Hula girls, long-board surfers, island sunsets and blooming hibiscus--this is paradise, and it can be found all over resort wear.
Tropical prints, always a favorite with vacationers, are especially popular this season, even among those not leaving the mainland.
Some say the wave of tropical motifs is due to a longing for the prints' sunny, nostalgic visions of Hawaii and California in all of their unspoiled, unpolluted glory.
Some say it's the prints' happy colors and oversized imagery that make them popular; people want a vacation from the bland beiges and monochromatic looks of past seasons. Some say it's a sign that America is coming out of its post-recession doldrums.
Whatever the reasons, tropical prints are in full bloom on shirts, sun dresses, sarongs and swim trunks.
"America has been in the dumps. It's hungry for color," says Dave Rochlen, owner of Jam's World in Honolulu, which makes colorful resort wear with island motifs. "People are tired of worn-out, gang-like clothes. They want something lighter."
Rochlen is giving people plenty of color--his clothes come in a riot of electric blues, yellows, pinks and oranges.
"Our imagery is sometimes extremely bold, in unpredictable color combinations," he says.
Jam's spring collection includes a column tank dress with a large-scale fluorescent floral print, a baby doll with a drop waist and triple-tiered skirt made of remnants from past collections and an electric blue shirt with lions sporting hot pink manes (all about $60 to $80).
The line is carried at the Persimmon Tree in Balboa Island, the Beach Club in San Clemente, Gary's Island/Dick's Last Resort in Fashion Island Newport Beach and other resort specialty shops.
"These are no 'Magnum, P.I.' shirts," says Rochlen, who does not want his resort wear compared with traditional Hawaiian shirts.
Not that there's anything wrong with Hawaiian shirts. They're enjoying a big comeback, especially vintage styles from the '40s and '50s, whether reproductions or genuine oldies.
"It's a nostalgia thing," says Jim Olarte, co-owner of Locals Only in Laguna Beach, which sells vintage Hawaiian shirts. "People love the whole idea of California and Hawaii in the '40s and '50s. It was a simpler time."
Hawaiian shirts that date before 1955 sell for about $75 to $1,000 if they're in decent condition, he says. A desirable background color (usually black) and hard-to-find size (large or extra large) can increase a shirt's value, but its most important feature is subject matter.
"People want the conversational prints," Olarte says. They love the kitschy illustrations of hula girls, kayakers and fishermen reeling in their nets, as well as postcard collages and "border prints" of tropical scenes that cover the entire shirt.
Walter Hoffman, owner of Hoffman California Fabrics in Mission Viejo, has been supplying major Hawaiian shirt makers with tropical prints for 35 years. Lately Hoffman has been searching his company's library and reproducing vintage prints.
"People like them because they were neat and they were different," Hoffman says. Major sportswear companies such as Orange County-based Quiksilver, Stussy and Rusty are ordering the vintage Hawaiian fabrics for boardshorts and shirts.
Hawaiian shirts allow people to express their personality, says Maxwell Phillips, owner of J.P. Maxwell on Balboa Island. One of his customers has collected more than 400 shirts.
"I have a group of ministers from New York and cowboys from Texas who wear them with their $300 ostrich boots," Phillips says.
Phillips has hundreds of Hawaiian shirts to accommodate every taste, from an understated batik print of fish skeletons in navy and green from Back East ($42) to vintage-style silk shirts by Summa adorned with colorful fruit packaging labels or hula girls ($48).
"They're happy shirts," says Phillips, sporting a Hawaiian shirt that features cows roller skating in Maui. "You have to laugh at them."
Fun, contemporary prints, many by accomplished artists, have revived demand for the new shirts.
Reyn Spooner introduced a line of Hawaiian shirts with prints by famous artists, including one with Guy Buffet's series of a bartender mixing a martini and getting shook up himself and another by Buffet of a chef tossing a Caesar salad.
"For a long time there was nothing new. The shirts became boring," says Dick Braeger, owner of Gary's Island/Dick's Last Resort, a spin-off from Gary & Co. in Fashion Island devoted to men's, women's and children's resort wear. Gary's will open a resort shop at MainPlace/Santa Ana in June.
Gary's Island is an oasis of tropical resort wear festooned with pineapples, hibiscus, kayaks, seashells, fish, sailboats, underwater scenes and beer bottles.
There are unusual offerings, such as baby doll dresses from Beck Sport decorated with old woody station wagons ($75) in light blue or yellow, linen vests by Tommy Bahama with a waterlily print in back ($52) and swim trunks from Spot Sport covered with vintage shirt labels from companies that made or distributed Hawaiian shirts ($36).
There are also the classics, including a reproduction of the red floral Hawaiian shirt Elvis Presley wore in "Blue Hawaii" ($65) and the parrot print shirts worn by Tom Selleck ($55).
Shirts with scenes of Balboa Island and Newport Beach are especially hot here. Gary's will soon carry shirts by Jam's World with scenes of Newport Beach and Balboa Island.
"They're fun and sentimental," Braeger says.