Many feel the muumuu is an endangered species


POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2009

There was a time in Hawaii when, as if they had been assigned uniforms, every elementary-school teacher and bank teller wore a muumuu. Every day.

Those every-days are long past. The muumuu or mu'umu'u or “;Mother Hubbard”; or whatever you like to call it might be one of Hawaii's endangered species.

Think. When was the last time you saw one that wasn't on Auntie?

Let define terms. The muumuu is the full-length, flowing A-line dress that falls from the yoke and shoulder, generally brightly colored, and invented by the missionaries to allow Hawaiian women freedom of movement without showing any skin.

There are variations, mostly involving length and sleeves and yoke decoration and fitting, and at some point the muumuu simply evolved into a tropical flowered dress.

I took a highly unscientific poll of women who work in the Star-Bulletin newsroom. While many used to own muumuu and even had some hanging in the closet, virtually none wear them today. Reasons ranged from “;old-fashioned”; to “;too hot”; to “;I no longer fit my fitted muu.”; Features editor Nadine Kam reasons that international design trends accessible via the Internet are creating a universal uniform that is overpowering cultural identification.

Whatever. Deal is, the muumuu is becoming like the Scots kilt—a cultural artifact used only for ceremonial occasions.

“;Pants. It was pants that did the muumuu in,”; states Mamo Howell, one of the legendary designers of modern muumuu. “;Women would rather wear pants and shorts and suits, and not so much flowing dresses.”;

Her Mamo line still produces elegant muumuu, but the bulk of Mamo business today is in colorful flowered blouses—that go with pants.

Other muumuu designers included Sig Zane, Manuhaeali'i, Nake'u Awai and Allen Akina.

“;Sadly, it's the erosion of our local culture by waves of change relentlessly beating against our shores,”; lamented artist Herb Kane, who painted the muumuu image seen here.

“;The mu'umu'u, having been relegated to Aloha Friday, is but one of the many cultural attributes that have given a rich and special identity to our islands and our people. When the last of that distinctive garment is thrown out, we will all be the poorer for it,”; he said via e-mail.




        Herb Kawainui Kane

Emma Howard Studio2


Mamo Howell


Hale Naua III: Society of Maoli Arts




“;I feel that the mu'umu'u is as popular today as it was 75 years ago. The societies still use them as their formal wear and fancy wear,”; mused Lucia Tarallo Jensen of Hale Naua III, Society of Maoli Arts, then modified her thought: “;Of course, they're not as popular with the young, and I don't think they ever were! Every Hawaiian women worth her weight in salt owns one or many, some wearing none other, like Haunani Apoliona.

“;As for it being a cultural loss—it was never part of the Hawaiian culture to begin with. It should be considered a stigma, harking back to a time when the naked bodies of the heathen were covered because it was considered an offense.

“;I burned my last mu'umu'u just recently, the only one left hanging in my closet, left over from a time when I didn't know any better. Even so, you need only attend the Merrie Monarch (festival) to know that the aloha attire in all of its myriad shapes is alive and well!”;

So what do you do with those closet-bound muumuu? Well, for one thing, they yield lots of yardage.

“;Fashions always change over time, but the great thing about muumuus showing up in resale shops is that there's fabric to reuse for current styles,”; says Kailua aloha-shirt artist Emma Howard. “;It jazzes life up to take the old and make it new again.”;