“We Three in our Muumuus”

muumuu“We three in our Muumuus. My side yard and my bedroom door in the background.”

This seventies era photo cries out for a story, doesn’t it? I suspect that one of these women had retired to Hawaii and invited old friends for a visit. They all wear leis, the Hawaiian mark of welcome. The snapshot not only shows off the colorful local clothing but also her new home.

From my cursory web search, I discovered that the muumuu is the product of imperialism. They were introduced by missionaries to Hawaii in the early nineteenth century as a way to cover up the local female inhabitants. Initially they were just sack dresses, but then evolved into a kind of Mother Hubbard construction, with a yoke at the top and gathering beneath. Eventually just about any colorful long or short dress could be called a muumuu, with the name depending mainly on the brightly patterned fabric. These women’s dresses are empire style, fitted under the bust.

A year ago I spent a week in Honolulu and spent a lot of time looking for older women in muumuus. I didn’t see any. That wouldn’t have been the case in the 1970s, though. According to a 1972 article in the Los Angeles Times, “the muumuu is still the Who’s Who of fashion for the tourist in Hawaii. Everyone from little old ladies in tennis shoes to swingers shows up in a muumuu, from the blatantly patterned sack types, to flowing alii (royalty) versions, to sexy fitting numbers called angel muus.” (February 6, 1972) I’m glad that little old ladies at least receive a mention.


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3 Responses to “We Three in our Muumuus”

  1. eimear says:

    I didn’t know the ‘history’ of the muumuu – although one thing about these dresses is they work so well showing off printed fabrics especially with the larger motifs, and they always looks so comfortable and probably worked like a ‘tea gown’ where you could lounge around wearing it. these ladies look happy in theirs.

  2. fabrickated says:

    I had never even heard the phrase before last year when some young men at work turned up for a 60s party wearing what they called Muumuus. The garment looked like a caftan to me. So this is a most interesting post of the origin of these type of garments. Sometimes, especially when it is warm, this is exactly the kind of thing one wants to wear. And as Eimear says long dresses are the perfect foil for loud prints and jazzy fabrics.

  3. Dee says:

    Nice photo, they look happy. Their dresses look classic 60s to early 70s Hawaiian style. If you have a look at the Dreamstress’s website, she has a short explanation about the difference between muumuu and holoku that you might bet interested in.

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