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How to dress for a Luau
A man and a women receiving a flower lei at a luau.

If you've been invited to a traditional luau, and you've chosen to wear a coconut bra and grass skirt, you'll likely get a surprise. You see, even though there really isn't such a thing as a traditional Hawaiian party per se, there is such a thing as a modern day luau.

And this famous gathering is not the typical college-style party many people think of. In reality, a genuine Polynesian party borders on a formal affair that includes a number of structured activities, a grand feast of local fare, and a first-hand look at this beautiful culture.

Don't worry though, you'll certainly enjoy it. And, knowing how to dress for a luau will ensure you're thoroughly entertained rather than leaving you feel like the entertainment.

What to Expect at a Luau

Activities and Fun Galore

Hawaiian luaus are one of the few parties in the world that delight all of your senses. The intense, rhythmic beating of the tribal drums gets right into your blood and really puts you in the mood for the evening's events. You'll likely also get to enjoy the swaggering twang of the slack key guitar, native chants, and fun tunes played on the ukulele.

At an authentic luau, you'll discover that the sights are just as magnificent as the sounds. The E.G. Tahitian dancers, known for their brightly colored costumes and decorative headdresses, will perform a variety of traditional dances. Their hypnotic hips and graceful gestures create fantastic shows that are always enjoyed by all.

The Samoan fire knife dance is likely one of the most popular attractions at a traditional luau. Generally held at dark, highly trained male dancers wearing a garment known as a lavalava twirl flaming swords while performing all sorts of amazing feats. You'll also be able to watch the famous hula and maybe even learn how to do it yourself.

If you've chosen a family-friendly luau, there will likely be a number of activities the entire family can enjoy. This could include anything from traditional face painting, tattoos, tree climbing, and fire starting as well as other skills and activities that have been an integral part of Hawaiian culture for over a century. As you can see, there's always lots going on at a luau, and plenty of things to do.

The Mighty Feast

Originally, Hawaiians called feasts and important celebrations 'aha 'aina', which is where the word 'luau' came from. Therefore, a luau wouldn't be complete without all of the wonderful foods and Hawaiian drink recipes that have made these celebrations so famous.

Poi, a Hawaiian staple that comes from the taro roots, is a rich starch much like potatoes only this is boiled, mashed, and mixed with water. Chicken, called moa, is common in authentic feasts. Here, you'll find chicken is often coated in teriyaki sauce, roasted and cubed with rice and noodles, or even delicious barbecued with Huli-Huli Sauce, which is made from pure Hawaiian brown sugar cane, soy sauce, and spices.

Other foods you'll be able to find filling the banquet table include delightful plates of fresh fruit, fish prepared in various ways, and a large number vegetables. The real star of the show, however, is the Kalua pua'a or roasted pig. Cooked for a full day in a pit, the tender meat only needs a light coating of sea salt and green onions to be succulent.

Like any tropical destination, the drinks served at a luau are fun, fruity, and absolutely delicious. Just like the tropical drink recipes you make at home for special occasions, these often come in uniquely shaped glasses and are often in a bright tropical color. To make them even more fun, they're topped with umbrellas, pieces of fruit, and fun straws. So, what will you try first? A Pineapple Iced Tea or a Banana Mango Smoothie perhaps? Or, you might decide to relax with a Hawaii Kai Swizzle, Blue Hawaii, Mai Tai, or PiƱa Colada. You definitely won't leave the luau hungry or thirsty. This leaves you with one important question: what will you wear to this amazing event?

Original Hawaiian Wear

You might be surprised to learn that today's authentic Hawaiian clothing isn't that much different from the traditional clothing worn by the island's natives at the beginning of the 19th century. At that time, the Hawaiians as well as many other Asian and Polynesian cultures used a material known as Tapa cloth to produce shirts and pareo for men and women. Although the fabric was often brown or black in color, more colors and patterns began to emerge as time went by, turning them into the colorful patterns we know and love today.

Men's Luau Wear

For men, the saying 'When in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians do' could never hold more truth. After all, no one knows how to relax and be comfortable in the tropical weather better than those who live there. Therefore, men's Hawaiian shirts are a great start because the fabric breathes keeping you cool while you're enjoying the food, dancing, and other festivities.

When you match them with a pair of casual pants, you'll find that mens Hawaiian shirts take on a very dressy look despite the casual appearance they usually have. There's no fighting with ties and cummerbunds here! And, if you purchase styles with wrinkle and stain resistance, they'll look good throughout the evening, even if you're traveling. There's so many unique prints and colors to choose from you'll find it easy to match your personality and have a little fun with your style at the same time.

If you choose to wear flip-flops, you might spend more time trying to keep your shoes on instead of enjoying the cocktails, exploring, and dancing. Therefore, sandals might be the better option. Or wear casual shoes for a tailored, stylish look that will have you ready for anything the night throws at you.

What Women Wear to a Luau

Women's Hawaiian clothing gives you several choices when dressing for luau. Like men's Hawaiian shirts, lady's styles are fun, comfortable, and come in an unlimited number of colors and patterns. You simply have to choose which style you like best.

Hawaiian dresses are truly beautiful. Often made from cotton or rayon, you'll find their light, flowing nature will keep you cool and are easy to move around in. Like any other type of dress, they come in almost any style you'd like and look fantastic with a floral or Kukui tree nut lei. To complete the look, don a pair of strappy sandals and skip the heels, which will only sink into the sand.

One thing you'll want to consider before going out, is that many luaus will have you sitting on the sandy beach, tree climbing, starting fires, and other exciting activities. This can make dresses a little uncomfortable. Therefore, a Hawaiian shirt along with casual cotton pants or shorts may just be the best option. Match it with a coordinating handbag or simple, solid-colored clutch and you'll be ready to enjoy the entire evening.

Getting the Kids Ready for a Family-Style Luau

As with any other type of family activity involving young children, there's two important things to look for when choosing their clothing: everything should be comfortable and stain-friendly. This means boys Hawaiian shirts and matching cotton pants are likely the safest bet. You'll find that the patterns commonly found in this style of shirt will wear well and hide any stains so that he'll still look neat and clean when supper is over. Put a pair of sandals or runners on your little man's feet, and he'll be good to go.

Girls look sweet in kids Cabana outfits. The Hawaiian shirts and shorts come in plenty of different patterns and colors, so you can let your little princess choose her own outfit. For the girls who like to dress up and be just like mommy, Hawaiian kids dresses are ideal. To finish off her outfit, try a simple pair of leather sandals or casual flats as well as a miniature beach-themed handbag of her very own.

A luau should never involve stressing and tugging at your clothing all night. However, you don't want to be spending hours trying to decide what to wear either. To eliminate both problems, just remember that being comfortable, stylish, and having fun are what's important, and you're guaranteed to have an evening you'll never forget.