How Fo’ Ack in Hawaii Part 2: How Fo’ Dress

In my last post, I talked about How Fo’ Ack (how to act) in Hawaii regarding relationshipping. Because I grew up here on the Big Island in Kohala, my clients and friends often ask me about island etiquette and local customs. In this second part of my How Fo’ Ack series, I tackle the ever pressing issue many newcomers face when attending a business or social event for the first time in Hawaii – how fo’ dress? (What do I wear?)

One of the reasons people move to Hawaii is to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle here. You can find this in the workplace too. There’s an unwritten dress code on the mainland in terms of wearing a suit and business attire in the workplace. In Hawaii, there is casualness to our clothing. Business casual is a way of life in Hawaii. (Casual does not necessarily mean inexpensive!)

Hawaiian Style For Men

Men can essentially go from cradle to grave with only six types of clothing: aloha shirts, jeans, a pair of dress pants/shorts (like khakis) for when it’s too hot for pants, t-shirts, surf shorts, and of course, rubbah slippahs (aka flip flops.)

Dave Sign

Hawaii Life Realtor Dave Minkus, Solid Representation in Casual Wear!

Aloha Shirts & Aloha Friday

Aloha shirts have been a staple in men’s wardrobes here in Hawaii for decades. But beware: they are not the flashy neon shirts you see tourists wearing on the mainland. Men’s aloha shirts in Hawaii can be colorful – but the colors are often muted. Most times the shirts tell a story, represent a company, or have a theme, like fishing or surfing.


The Waikiki Beachboys – Photo courtesy of  Aloha from Hawaii

Did you know that the custom of casual Friday on the mainland and around the world all started here in Hawaii as Aloha Friday? I love this article about the origination of Aloha Fridays.

Here is an excerpt, “In 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild, with Reyn Spooner as a leading member, began promoting Aloha shirts as acceptable workplace attire. During “Operation Liberation,” the Guild gave two Aloha shirts to every member of the Hawaii House and Senate. The resulting resolution recommended Aloha attire ‘be worn in summer months for comfort and to support the 50th state’s garment industry.’ The Guild then lobbied for “Aloha Friday,” allowing men to wear Aloha shirts at work all year. The idea took hold and Aloha Friday officially began in 1966 in Hawaii.”


Happy Aloha Friday! Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Outpost

When it comes to aloha attire, men – just like women – know their fashion. As mentioned above, aloha shirts often tell a story, well known local fashion designers are thoughtful and creative in this way.

At social or business events, you will often hear locals “talking story” about their aloha shirts and about the difference between a Reyn Spooner shirt or one from Sig Zane or Tori Richard. These designer aloha shirts will cost you. Sig Zane, whose prolific and island-inspired designs can be seen everywhere from the sides of airplanes to the logo of Hawaiian Electric Company, designs aloha shirts that start at $110.

It is also worth pointing out that many local men will wear aloha shirts in their high school colors as a way of showing support for their school. This is readily apparent when you go to an event during football season and see a lot of red -or blue- themed aloha shirts.

Hawaiian Style For Women

Women have a little more variation with dresses, skirts, and Pareos (aka sarongs), but fortunately, formal dress suits are not required in the islands (well, at least not on the Big Island…)


Hawaii Life Realtor Hilary Millar at a Hawaii Life office meeting in Kailua Kona

There are many local fashion designers who provide a wide range of dresses, tops, and accessories – all with island flair. Based on Oahu, Manuheali‘i is a local favorite. Sig Zane and Reyn Spooner, mentioned above, also have women’s departments. Wahine Toa Designs, based in Kona, has some wonderful Polynesian-inspired tops and dresses. You can always spot their booth at the annual Merrie Monarch craft fair in Hilo because the line is streaming out the door!

And the great thing about all this tropical fashion is you can wear sandals (or slippahs) year-round! My friend Katie Minkus, who happens to be Hawaii Life Real Estate Broker’s Director of Business Development, says she loves not having to wear high heels, and as a matter of fact, the casual Hawaii lifestyle is one reason she decided to make Hawaii her home.

Even when serious business is at hand, it is not unusual for the business dress to be casual. Don’t let the casual dress fool you though. The guy or gal you see in surf shorts catching a wave might be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or the owner of Hawaii Life getting in an early surf session.


Future CEO – Hawaiian Style

So, when it comes to how fo’ dress in Hawaii, it is much like how fo’ ack – people don’t take themselves too seriously – Hawaii lifestyle keeps it simple, and it means to smile, enjoy, savor relationships, and appreciate the surrounding beauty.

Stay Tuned!

In How Fo’ Ack Part 3, I will talk about food and what to bring when you are invited to a local potluck.

With Aloha!

Julie Keller, RB
Direct: 808.987.7931

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