Beginnings

The pareu is the fabric of paradise, the perfect weight and style for the tropics.  It is a lightweight printed cloth garment that first came to Tahiti with Europeans in trade for prized goods like vanilla and sandalwood.  While the Europeans expected the pareu to be worn as a wrap, the Tahitians began to use it far more creatively.  When European missionaries tried to insist that the Tahitians wear only white clothing, the Tahitians instead preferred the bright floral prints of the pareu, which they found suitable not only as a wrap but for pretty much any occasion.  


Use in Aloha Shirts

During the 1930s, the motifs and colors of the pareu began to influence the fabrics being used in Hawaii for Aloha shirts.  The early Aloha shirt makers like George Brangier and Nat Norfleet would make trips to Tahiti to buy pareu cloth, which they would bring back to Hawaii to have cut and sewn into shirts and dresses.  By the 1950s, the pareu print had become a distinct and very popular design style for the Aloha shirt.  For people like Dale, the pareu even became their preferred print: