A riot of hibiscus

Extracted from my 1/15/21 posting “Flat on his back at the solstice”, this image:

(#1) A guy in Hawaiian mode, with beachcomber hat, lei, coconut drink, ukulele, and Hawaiian beach shorts

These Hawaiian beach shorts are only modestly floral. But ads go past me all the time for just gorgeous shirts, and bottoms as well — beach shorts, board shorts, and swim trunks — many in recognizably Hawaiian patterns (from traditional fabrics of several kinds), others of new, riotously colorful and often playful, design.

I started to assemble a collection of some of my favorite patterns, only to realize that they were all based on hibiscus flowers — some stylized, some more realistic. So this has become a hibiscus posting. (Information about the flowers in a while.)

The cultural context: aloha shirts. From Wikipedia:

The aloha shirt, also referred to as a Hawaiian shirt, is a style of dress shirt originating in Hawaii. They are collared and buttoned dress shirts, usually short-sleeved and cut from printed fabric. They are often worn untucked, but can be worn tucked in as well. They are not only casual wear, but serve as informal business attire in Hawaii.

… Traditional men’s aloha shirts are usually adorned with traditional Hawaiian quilt designs, tapa designs, and simple floral patterns in more muted colors. Contemporary aloha shirts may have prints that do not feature any traditional Hawaiian quilt or floral designs but instead may incorporate drinks, palm trees, surf boards or other island tropical elements in a similar form as the traditional aloha shirt.

(#2) On Amazon: Wave Shoppe men’s navy blue Hawaiian shirt with hibiscus flowers

[Side notes on this Wikipedia piece. First, on tapa cloth:

Tapa cloth (or simply tapa) is a barkcloth made in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, primarily in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, but as far afield as Niue, Cook Islands, Futuna, Solomon Islands, Java, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Hawaii (where it is called kapa). (Wikipedia link)

(#3) From the Cooper Hewitt site: bark cloth (Samoa), 19th or early 20th century

Then on Hawaiian quilts:

A Hawaiian quilt is a distinctive quilting style of the Hawaiian Islands that uses large radially symmetric applique patterns. Motifs often work stylized botanical designs in bold colors on a white background.

Hawaiian quilt applique is made from a single cut on folded fabric. Quilting stitches normally follow the contours of the applique design.

(#4) Hawaiian quilt (from Wikipedia)

… Hawaiian quilting derives from the kapa moe, an indigenous bed cover textile. Kapa was constructed from the inner bark of local trees. Traditional kapa was beaten and felted, then dyed in geometric patterns.

Quilting may have begun in the Hawaiian islands with the arrival of missionaries and Western fabrics in the 1820s. The climate of Hawaii is unsuitable for cotton cultivation and kapa is unsuitable for quilting so all Hawaiian quilts are constructed from imported material. The earliest written reference comes from Isabella Bird, who visited Hawaii in 1870 and wrote a travelogue Six Months in the Sandwich Islands. (Wikipedia link) ]

Tropical fabric.From the Aloha Quilt Shop site, selling tropical fabrics:

(#5) Blue pareau Hawaiian fabric (available in many other colors); those are stylized hibiscus flowers

The term pareau (a variant of pareu) was new to me; it turns out to be another piece of cultural background. From Wikipedia:

The pāreu or pareo … is the Cook Islands and Tahitian word for a wraparound skirt. Originally it was used only to refer to women’s skirts, as men wore a loincloth, called a maro. Nowadays the term is applied to any piece of cloth worn wrapped around the body, worn by males or females.

… In contemporary Tahitian the right word is pāreu … It is not clear where the variant pareo comes from.

… The Tahitian pāreu are among the most colourful and bright of the Pacific. Originally flower patterns, the hibiscus flowers in particular, or traditional tapa patterns, were printed in bright colours on a cotton sheet of about 90 or 120 cm wide and 180 cm long.

The fabrics can then also be used for shirts and bottoms.

The Aloha Quilt Shop site offers this (less traditional) hibiscus floral Hawaiian print:


Back in #2, a hibiscus shirt. And now some men’s shorts (from the Paradise Clothing Co.):

(#7) Hibiscus Paradise men’s shorts (in red pareau)

The genus Hibiscus. Three species in the genus have figured prominently on this blog:

— the rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, a common ornamental shrub

— perennial hibiscus, or rose-mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos, a wetland plant, also popular as a garden plant

— Chinese or tropical hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, a  shrub or small tree with showy flowers in many colors; this is the flower that is represented on so many Hawaiian fabrics. Two tropical hibiscus flowers, one red and one white:



Two other Hibiscus species on this blog:

— roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffai, a Mexican plant of many uses: bast fiber from the stem of the plant, food coloring, folk medicine, dishes made with leaves, beverage, jam

— okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, which was formerly Hibiscus esculentus (that is,’edible hibiscus’)

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