What did women wear in ancient Hawaii? – SSLR

What did women wear in ancient Hawaii?

by Chao Chen on March 17, 2023


Hawaii is known for its rich culture and history, and the clothing worn by its people is a significant part of that heritage. While Hawaiian clothing is often associated with colorful aloha shirts and flowery muumuus, what did women wear in ancient Hawaii? In this blog post, we'll explore the clothing worn by women in ancient Hawaii and the role it played in their society.

Early Hawaiian Clothing

The first settlers of Hawaii arrived on the islands over a thousand years ago, and their clothing was made from the materials they found in their new environment. Early Hawaiian clothing was made from plant fibers, including bark cloth made from the inner bark of trees such as the wauke and paper mulberry. Women wore a skirt called a pa'u made from a single piece of bark cloth that was wrapped around the waist and tied at the back. They often went topless or wore a simple cloth wrapped around their chest.

Later Developments in Hawaiian Clothing

As Hawaiian society developed, so did their clothing. During the reign of King Kamehameha in the late 1700s and early 1800s, clothing became more elaborate and sophisticated. Women began to wear a more fitted version of the pa'u, which was made from layers of finely woven kapa cloth. The top of the pa'u was often decorated with a fringe or tassels, and the skirt was held up by a waistband made from braided fibers.

The holoku was another traditional garment worn by Hawaiian women. It was a long, loose-fitting dress that was made from lightweight fabrics such as cotton or silk. The holoku was often worn for special occasions, such as weddings or hula performances.

Accessories and Adornments

In addition to clothing, Hawaiian women also adorned themselves with various accessories. One of the most important accessories was the lei, a garland made from flowers, leaves, or shells that was worn around the neck. The lei was not only a decorative item but also had significant cultural and spiritual significance in Hawaiian society.

Hawaiian women also wore various types of jewelry, including bracelets, anklets, and necklaces. These items were often made from shells, seeds, or other natural materials found in Hawaii. Tattoos were another popular form of adornment for Hawaiian women. They were often applied to the hands, feet, and face and were considered a symbol of beauty and status.

The Role of Clothing in Hawaiian Society

Clothing played an important role in Hawaiian society, and the type of clothing worn often indicated a person's social status. The clothing worn by members of the royal family, for example, was made from the finest materials and decorated with intricate designs. Commoners, on the other hand, wore simpler clothing made from more readily available materials.

Clothing was also a way of expressing one's identity and cultural heritage. Different regions of Hawaii had their own distinct clothing styles, and even individual families had their own unique patterns and designs.


In conclusion, the clothing worn by women in ancient Hawaii was made from natural materials and evolved over time as Hawaiian society developed. From the simple bark cloth skirts of the early settlers to the elaborate holoku dresses of the late 1700s and early 1800s, Hawaiian clothing reflected the cultural and social values of its time. Accessories such as leis, jewelry, and tattoos were also important forms of adornment. Today, Hawaiian clothing continues to be an important part of the state's culture and is celebrated around the world.