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The Rise Of The Muu Muu

Muumuus are loose Hawaiian dresses which hang from the shoulder. While this definition is the most popular, it does not include the ideal that muumuus are a philosophy, equipped with poetry, lifestyles, thematic elements, and dresses.  Originally, the name for the dress was holokū and was also known as the” Mother Hubbard dress”. This version had long sleeves, a high-necked yoke, and was floor length. Meant for women of any size because of the unbelted loose nature of the dress, these dresses were brought to Hawaii thanks to Protestant missionaries who arrived during the 1800’s. These missionaries were greeted by women who were not clothed except for a skirt wrapped loosely around their hips which left their breasts exposed. Integrating traditions which were brought by the missionaries, they designed these dresses as a comfortable garment to cover the bodies of the women.  Assimilating to the missionaries, the women wore the dresses but the cloth was Hawaiian in its bright colors and floral patterns incorporating a mixture of ginger blossoms, bird of paradise, plumeria, hibiscus, and orchids.

Local islanders soon pioneered the name Mu ‘umu ‘u which translates to “amputated” or “cut off” in Hawaiian in 1923 because the dresses at the time lacked a yoke and were worn by island women without the high neck and the train of the traditional Protestant version. The brightly colored fabric support Polynesian motifs much like Aloha shirts and in modern days, residents of Hawaii wear muumuus with more subdued tones as formal dresses for festivals as well as weddings, and in the hotel industry. They are preferred by larger women and those who are pregnant because they are comfortable and attractive, but are meant for women of any size. Thanks to the natural flow of these dresses, their popularity has grown worldwide, with women wearing every color and pattern imaginable.

The Hawaiian prints of the muumuus represent ideals of a bright future, joy, and happiness. The poetry continues with these thoughts including lines relating to the freedom of muumuus like the freedom of riding waves, being young and free in muumuus, and the power that muumuus have to bring people together across oceans and continents, coming together in the spirit of muumuus and love. Sewing patterns for muumuus include a traditional yoke with tucks on the front and the back. The front has an opening placket which has buttons while the back has a deep center pleat. There are inseam pockets as well. Bell shaped muumuus are meant for expectant mothers while tea length muumuus are meant for girls.

These traditional dresses have taken their place among Hawaiian civic groups and choral groups, representing a grace of older Hawaiian women, manners, and traditional poise wrapped in comfort. While the origin of the saying that everyone is a product of those around them is Japanese, many islanders integrate this philosophy as part of the muumuu philosophy. This gives reason to maintaining the traditional muumuu wear for traditional festivals such as the Merrie Monarch hula competition, baby luaus, and weddings. Muumuus represent the culture found in living in Hawaii, not meant just for heavier people. Once meant only for native women, the garment became very popular during the 50’s, peaking as a form of leisure wear.  Integrating stylistic components of fads throughout the decades, muumuus reflect beach cover-ups from the 60s wrap dresses from the 70s, and additional ethnic lines.

Pop culture has briefly reflected the use of muumuus on both the islands and the mainland. The drummer from Phish, John Fishman, often wears a muumuu when he plays announcing that the level of comfort and ease allows free movements and better music production. Zippy from Zippy the Pinhead wears a polka-dotted muumuu while the main character Homer from The Simpsons wore a muumuu during an episode. Kathy Griffin, an actress and comedian, has noted many times that her mother dons muumuus for dress wear. 

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