Over the past four years we have been working on Dress Codes, an exhibition that looks at clothing and street fashions that emerged from Western work, communities, traditions, and social movements and which are now adapted around the world.
The Autry’s mission is to tell the diverse stories of the American West. We support a community where all feel welcome and safe. When we started this project, we did not foresee how Aloha shirts, whose long history we explore in this exhibition, would be co-opted by a small number of extremists. We included Aloha shirts in Dress Codes because of the garment’s roots in ideas and designs from Indigenous and immigrant cultures in Hawaii and the way Aloha shirts often expressed “ohana,” a Native Hawaiian concept that encompasses family, community, and love. Individuals who wear them to express racism and hate is antithetical to what we stand for as a museum and is the opposite of the spirit of ohana.
Dress Codes team feels we have a responsibility to act on recent events and address how meanings tied to what we wear continue to change. We are assessing how best to address contemporary coding of Aloha shirts without silencing the voices we intended to highlight.
By: Carolyn Brucken, Chief Curator
Over the past few days people around the world have been sheltering at home, working remotely, and cancelling travel plans. For me, this has meant that work on the Autry’s upcoming exhibition Dress Codes has shifted to a make-shift office space surrounded by cats where the dress code is definitely more relaxed.
Dress Codes is about what we wear, how we wear it, and why. We look at several icons of Western fashion, including the aloha shirt—the epitome for many of casual office wear. For the exhibition, Amanda Wixon (my co-curator for this section) and I issued a call to Autry staff and friends to lend us their Aloha shirts for this show. The response was amazing, and we discovered a living record of the many ways clothing helps us remember our ties to one other.
Aloha shirts reflect ‘Ohana, a Native Hawaiian concept that means family, but also extends to include friends, neighbors, and others who share a sense of spirit. In these challenging times, 'Ohana is vital even if sometimes virtual. We invite you to join us every Friday as we share Aloha shirts and personal stories of 'Ohana. Follow us on Instagram: @theautry for more #AlohaAutry content. Get in the spirit yourself by posting your own Aloha shirts and tagging us!