Before the resurgence of house dresses for the new work-at-home set, and 100 years before even the first aloha shirt, there was the muumuu.
Muumuu, which means to “cut off” or “shorten,” were once worn as chemise under holuku, initially loose, yoked gowns introduced to Hawaii by Christian missionaries in the 1820s to cover as much skin as possible. Both the muumuu and holuku evolved, with the holuku becoming more formal and the muumuu coming out of hiding — from under the holuku and out of the home — and into its own as outerwear. Designers began making muumuu for all occasions and experimenting with everything from Chinese cheongsam details to Japanese prints to psychedelic patterns.
“The brands back in the muu heyday were super creative and many of these vintage pieces are beyond outrageous,” says Shannon Hiramoto, founder of Machinemachine on Kauai. “I mean, there’s ruffles on ruffles on ruffles, contrasting fabrics, insane lace and trim, high necklines, huge puffy sleeves, flowy fabric for days, bright colors, floral prints from Hawaii, quirky design details and pockets!”
Shannon Hiramoto created a muumuu movement, leading to Gov. Ige proclaiming the first month of the year as Muumuu Month. (Photo credit: Blenda Montoro Miller)
A monthlong muumuu celebration
Growing up on Kauai in the ’80s and ’90s, she says “women wearing muumuu was a big part of the visual landscape,” but by her adulthood, the dress had fallen out of fashion.
In 2015, she was gifted dozens of vintage muumuu. “The dresses gave me nostalgic butterflies, reminding me of my childhood, teachers and aunties, May Days and Aloha Fridays,” Hiramoto says. “I had an urge to wear them. The problem is they were considered by my generation as severely ‘out of style’ and given a bad rap by American pop culture. I felt the dresses needed to be highlighted and attention called to how wearable and beautiful they still are.”
And so, she began Muumuu Month in January 2015, wearing a different muumuu each day of the month — and challenging others to do the same.
She succeeded in creating a muumuu-vement, leading to Governor Ige proclaiming the first month of the year as Muumuu Month. And now, you’ll rarely find muumuu stuffed in the back of closets or languishing in thrift stores. New businesses have sprung up specializing in vintage muumuu.
Hawaii fashion lovers celebrate Muumuu Month in January, challenging themselves to wear a muumuu every day. (Photo credit: Blenda Montoro Miller)
Where to find muumuu in Hawaii
“There’s a muu for every occasion, every body type and every personality,” Hiramoto says. Here are a few shops to check out.
736 South St. #103
Lei Batty originally began DeStash Hawaii as a vintage wares shop, with shelves of dishes and knicknacks and no clothing racks. And then the mu‘umu‘u movement caught on, and now you can hardly get to the shelves for all the racks of mu‘umu‘u and other vintage clothing in the small shop. “It’s so nice to see the younger generation getting into it,” Batty says.
Kaimuki Lei Stand
Book an appointment with The Kaimuki Lei Stand and owners Keoni and Makamae Williams will set up a showing of vintage muumuu and dresses. All of the garments they sell are made in Hawai‘i during the 60s and 70s with patterns that lean towards bright and groovy florals. “Many were purchased from tourists visiting Hawaii, ending up in their closets for decades, so to have them make a full circle and return where they were created is extra special to me,” Makamae says.
160 Kamehameha Ave
Hilo (Hawaii Island)
Year round, this shop in Hilo features clothing and gifts from local artisans, and for the month of January, it sells vintage muumuu and hosts a muu share rack, where you can leave a muu and take a muu, as long as you promise to rock it.
2484 Keneke St. Bldg. B Ste. 201
Halia Aloha, which means “a cherished or loving memory: to remember fondly” in Hawaiian, is a new boutique in Kilauea on Kauai specializing in both modern and vintage muumuu. You might find full-length stunners in barkcloth (a textured cotton made to emulate bark that Native Hawaiians pound into fabric) to mod muu by Liberty House, a beloved, now defunct brand and department store in Hawaii.
Vintage Aloha Shack
“The brighter, the better,” Jade Kostka, who started the Vintage Aloha Shack, says. “The creativity for prints and colors back then were amazing.” She sells her vintage finds via Instagram, with many muumuu claimed within minutes of posting. Perusing her feed will disabuse you of the notion of muumuu as only staid and monotone — some pop in neon pink and others feature elegant waterfall backs.
Note: Due to web limitations, the use of diacritics in the Hawaiian language are omitted from this article.