Aloha, Waltah Clarke

Hawaiian clothing purveyors Waltah and Gretchen Clarke operated what was once America’s largest retailer of ‘aloha’ wear, cultivating a legacy of cheerful prints and affordable Hawaiian ephemera over some 50 odd years in business.  With Gretchen’s passing at age 78 in late January of this year, the Waltah Clarke empire may have reached its living end, though the company’s sought-after prints continue to sell well on ebay, etsy, and via innumerable vintage collectors. The apparel chain began in the 1952 in Palm Springs and grew to over 30 stores between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii before the last store was sold in 2001, and Gretchen entered retirement thereafter. Though Waltah had already opened the first store before meeting his bride-to-be– at a hula dancing class in Hawaii, no joke– it was Gretchen who took over print and garment design for most of the company’s apparel over the years, remarking in 2002, “…We were innovative and kept up with the trends but always with the Hawaiian flair…the muumuu was transformed in the 1960s into more of a ‘fashion garment’ — cocktail dresses and resort wear — and not just a baggy dress, and when miniskirts became popular [we] shortened the muumuu to create a ‘mini muu.’ ”

The everyman’s answer to Alfred Sheehan’s more exclusive brand of Hawaiian beach-chic, Waltah and Gretchen Clarke’s contributions to the world of aloha wear will forever remain a part of apparel history in the latter half of the 20th century.  Visit the LAtimes to read Gretchen Clarke’s obituary, quoted above by the Vault.

Gretchen & Waltah Clarke in 1993


A smattering of Waltah Clarke prints and dress silhouettes over the years

Men’s/Women’s Aloha shirts; Waltah Clarke apparel tags

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