Tiki Dresses Over the Years

Rita Hayworth on the set of You Were Never Lovelier, 1942
Ida Lupino circa 1940’s | Getty

I want a Tiki Dress! They are so colorful and lovely. Back in the 1950s Women’s dresses had two main shapes. They were full circle skirts and very narrow pencil shape dresses. The big difference between the standard dress in the 50s and the Tiki style was the material and the colors. Tropical print fabrics were used to make both the pencil shaped dress and the full circle shaped dress. The sarong style dress is one style that was also made with the tropical style fabric. All the colors of course, were bright pinks, greens, blues and yellows among others that were also used to make these Tiki style dresses stand out.

Now, we can find these clothes by looking for retro Tiki style clothes. They include dresses, skirts and shoes and are all available on sites such eBay and Etsy.

But let’s take a look back to the history of the Muumuu. Remember when people used to wear long cotton, almost housecoat looking things back in the 50s and 60s? They were called muumuus. Well there is actually a history of the muumuu that goes back even further than the 50s.

Jacqueline Bisset in a Muumuu Style Dress | Harry Benson | Getty

British Protestant missionaries introduced the Holoku, this is the Hawaiian word for the Mother Hubbard dresses, in the 1820s, to the people of Polynesia. This was to try and make them more civilized and to cover up their skin to the world. Even though the holoku dresses were made of lightweight material, they were worn to the ground with long sleeves and high collars. These dresses were hot and uncomfortable.

As years passed and the missionaries lost control, the holoku would evolve into a more fitted and a collarless dress with shorter sleeves. Some of the holokus have long trains with beautiful details and colorful fabric. The holoku became more of a formal style dress for ceremonies.

The long mu’umu’u as it was called, because it meant “cut off” became the dress we see today in Hawaii. These are beautiful, sleeveless dresses with bright colors.

Now the muumuu is a comfortable, very light fitting dress that is worn anywhere for a relaxing way to dress. This is one style that never goes away. You can think of this as a housedress, but it is a housedress that is classy and made for comfort and also company.

Princess Kaiulani standing on top of steps on the porch of her house at ʻĀinahau, wearing the holoku and a lei

When I think of Hawaii and the Polynesian Islands, I think of a resilient and peaceful people who have undergone a censorship of their culture and then a rebirth and an embracing of their way of life. All the while, they are welcoming of tourists and people from the mainland. Hawaii should be visited. But visit Hawaii in such a way as to learn more about this state and the people who are natives of the state.

The history of Hawaii, the music, the dress, the language and the people are all subjects we need to learn more about. This is Hawaii. Not the hotels or the beach. And yes, those are wonderful. Get out into the real Hawaii when you visit, as well. Go to the markets, the local tours, the path less taken, and learn about the real dress and where it all comes from. I had no idea the Muumuu came from missionaries who wanted the natives to “cover up.” What else can we learn?