The diversity of Aloha shirts is as infinite as the color combinations of a rainbow. But for the most part, any Hawaiian shirt can be categorized into a few basic types.
The most common is the all-over print. An all-over print Hawaiian shirt has a basic pattern that repeats all over the shirt in an apparent random manner. This main design element can be a flower, a bird, a tree, etc. This is the most common type of shirt.
A subset of the all-over print is the scenic print Aloha shirt. Just like the all-over print shirt, the scenic print designs repeat in an apparent random manner all over the shirt. Instead of a simple object like a flower that repeats, the main design is a scene such as a view of Diamond Head overlooking a beach, a palm tree on an island in the middle of an ocean, or even a surfer surfing waves off Waikiki breach.
The panel Hawaiian shirt is one where the print runs vertically from top to bottom. This is another very common type of shirt. The vertical pattern, like in other fashion, can create a slimming effect when you wear it (versus horizontal stripes like a bee pattern).
Another major Hawaiian shirt category is the border print Aloha shirt. These shirts’ design spans across the front of the shirt every 12 inches. The shirt design could be a row of flowers or parrots across the chest. If the pattern is on the bottom half of the shirt, the shirt is often referred to as a bottom design Hawaiian shirt. But the principle is the same. The design spans across the front of the shirt and repeats every 12 inches. It is usually better to wear a bottom design shirt untucked since tucking it in would cover up some of the major parts of the design.
The engineered Aloha shirt is similar to the border print shirt except the design is bigger, typically 15 inches wide. Such a design spans across the front of the shirt and does not appear to repeat. Engineered prints are the most expensive print types to make because they require the most fabric per shirt and also because they require the most skill to make since the image must be seamless at the buttons to create an uninterrupted image.
The another major shirt category is known as the vintage or retro style Hawaiian shirt. A vintage Aloha shirt is one that was actually made in the 1930s-1940s when Aloha shirts were first made. A true vintage shirt is thus a collectors’ item and can be worth over $2,000. A more affordable shirt is the vintage style, vintage replica or retro Aloha shirt. These shirts are simply replicas of the original vintage patterns or are inspired by them. Vintage and retro shirts are often recognizable by the style of the artwork and colors that were commonly used in the 1930s-1940s. It can be hard to describe but you know it when you see it. Designs from the 30s and 40s had a different style that a modern shirt from the way hula girls were drawn (hair styles were different) to the way certain colors were used.