Unknown in the Islands until missionaries introduced a drab forerunner to cover "heathen nakedness" — which the irrepressible Hawaiians soon decorated with hand-printed geometric motifs from the traditional tapa cloth — the genuine Hawaiian shirt is now regarded as a work of art and avidly sought out by collectors. When tourism came to Hawaii in the late 1920s, these unusual shirts were among the first things that visitors had to have. Local designers and tailors worked quickly to meet the demand and began to expand the range of decoration to include palm trees and romantic beaches, tropical jungles and volcanoes, exotic flowers and scenes from Polynesian legend. The Hawaiian shirt had been born.
H. Thomas Steele runs his own Los Angeles-based graphic design studio specializing in entertainment graphics, illustration, film graphics, and book design. He has designed album covers and advertising for CBS, MCA, Elektra/Asylum, and Warner Brothers records. In the spirit of the true collector, he has shot more than 10,000 color slides cataloging Hawaiian shirts, clothes, and fabric samples from the 1920s to the present. Steele is also the author of the prize-wining Bowl-O-Rama: The Visual Arts of Bowling (Silver Award, Art Directors Annual; AIGA Book Show, et al.), Lick Em, Stick Em: The Lost Art of Poster Stamps, and co-author (with Jim Heimann and Rod Dyer) of Close Cover Before Striking: The Golden Age of Matchbook Art.