Vintage shop owner and stylist Bradley Rhea shares the best spots in Honolulu to thrift aloha shirts, the famous style of the islands.
Text by Eunica Escalante Images by Lila Lee
“I’ve been thrifting pretty much my whole life. It’s, like, in my blood,” says Bradley Rhea, standing next to a rack packed with dresses made half a century ago. It’s Sunday at Barrio Vintage, the boutique that Rhea co-owns with his partner, Jonathan Saupe, and Rhea is manning the checkout counter, which is actually a glass case filled with funky costume jewelry from the 1980s.
His shop, a Chinatown mainstay since he and Saupe opened its doors five years ago, houses an eclectic collection of vintage styles, ranging from structured dresses from the ’40s to bold geometric prints from the ’90s. Personally, Rhea favors the psychedelic fashion of the ’60s, something that was very present in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. There, Rhea cultivated an instinct for thrifting, bolstered by a childhood spent scouring secondhand shops with his mother.
Upon moving to Hawai‘i in 2010 with Saupe, Rhea fell in love with the aloha shirt culture.
“It’s interesting to go to a place where this one item is the garment of this area,” Rhea says. “And they’re just so diverse and expressive. You don’t really get that anywhere else.”
The style, which arose in the 1930s, was popularized by tourists flocking to the islands. Since then, it has cycled through decades of reinvention and reiterations. For thrifters like Rhea, discovering a unique aloha shirt has become a favorite pastime.
Here, Rhea divulges his favorite vintage and thrift spots—which have, until now, been highly guarded secrets—to aid you in your hunt for that perfect aloha shirt.
Tin Can Mailman 1026 Nuuanu Ave. #1A “That place is magical. There’s so much cool stuff—books and maps and postcards—and then you go to the back, and there’s this beautiful rack of aloha shirts and mu‘umu‘u. They know which designers were popular back in the day, so they have a great collection of Hawaiiana to sift through. They know so much about vintage Hawai‘i—they can tell you a million things about it.”
Surf N Hula 3588 Waialae Ave. “This shop has super cute vintage clothing and Hawaiiana, and is owned by a super cute auntie and uncle. They have a few racks of well-selected aloha shirts that range anywhere from contemporary designer to rare vintage finds. They really do have a new selection of alohawear every time I visit, and I honestly never leave empty-handed.”
Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts 517 Kapahulu Ave.
“They’re saturated with a diversity of aloha shirts, and just alohawear in general. It’s so archival that it’s like shopping in a museum. Their walls are covered in all Hawaiian wear, and you’ll find things you never even knew existed. It is a little more expensive, but if you want to put money down on one epic piece, you can go there and you will find it.”
Savers Kalihi 1505 Dillingham Blvd.
“They have a gigantic selection of aloha shirts. Their style is more contemporary, if you don’t want something specifically vintage. And I’ve been going to Savers for forever. It was my go-to spot as a 10-year-old.”
Barrio Vintage 1161 Nuuanu Ave.
“We buy, sell, and trade, so every single day there’s something new. We launched our aloha shirt shack a year ago, and the alohawear we get are all really fluid. Sometimes we even find some when we go up to the West Coast. The shirts you find there are usually from people who came to Hawai‘i and bought them as souvenirs, so I just scoop them all up and bring them back to their home.”