Ahhh….the Hawaiian mu’umu’u, possibly the best love-hate relationship in fashion; you either adore them or detest them. And I’d like to insert here the alter ego of this garment, the aloha shirt, for which men of Hawaii are ubiquitous and carry no emotional overtones of the former. Anyway, I digress.

Katherine modeling vintage muumuu.

When the English Protestants came to “civilize” the Hawaiian Islands in the early eighteen hundreds, they chose to dress the Hawaiian women in long gowns with long sleeves, high necklines and a wide fit to completely cover them up. The fabric was subdued in small prints and patterns and usually had a white lace collar and yoke. Ruffles decorated the bottom hem, and for fancy events, the dresses could have a train built in. They made everyone look fat and, I can imagine, were uncomfortable in the hot Hawaii weather.

I loved the muumuu from the very start and began my collection immediately after moving to the islands. I listened to my friends talk about the times when women wore these almost everyday. They became quite the fashion statement, as the “mu” slowly morphed into designer lines and elegant gowns done in tropical colors and cool fabrics. A cut-off version soon became popular with the tourists.

My friends spoke of certain labels: Princess Kaiulani Fashions, Hale Hawaii, Bete Muu and Ui Maikai. They were all fashion forward for their day, and now, they are prized finds at yard sales and thrift shops. These garments were truly elegant and beautiful, showing off a woman’s figure and style. A couple of these vintage brands continue to make classic mu’s today.

The Modern Mu

But times brought changes to female fashions, and the popularity of this original look declined. There continues to be a thriving trade in producing the new formula of aloha wear, and it is seen mostly worn in the Waikiki area, by locals on weekly Aloha Fridays. So it is with surprise and delight when I chance upon the occasional tutu (grandmother) proudly wearing her muumuu in the grocery stores or the library during the week. And this is always done with grace and pride.

Manuhealii adds a modern flair to the classic mu.

But fear not, countless options are available to those who don’t prefer the older style. Designers started using the classic mu’umu’u as a base design until it evolved into what we see today, the muumuu of the 21st century. There are so many modern renditions that I could take another posting to cover them adequately.

Located in Kailua, two internationally-known lines, Muumuu Heaven and Manuheali’i. Muumuu Heaven creates unique garments from vintage mu’s, reconstructed with a modern fit and flair. Manuhealii uses heavenly soft fabrics to produce wearable, modern garments that reflect the Hawaiian style. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post how Hilo Hattie has recently updated its fashion line as well.

Muumuu Heaven recycles vintage mu’s, giving them a contemporary look.

So leave your winter, darker clothes at home when you visit Hawaii, and look into wearing some aloha during your stay. It’s like a whole other world, unique and based in history, and I’m hoping you’ll love it like I do!


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