This month, a group of women have been using social media to pay tribute to a signature island wear: the mu‘umu‘u. The loose-fitting, flowy dress with bold prints is making a comeback in the islands. HPR’s Molly Solomon visited one woman with a closet full of muumuus and has this report.
Christy Werner might need another closet. She slides open the door, and is immediately greeted with a crowded rack of funky patterns and retro colors. This is her mu‘umu‘u collection.
"This one is one of my favorites too," she said, lifting up a long yellow mu‘u. "It's so cheerful."
Werner has taken on an unusual challenge. For the entire month of January, she’s wearing a mu‘umu‘u every day. Whether she’s running to the store or going on a hike, she’ll throw a new one on. Today she’s rocking a long dark mu’u, dotted with pink flowers.
"It's frilly on the top with some lace and it's got flowers all over it," said Werner. "It reminds me of one of my favorite mu’u that I had when I was a kid. So this one's kind of a fun one for me."
This is the third year Werner has participated in what’s called Mu‘umu‘u Month. The idea came from a friend on Kaua‘i named Sharon Hiramoto, who runs the clothing store Machine Machine in Hanapēpē. After being gifted a bag of old mu‘umu‘us to use for fabric, she couldn’t bring herself to cut them up.
"I thought that it was kind of a shame to do that," said Hiramoto. "They were so much more fun just to wear and preserve. And so I just got it in my head, just wear one every day."
Hiramoto began posting photos on social media with the hashtag #muumuumonth. The goal being to celebrate an island garment that many today would cast off as outdated or unfashionable. Hiramoto doesn’t see it that way.
"It's my childhood. It's all the memories of my grandparents, my aunties, my mother. Every special occasion we would go to, all the women would be wearing muumuu," she said. "There's not a lot of clothing in this world that when you wear, you make yourself and other people smile. I feel like when people see me walking around, they're smiling, not because they're laughing, they're smiling because they appreciate it."
Wearing the right mu‘umu‘u can take some courage. Some mu‘us sport bold graphic patterns, while others have a more 70’s polyester vibe. The garment's roots date back to the 1800s when the missionaries arrived in the Islands. The mu‘umu‘u was originally used as an undergarment by ali‘i women when wearing the more formal holokū. But with the heat and humidity, island women stopped layering the garments and began wearing the mu‘umu‘u as an everyday dress.
These days, it’s rarer to see younger women like Hiramoto and Werner, donning a mu‘u. Werner, who works in a downtown corporate office, says wearing something so different can take some getting used to.
"People will give me double takes. There are definitely moments where I feel myself shrinking in the elevator or I'm walking into rooms and I feel a little shy," Werner said. "The first day I wore one to work, my boss kind of raised an eyebrow at me, and I was like, 'it's in the dress code.' She said, 'I'm not saying anything.' But then a couple days later, she showed up to work in one. So that was really surprising and sweet."
Werner, who grew up wearing mu‘umu‘u as a kid, said putting one on is like going back in time.
"There's something of value in them. I can feel them when I wear them," she said. "There's a magical quality to a mu‘u that can't really be explained, but if you put one on, something happens."
Something that will likely continue far beyond the end of Mu‘umu‘u Month.