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A luau is never the same as an ordinary Hawaiian-themed party that can be held in everyone’s backyard. It is one of the most traditional festive events that convey the authentic vibe of Hawaiian people. Typically, these parties include a feast and conventional forms of entertainment such as games, dancing shows, art demonstrations, and musical performances.

However, what to wear to a luau party remains a tricky question for everyone. It can be thorny enough to boggle our minds and distract us from all the fun and excitement awaiting. If you’re not confident in your fashion-savvy instinct, this article will provide some exclusive tips and advice on how to dress for a luau.

luau dancing performance

Within only 5 minutes of reading, you should be able to choose the best luau clothing ideas that bring a wonderful time and don’t make you look alone in a crowd.

The History of Luau Parties

Men and women of ancient Hawaii used to have their meals separately, which was put into practice due to a society’s prejudice against women. This law prohibited them from eating certain types of food that were often meant for special occasions and events.

Only until 1819 did King Kamehameha II remove these preconceptions and biases. To commemorate this remarkable change of law, he made everyone more than a little shocked by offering women big feasts and joining them.

His action was considered an official decision to free women from Hawaiian religious taboos, paving the way for the creation of luau parties.

luau feast

These feasts were originally called a “pāʻina” or “ahaʻaina” - an old Hawaiian ritual held to preserve and enhance the collective unity of people in town. It can be regarded as a social gathering to celebrate a significant life event, such as war victory, tribal achievement, and new canoe launching.

A royal luau in Hawaii could be luxurious and much more elaborate than ordinary occasions, gathering hundreds, even over a thousand people to join in a single feast. Of course, a huge amount of food must have been available to serve.

One of the most well-known luaus was hosted by King Kamehameha III in 1847, requiring approximately 270 pigs, 3100 saltwater fish, 1800 freshwater fish, 2245 coconuts, 4000 taro plants,... Another one hosted by King Kalakaua on his 50th birthday party also drew a great deal of attention with over 1500 guests and participants.

People usually served “ahaʻaina” feasts on bare floors or mats decorated with ti leaves and flower ornaments. The main dishes of food included kālua pig, chicken, squid, coconut milk, and poi (Hawaiian native cuisine made from taro roots), which were rich with symbolism representing strength, virtues, and high hopes.

royal luau feast
A royal luau feast in former times.

 

To cook food, they used the imu - an underground oven. It contained heated rocks for several hours to accumulate the temperature and create a layer of steam inside. After that, the food would be added and sealed until becoming edible.

Of all traditional foods, the kalua pig is considered to best represent an “ahaʻaina” feast. The pig is seasoned with salt and vegetation like bananas and tea leaves, then slowly roasted while buried in a pit where hot rocks have been prepared in advance.

By doing this, Hawaiian locals can create a distinctively smoky, juicy flavor mingled with herbal scents that tailor well to their taste. During the feast, a hula performance is presented with chants and drums to get everyone pumped up.

Over time, “lūʻau” (luau nowadays) started to completely replace “ahaʻaina” and gain more popularity than ever. Since the 1960s, Hawaiian culture and tourism value has sparked interest and attracted people from all over the globe.

luau kalua pig

A Kālua pig is cooked on an imu. 

The advent of fast, convenient, and affordable air flights has also encouraged the Hawaiian tourism economy to thrive. As a result, the increasing number of luaus somehow altered the party’s meaning and purpose.

These days, luaus are not considered a private party for only royal friends and family but much of a social event for tourists to be exact. Therefore, luaus are now held widely on Polynesian islands to spread more insights into their traditional customs and entertainment.

What to Expect of A Luau in Hawaii

Joining a luau-themed (or Hawaiian-themed) party in your friend’s house will not make you on pins and needles, but a real luau event on a tropical island will do, especially in Hawaii. That said, joining a luau is a must for tourists who visit Hawaii if they aspire to experience the local distinctive vibe.

However, it’s not as simple as having an outdoor backyard to hang decorations, put on barbecues, and some tropical music. Instead, a luau needs to be prepared and furnished with certain traditional stuff.

Most luaus take place within the area of beautiful resorts or by the beach, with the view of the sunset over the ocean. An open bar can be found nearby to serve tasty tropical fruits and unusual drinks.

modern luau beach party

A luau party is often held by the beach nowadays.

As mentioned above, luau foods including pigs and taros should be cooked in an underground oven called an imu. These are still applied in modern times to retain its original tradition and atmosphere. The event can even include a dress code rule of Hawaiian attire for a party, not to mention art and dancing performances.

The cost of joining a luau

A wide range of cost for a luau is introduced by the island authority and tourism agencies, with a minimum fee of about $100/adult. For children under 13 years old, the cost should decrease to the point of $60/child. Additional fees are free for children under 6 years old.

The typical format of a luau

Usually, a luau will start with a lei greeting performance whose details vary upon the cost and tickets. Relevant information of lei greeting is provided by luau hosts from the moment of booking. After that, there may be some more games to break the ice, and music to pump up the atmosphere.

Drinks are included in the initial cost but limited to certain categories and numbers (in case you are used to drinking off every glass of Hawaiian iconic beverages). Anyway, don’t worry about being dead drunk before the luau ends. As reviewed by tourists, luau cocktails are mostly light alcohol drinks.

Before joining the dinner feast, participants will observe the process of preparing cooked food from the imu. Yet, it is different from the ancient feast in terms of serving styles. Note that the foods are available as a buffet, and you may share your table with a lot of strangers.

luau art performance

After the dinner comes the dancing show, along with traditional music, costumes, and cultural entertainment. The most breathtaking performance is fire-knife dancing which is likely to bring a sensational emotion to observers.

How soon should you book a luau?

The only answer is “as soon as possible”, at least a month ahead of your trip. Many hosting companies arrange the guest seats in chronological order of booking. For this reason, the sooner you confirm your seat number, the better view you should get to watch the show.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with you being an arbitrary man who just wants to visit the island first. There are likely to be remaining luau seats for you on most occasions. Make sure to seek more information from either your hotel or some tourism websites.

What to Wear to A Luau in Hawaii

In case you are wondering what to wear to a luau-themed party by a pool on a block rooftop, our 5 Tips on What to Wear to a Hawaiian Party should be of much help.

On the other hand, there are some requirements of Hawaiian luau clothes for you to meet when coming to a local luau. Or else, you may find yourself unable to fit in the event atmosphere, even get your butt kicked out of the door.

No need to be fashion-savvy, we already prepared some amazing styles of women’s and men’s luau attire. These outfit ideas are sure to have you immersed in the aloha spirit of luaus and look like a local.

Hawaiian floral shirt/dress

Traditional Hawaiian shirts and dresses, mostly with floral patterns, are among the most popular choices. They are comfortable and easy to pair with shorts or trousers, enough to rid the wearers of boring daily outfits and adapt a dressy style in just minutes.

If you want to remain a bit elegant instead of relying on vivid floral printed shirts, a customized Hawaiian shirt or a tee shirt-polo-jeans combo should compensate.

However, opt for vivid and eye-pleasant details like Mr. Incredible suit, and cast aside the idea of a “Bob Parr” ordinary office style. Only with vibrant shades of tropical prints can you feel the dynamic atmosphere of a luau.

hawaiian floral shirt

Neon-themed clothes

Don't be deterred by ideas that are off the beaten path. Feel free to expose your wildest thoughts and styles with loud colors of neon tones. The brighter you look, the stronger impression you make in a tropical festive event and party.

For your information, neon is sparkling, glowing color tones that are likely to draw a lot of attention. This has created a trend in the fashion world since the 1980s, including clothing apparel, interior furniture, and graphic designs recently as well. Neon blue and pink are a great combination; otherwise, warm tones of orange can also make your shirt and dress stand out brilliantly.

neon hawaiian shirt

Maxi dress

For women who don’t like Hawaiian shirts that much, there’s no better idea than a maxi dress. It is flowy and beautiful enough to help your outfit be the cream of the crop at your party. The rules are simple: Stick to a warm-toned maxi dress to pop against the blue ocean and sky. You can thank me later.

If you prefer a 2-piece set of clothes as the luau outfit for ladies, a maxi skirt mixed with a crop top and a jean jacket should suit them best. This trio creates a more attractive, sexier look. One pro tip is to keep your top in neutral tones, while your maxi skirt can be in the limelight with some warm-colored tropical patterns.

maxi dress

Muumuu

“The muumuu is a loose dress that originated from Hawaii. It hangs from the shoulder and is like a cross between a shirt and a robe.” - Wikipedia.

In short, the muumuu is a super oversized tee-shirt colored with Hawaiian patterns of flowers. It is often considered to be either a formal dress for some local events or a kind of maternity clothes due to its comfortable waistline. A muumuu is a good choice when the air temperature seems to climb and a cocktail at the bar cannot keep your head (and your body) cool enough.

hawaiian muumuu dress

Coconut Bra

No efforts are needed to describe the simplicity of this outfit. Coconut shells are made dry and clean, then strung together on a strong cord to form a bra.

Despite the shape, it doesn’t require people to wear it like a real bra, but more like a decorative accessory. Men and children can also put them outside of their shirts to take some funny pictures. Another variation is the seashell bra which is seen in the epic animated movie “Little Mermaid”.

luau coconut bra

Hula skirt

As known as grass skirts, the hula skirt was first introduced over 200 years ago. They are made of long ti leaves on the islands, having several color variations of red and green.

Just like the coconut bra, both men and women can wear a traditional hula skirt. There should be some types of garments and clothes underneath, of course. Bring a light jacket or windbreaker if necessary, the weather can get a bit cooler in the evening.

luau hula skirt

Accessories

Wearing Hawaiian clothes without accessories is like cooking your most appetizing dish without any spices to enhance the flavor. Consequently, your whole outfit can hardly blend in harmony with the local Hawaiians. What’s worse than being out of tune in all your family pictures and missing all the fun of this trip?

If you don’t want that scenario to occur, pick some options from the list below:

  • Lauhala hat: This was invented 1 century ago, mainly worn by farmers or plantation workers to avoid the heat while working. Made from lauhala leaves being weaved and braided tightly, these hats are durable enough to be used as a small basket to carry fruits and stuff. Nowadays, people often see them on every occasion, even in special and formal ceremonies.
  • Lei: Regarded as a decoration reflecting the symbol of love, healing, or respect, lei is a type of adornment that can go with virtually everything mentioned above. It is a wreath of flowers, often given to guests in a luau to show affection and hospitality. Hawaiian hula girls, graduates, and many others wear them, which makes leis the perfect head start to get on adapting to the local customs. It works well with another necklace or a pair of earrings, so don’t hesitate to show your individuality.
luau lei flower
  • Flip-Flops: Not so many things can bring a vibe of tropical islands faster than a pair of flip-flops. They are cheap, easy to handle, and supersede your chunky shoes in terms of beach strolling. Maybe sandals are the only suitable option to match up with flip-flops at a luau party.

With the help of those very detailed suggestions, you must have had in your mind some outfit ideas and styles to fit in a luau party. Whatcha waiting for? Make a plan, hit the online booking button, then brace yourself for the upcoming loads of fun and experience in Hawaii.


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