirt, however.
Last, let’s look at another Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. This one departs from the convertible collar look and
has a traditional stand collar instead, and a front button band instead of a fold-over front faching. There is more top and edge-stitching on this shirt: the collar, collar-band, pocket, hems, and front button band are all top and edge-stitched.
The back yoke has a different treatment, too: on this one there is a center pleat, more like you see on contemporary men’s dress shirts.
This one also differs by having slits to allow for extra movement at the bottom side hems.
The inside seams are also mostly serged, except for the hems, which are folded over and stitched very close to the edge.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew