Hawaii’s Sort-of-Casual Dress Code.

By mainland standards, people dress casually in the workplace here in Hawaii. Normal business attire for men consists of what we call an aloha shirt, plus dress slacks and casual-but-nice shoes. There is one distinction that is carefully observed: In casual situations—at a backyard luau, for instance—aloha shirts are worn out. But in a business environment or dressy social occasion, the shirts are always tucked in. If you happen to run across someone in a coat and tie, chances are pretty good that he’s a member of the Legislature, if it’s in session, or a lawyer coming from a court appearance.
Our unofficial dress code is more flexible for women, but colorful prints and full length muumuu are common. And quite lovely, if I may add a personal opinion.
In this photo, former governor, Neil Abercrombie, is wearing a typical aloha shirt. As you can see, the shirt is tucked in since it’s a formal occasion.
But it wasn’t always this way. When I first arrived in Hawaii more than 50 years ago, businessmen in Honolulu all dressed quite formally. Even in the 1970s, as the head of a small department in the city administration, I wore a coat and tie to work every day. It was my former boss, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, who was largely responsible for changing things.
Back then, the Hawaii’s garment industry—the people making all those aloha shirts and muumuus—were looking for ways to encourage people to buy and wear more clothing made locally. Somewhere along the way, someone came up with the idea of “Aloha Friday”, meaning that it would still be coats and ties from Monday through Thursday, but aloha shirts and muumuus would be acceptable business attire every Friday. They asked the mayor if he would support the idea … and of course he did.
I don’t remember if Frank made Aloha Fridays official with a formal proclamation, but he didn’t need to…the garment industry took care of that. And soon everyone from bank presidents to clerks had added a number of colorful, locally made shirts and muumuus to their wardrobes. Aloha Friday became an instant success.
Then, a few years later, the same people came back to see the mayor with a new request: Would His Honor consider expanding Aloha Friday into Aloha Summer? Specifically, they wanted Frank’s blessing on casual business dress—meaning aloha shirts and muumuu—for the entire summer, the obvious and convenient definition of which would be from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Frank agreed again and to everyone’s delight—everyone, that is, but the lawyers, who were still required to wear business suits in court—aloha wear became the norm for our summers. Of course, within a year or two, Labor Day would come and go, but the aloha shirts stayed … and today in Hawaii aloha shirts are acceptable as business attire all year ‘round. Just as long as they’re tucked in.