Updated: September 1, 2023
There’s nothing like a traditional luau party to help you get into the spirit of Hawaii. And, of course, every such party needs luau attire for a genuine feel. But you may be wondering: What do I wear to a luau?
Don’t worry! In this article, we’ll help you get into the Aloha spirit in style. Keep reading to learn more about what a luau party is and what types of Hawaiian clothing to wear to such an event.
Before we start, we need to clarify something.
If the luau is at someone’s home or a venue in Hawaii, then the dress code is generally casual. An aloha shirt, pants, and slippers (or shoes) should be fine.
If you’re attending a traditional luau show in Hawaii, we’ve added some notes to certain items in the below article.
Other than that, the following is mostly if you’re attending a luau party somewhere other than in Hawaii.
What Is a Luau Party?
Historically, the word “luau” (in Hawaiian: lūʻau) referred to chicken and taro baked with coconut milk, a traditional offering at royal feasts on the Hawaiian islands.
Until the 19th century, traditional Hawaiian-style celebrations were called aha’aina, which means “a gathering meal.” Men and women would eat separately during these festive but formal occasions, and some foods were off-limits to anyone but chiefs.
In 1819, the Hawaiian King Kamehameha II revolutionized the old-style aha’aina. This liberal ruler sat down to eat together with women, starting the luau party tradition as we know it today.
Modern luau parties are laid-back evening celebrations that combine a free, relaxed vibe with traditional Hawaiian entertainment and hula dancing. And, of course, a luau always includes Hawaiian food. Kalua pig, Lomi Lomi Salmon, chicken long rice, and poi are just a few traditional luau dishes.
Here in Hawaii, a luau typically marks a special occasion like a wedding, birth, or graduation. It is fun to celebrate life with family, friends, children, and guests. However, you don’t need a specific reason to enjoy an authentic luau.
What Do I Wear to a Hawaiian Luau Party?
Three words can describe luau party attire: casual, comfortable, and colorful. This concept is true for both men and women. Ideally, your outfit should aim for the tropical look, but you could also wear a light jacket if you’re going to spend several hours on a beach in cool weather.
Here are some ideas for fun, festive luau wear for men and women.
Luau Style For Men
Men may choose attire with island, beach, or tropical themes for luaus. Loose and comfy shorts, Hawaiian-style aloha shirts, and sandals or sneakers will be a perfect outfit on most occasions.
- Aloha Shirt
- The aloha shirt is one of the most iconic items of Hawaiian wear. Loose, comfortable, and adorned with fun bold prints, these shirts are perfect to wear to luaus and throughout your island vacation.
- However, few people know that the aloha shirt has a rich history. This popular shirt style stemmed from the Palaka shirts that Hawaiian plantation and dock workers would wear to protect themselves from the sun and wind. Over time, this practical laborers’ garment evolved into a fashion item.
- Casual Shorts or Pants
- Shorts naturally go with a Hawaiian-style shirt, but long pants are also acceptable, especially with cooler evening temperatures. Loose, flowing fabrics and neutral colors like sand or beige khaki hues usually work best with the bright prints of an aloha shirt.
- Lauhala Hat
- A lauhala hat is a perfect accessory for luaus that start during the sunny part of the day. This traditional hat, made from woven and braided leaves of the Hala tree (Pandanus tectorius), will keep the sun away and complete your outfit’s authentic Hawaiian vibe.
- Like the aloha shirt, the lauhala hat started as a practical headwear item to shield plantation workers and farmers from the blazing sun.
- If you wanted to get really fancy, a Panama hat would also work.
Luau Wear For Women
Ladies’ outfits for luau parties are comfortable, versatile, and beautiful. Bright colors, a flowing dress or skirt, comfy sandals, flats, or flip flops (no heels!), and fun accessories will help you achieve an attractive and casual style.
- Traditional Muumuu (Muʻumuʻu)
- Muumuus, which are traditional, loose Hawaiian dresses, are the perfect apparel choice for luaus. A muumuu dress is light and flowing, doesn’t restrict movement, and gives the wearer maximum comfort. Maxi (the more formal holokū) or knee-length, a bright-colored Hawaiian dress is a splendid choice for a luau party.
- Sarong or Pareo Wrap
- A sarong or pareo wrap is a beachwear essential that will be a perfect outfit at a luau. At its core, the sarong is just a sheet of fabric wrapped around the waist or body in a variety of styles. Depending on how you wear it, a sarong can work as a bathing suit cover, light dress, or shawl.
- Floral Print Dresses
- A breezy print dress will chime in just right with the easygoing atmosphere of a luau. Wrap-around, spaghetti straps, or off-the-shoulder, a dress in different styles will look fabulous with vivid colors and floral, abstract, or tropical patterns.
- If you’re looking for something other than a dress, you could wear a bright printed maxi skirt and a solid-color crop top, possibly paired with a light jacket on a cool evening.
- Grass Skirts (as part of a costume)
- If you want to go all the way with Hawaiian costumes, consider wearing a grass skirt. Actually, Hawaiians make traditional hula skirts not from grass but from wild hibiscus bark or ti leaves. However, hula skirts from other materials are also available today.
- We wouldn’t recommend this if you are attending any luaus in Hawaii, though – this is more for costume dress up.
Footwear for Luaus
When you plan on attending a luau, leave the dressy shoes, high heels, and maybe even sneakers at home. Sandals and flip flops (we call them ‘slippers’ here in Hawaii) are the best choice of footwear to complete luau outfits. You can slip them off anytime to stroll or dance barefooted on the sand.
Luau Decorations and Accessories
Break out colorful matching details and accessories to complete your Hawaii outfit and create a more authentic look. Here are a few options you might consider for the luau.
- Fresh Flower Lei
- The fresh flower lei deserves a special mention as an iconic item of Hawaiian culture and celebrations. The lei is a traditional garland that incorporates natural materials like flowers and foliage. In the Hawaiian culture, giving flower leis may represent love, honor, or joy. Leis are extremely popular at weddings, birthdays, graduation parties, and other special occasions.
- Seashell Necklace
- A seashell necklace, especially a puka shell item, will complement your Hawaiian apparel. Fun fact: Although most people associate the word “puka” with a specific type of shell, in the Hawaiian tradition, it can refer to any kind of shell necklace.
- If you choose seashell accessories, make sure to purchase an item made from sustainably sourced shells. Over-harvesting can endanger mollusk populations.
- Coconut Bra (as part of a costume)
- Coconut bras are simply halves of dried coconut shells strung on a cord. You don’t necessarily have to wear it like a bra, though.
- Similar to the grass skirt, this is more of a costume, and we wouldn’t recommend wearing this if you plan on attending a luau in Hawaii.
Don’t Worry: Be Happy and Enjoy Yourself
Overall, luaus are about having a memorable time with family and friends, so don’t worry too much about getting everything perfect for your luau wardrobe. As long as you enjoy yourself, it doesn’t matter what you wear or how fashion-savvy you are.
Just choose comfortable apparel that suits the location and weather, and you’ll be good to go.
Where to Shop for Hawaiian Clothes?
Hawaiian apparel is popular worldwide thanks to its comfort, casual style, and versatility. However, if you want a truly authentic outfit, we recommend checking out some of these local Hawaiian clothing brands.
The following stores are all based in Hawaii, and offer various categories of Hawaiian wear, including shirts, shorts, dresses, beachwear, and more. Be sure to browse their special offers.
- Hawaiian Island Creations: HIC originally started as a small Kailua surf store. Today, this clothing retail chain operates 17 branches on the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui. HIC offers Hawaiian tops, lounge outfits, graphic tees, dresses, and more. It will also ship to the continental U.S.
- Kahala: Kahala is a family-owned Hawaiian apparel brand that produces an assortment of locally manufactured items in authentic styles. Its collections feature aloha shirts, vintage prints, women’s blouses, kids’ tops, and more.
- Tori Richard: Tori Richard is a label with a firm commitment to Hawaii-based production. This brand’s diverse categories include women’s resort wear, menswear, swimwear, and casual tops.
- Angels by the Sea Hawaii: Beautiful flowy hand-embroidered/hand-dyed dresses that can be worn during the day at the beach, or at an elegant evening dinner. The light materials will keep you cool in Hawaii’s tropical clime!
You’ll enjoy collecting your Hawaiian clothing and accessories, which will always remind you of your amazing trip. What’s more is that, after your trip, you can take them home and wear them when you throw a Hawaiian-themed party!
Let the Spirit of Luau Inspire You
We hope this article prompts you to learn more about Native Hawaii culture and, hopefully, to take a trip to the beautiful Hawaiian islands. Hawaii offers a wealth of unforgettable experiences and warm weather year round. While you’re here, check out the best luau places in Waikiki and Oahu. Mahalo for reading!