New Home in Hawaiʻi – New Wardrobe Required!

Now that you have your new home or investment condo in Hawaiʻi, you need a new wardrobe! Just kidding of course, but I started thinking about this yesterday after a conversation in which the seller of the condo that my clients are buying explained they have an owners closet and keep an entire wardrobe of Hawaiʻi-suitable clothes in it so they can get on the plane with just a tiny carry-on.

Later over lunch, my buyer commented on the print and fabric of the dress I was wearing. And that got me thinking about what I would recommend you buy as you begin to build out your Hawaiʻi-specific wardrobe.


Basic Wardrobe Rules for Men and Women in Hawaiʻi

For everyday wear, both men and women might show up in shorts and sandals at almost any venue. For fine dining or any of the many fundraisers I attend each year, I favor a long skirt or dress in “resort” style. Men can attend any business or social function in a nice aloha shirt.

Of course if you live on a ranch or equestrian property, you will still need jeans and long-sleeved shirts, jackets and boots. If you live up country, nice warm sweats and hoodies. Clothes for hiking, yoga, swim suits and rash guards and pareos, tennis and golf outfits if those are your sports of choice.

Now that you have the outline of a wardrobe, letʻs talk about buying local.

Hawaiʻi Based Fashion Designers Promote Cultural Identity and Sense of Place

I have nothing against the familiar brands you will find in any resort shopping center. In fact right now there is a card for $50 off any purchase over $100 at Tommy Bahama just burning a hole in my pocket. On the other hand, you probably are choosing home decor to reflect a sense of place, whether thatʻs an oceanfront location or upcountry ranch. Why not fill your closet with Hawaiʻi-based designers, supporting the local economy and learning about culture in the process. Here are a few examples from my own closet, mainly Big Island brands.

aloha hawaiian shirts

A sample of the Manaola Hawaiʻi clothing in my closet – left to right a tunic, a short golf dress, and a floor length caftan style dress.

The dress I was wearing that my client asked about was by designer Manaola Yap. I have a lot of Manaola clothing, mainly because when he first started his clothing line I was dancing in his auntyʻs hula halau so we were all “early adopters.” The patterns are mainly adaptations of the ohe kapala or carved bamboo designs printed on hula skirts and traditional clothing items, rich with meaning. You can buy Manaola Hawaiʻi online or at his stores in Ala Moana and Pearlridge on Oʻahu – or at pop-up shops if you are willing to wait in line.

hawaii state legislature

Thatʻs me with our 25 Hawaiʻi State Senators. The State Legislature is probably the most formal venue in Hawaiʻi, one place where you routinely see business suits.

The distinguished uncle of Big Island fashion design is Hilo-based Sig Zane Designs. I chose one of my favorite Sig Zane dresses to wear for my day at the State Senate last month, when I was being confirmed to the State Conservation and Legacy Lands Commission. My successful nomination hearing was in front of the Senate Water and Land Committee, Chaired by Senator Inouye from Hilo. She would be introducing me from the floor, so I chose a Hilo designer in her honor. You can also buy Sig Zane clothing online or in the downtown Hilo storefront.

hawaii designer dress

My new dress from Dezigns by Kamohoalii. Now I am coveting matching earrings from Maui Divers Jewelry in this kiha print

Usually I am spared from impulse purchases because the stores are just not along my usual route. But last week I was running into the KTA supermarket in Waimea for just two items and got stopped in my tracks by the newly opened Dezigns by Kamohoalii shop next door. Yes, I walked out with a cute new dress for hot summer days. His other store is in Pearlridge on Oʻahu but he just opened in his hometown. Thanks, Micah. I might be shopping for groceries across the street at Foodland for a bit.

women at formal evening event in hawaii

Some of the women of the Hawaiʻi Life Leadership team pose for a photo at a company event on Kauai. I was wearing a Kahulaleʻa gown that evening.

My favorite Oʻahu designer for glamour is Kahulaleʻa. I chose one of designer Kēhaulani Nielsonʻs prints for the dress up night at our big Hawaiʻi Life conference in December 2022. But I also like the simple t-shirts from this brand and wear them with my white or khaki Tommy Bahama shorts.

Those are not the only Hawaiian designers in my closet — but enough to get you started! Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

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