Alfred Shaheen


Perhaps it was the tiki night I attended last night, or maybe I am just longing for the warm weather to get here already, but I’m feeling like a little Hawaiiana. I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to lounging around poolside with a tropical drink this summer, and there’s just about nothing better to wear for that occasion than something inspired by the work of Alfred Shaheen.

If you aren’t familiar with Shaheen, he was a textile pioneer who operated from his adopted home of Oahu, building and running the most innovative Hawaiian brands for over 40 years. Today, Shaheen dresses are some of the most collectible vintage pieces out there, and with good reason. They look incredible.

Shaheen engineered and built the machinery that printed, dyed, and finished all of his fabrics, which incorporated elements and motifs from Hawaii, Asia, and the South Pacific. The Alfred Shaheen website says that he pioneered silk screening methods, printing 600,000 yards of fabric per month by 1952, and that he attributed his success to his ability to print his fabric.

“In his in-house training department, Shaheen and his mother, Mary, trained artists, printers, screeners, finishers, seamstresses, and models. These highly-trained individuals became known as Alfred Shaheen’s City of Craftsmen and produced the extraordinary garments that made Shaheen the largest aloha wear manufacturer in Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s.”

I love this idea of a “City of Craftsmen,” but also the way he controlled so many aspects of production. Rarely does a single person’s vision get carried out this way, but his talent and focus certainly shows in the fabric and clothing he produced.

My favorites are definitely the early sarong and halter styles. These are also the most highly sought-after, and it’s easy to see why. They have impeccable construction and shapes that seriously flatter.

{dress from Posh Girl Vintage}

{dress from Erstwhile Vintage}

{dress from VindemialVintage}

{dress from VindemialVintage}

{dress from listitcafe}

Later dresses featured some stunning large scale engineered prints, usually a tropical floral motif on a simple shift or maxi dress.

{dress from americanarchive}

{dress from CallMeChula}

Want to make your own Shaheen-inspired creation? You can still pick up vintage Shaheen fabric here and there, and there are some real beauties.

{linen from lippylulufineries}

{fabric from otherkind}

This fabric is just incredible and reminds me of Van Gogh’s Branches with Almond Blossom:

{fabric from towrseker}

This fabric even comes with a pattern for making your shift dress. How cool is that?

{fabric and pattern from VintageTempest}

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 10


You just blew my mind. Wow wow wow. I want to live in a Shaheen world!

Laurie Brown

Holy ****! I’ve got some pieces of that branches with flowers one around here somewhere! I came out of either my aunt’s or my mother’s stash. Really interesting to know it’s origin!


Amazing! Really inspirational pictures, such elegant use of prints! I have some printed fabrics I bought on vacation in Hawaii but haven’t been able to decide on a project that didn’t scream ‘tourist.’ Thanks for the lovely article – that black strapless gown would make even the loudest print look sophisticated!


This is fabulous!! I would take all of these dresses. Truly beautiful.


So interesting! The Tiki influenced design from the 1950’s is one of my all time favourite styles, those dresses are master pieces. Thanks for sharing


thanks for the inspiring post! as an oahu native, i’m always suspicious of loud aloha print, but some of these examples are lovely. i’ve always thought there had to be a way to take a tasteful Hawaii-esque (or, for that matter, Asian-inspired) print and sew it up beautifully. looks like i should’ve been looking to the past! how about that turquoise print, in a sarong or halter style? perfect.


I have an awesome vintage Afred Shaheen dress! I got it about 8 yrs ago when I was pretty young, and didn’t know who he was! This dress is SICK! :o) It’s timeless, and will ALWAYS be in style! The tag says “Alfred Shaheen: The Master Printer”. Love this write up on him, it’s renewed my love for his work and my dress!!!!


I love your page! Alfred Shaheen was a true craftsman. If you live in the California Bay Area, there is a Alfred Shaheen exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilt & Textiles from May 18 thru August 8.

Below is a link to their website:

This is definitely a must see exhibit!! Clothing and material are fabulous!


Just a heads up, the Shaheen estate has started printing fabrics again through Free Spirit.

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