Tropic of Awesome

Hawaiian prints say it loud for summer

Joining Netflix has randomly resulted in a fixation on Hawaiian-print summer dresses. Let me explain.

You see, it started when I innocently rented the documentary Home Movie by Chris Smith (who made American Movie in 1999). The film visits several eccentric types in their very eccentric homes. One of the subjects is Linda Beech, an American who starred in a Japanese sitcom in the ’60s and now lives in a tree house in a remote Hawaiian jungle and speaks to the trees and river in Hawaiian. Ms. Beech, who might be the coolest person ever, is wearing a green-on-green ensemble—graphic lime green flower silhouettes on a jade background. This is the sort of Hawaiian I'm talking about—large printed hibiscuses with no detail, just big, bright solids.

Out of nostalgia, I had also added Pee-Wee's Playhouse, my favorite show from childhood, to my "queue." My Hawaiian concept for the summer really took shape when I got to episode four, in which Pee-Wee wins two tickets to a Hawaiian restaurant and can't decide who to take. When the big night rolls around, all of his (non-puppet) friends show up decked out in luau costume, falling all over poor Pee-Wee to get the invite. This includes Pee-Wee's hunky pool-boy, who looks like he might be Hawaiian, in short, flower-printed swim trunks and a lei. Most inspired, though, was the fat lady, who wore a fantastic multicolored muumuu. Really, it was her time to shine.

Smock value: Ginger Partington models vintage Hawaiian from 6 Centre Market Place
photo: Morgan Yakus
Smock value: Ginger Partington models vintage Hawaiian from 6 Centre Market Place

This summer, one can see a similar aesthetic, shape-wise (did you hear? It's OK to wear a muumuu, especially if you're not a fat lady), and textile-wise—a subgroup of the overwhelming Bohemian trend, it seems. A.P.C. made a killing on flower printed frocks and tunics in brown, purple, or yellow, on white (the remaining few are now on sale). And Eres did bikinis with bold palm leaves and flowers on solid backgrounds. Of course, so did Old Navy. They have gotten it perfectly right, too, with white hibiscuses, some only outlines and others solid, on a red or black background. The first step in realizing my Hawaii dream was to spend 40 minutes ravaging the shelves for two parts in my size (each about $12). For boys, Quiksilver has board shorts in a print called "Air Hawaii" which have hibiscuses sprinkled on a very plain background. Better is the "Private Eyes" print, which has heavily-stylized, over-sized palm leaves and hibiscuses everywhere.

Beyond beachwear, I learned quickly that one's best bet is vintage. Last week, at the opening party for 6 Centre Market Place , a brand new vintage store in Nolita, partners Morgan Yakus and Karin Bereson had a few drool-worthy luau looks for sale. It was almost too much to decide: a red-brown smocked sundress with white flowers and some orange detail, or a grape-purple tent dress with huge pink flowers and bell sleeves?

 
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