Every label tells a story


POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

Craig Callaway lived on the mainland most of his life but considers himself kamaaina at heart, having spent his childhood on Kauai and Oahu. He didn't exactly have a say in the matter when his father, a weatherman, moved the family to Winslow, Ariz., when Craig was about 9 years old.




        Hawaii Unbuttoned



“;I was comfortable in aloha shirts, not cowboy shirts,”; said Callaway, whose memories are still tied to certain prints and styles of shirts from his childhood. “;I remember the race with Alaska to be the 49th state. There was a 49th State Bakery, and there were shirts that clearly had No. 49 right on it.”;

And he paid the most, $300, for an 'Iolani shirt “;that depicts very accurately Waimea Canyon on Kauai. I had to have that. I have it framed.”;

Callaway, 65, is the author of “;Hawai'i Unbuttoned: A Practical Guide to Buying and Selling True-Vintage Hawaiian Shirts.”;

The book is not about glossy shirt photos, but gets into the kind of details collectors need to date their finds. The book's pictorial guide to manufacturer's labels spans nearly 80 years, with much of the information gleaned firsthand from insiders who played a big part in the company's histories. They include Camille Shaheen-Tunberg, daughter of the late Alfred Shaheen; Tim McCullough, son of Reyn Spooner founder Reyn McCullough; Pua Rochlen, president of Surf Line Hawaii and son of its founder, Dave Rochlen; and Dale Hope, known for his longtime affiliation with the Kahala brand, and author of “;The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands,”; which Callaway considers the bible of Hawaiian shirts.

Callaway, who lives in Oregon, spent 2 1/2 years working on the book, which he created mostly for himself after making a few mistakes when purchasing vintage shirts online. There he found many sellers to be “;IOW—ignorant or worse.”;

In one case he found a buyer advertising a vintage 1950s Aliiolani Casuals aloha shirt. It didn't take him long to find information about the company, started in 1972, elsewhere online.

“;I was reading a lot of books where there were hundreds of shirts to drool over, but the one thing that was missing was a buyer's guide.”;

He realized he had to speak with experts, and Hope came to mind.

“;I wondered if he would talk to me or if he would consider my project to be in competition with his,”; Callaway said. “;I got his phone number, and talk about spirit of aloha. He said, 'That's a good idea,' and offered to help any way he could. A lot of times he was up at 5 a.m. Hawaii time, going over rough drafts with me.”;

Callaway also got help from Robert Hayes, a Tucson, Ariz., collector who has amassed a personal collection of more than 12,000 shirts, with an estimated 250,000 shirts passing through his hands over the years.

“;I think he has the world's largest collection. He just turned me loose in his storage area and let me photograph labels,”; Callaway said. “;He's like a walking encyclopedia. I could just point to a shirt, and he could tell me all about it.”;

The book goes into details about collar lengths, top-stitching, buttonholes and manufacturers' registered numbers, as well as anachronisms such as care labels in alleged 1940s shirts, a time when care labels didn't exist.

“;Hopefully I've done something that's useful and helpful,”; Callaway said.