Picture a sunny afternoon chilling on your favorite Maui beach, cool drink in hand, toes in the sand. Then you see it. A couple, donned in matching hibiscus print shirts, tall socks nestled in their sandals, colorful fabric leis, arms holding outstretched selfie sticks. If you want to avoid appearing as a vacation caricature, read on for an indispensable (if not mandatory) guide to rocking your tropical vacation in true island style.
Take a cue from history
Leave your heels and silk ties at home, because Casual Friday is the name of the game on Maui. Our version is Aloha Friday- a day traditionally set aside as a day of rest and leisure, which pretty much extends to every day of the week.
Native Hawaiians set the standard for minimal traditional dress appropriate for the warm climate of Hawaii. Tropical patterns and colors found in nature were added to their light cloth garments made from pounded tree bark (called Kapa) by crushing plants, flowers and seeds to make dyes. These early garments continue to inspire the light and colorful patterned clothing seen throughout Hawaii today.
Keep this history in mind as you pack for your travels. Breathable materials like light cottons and linen are preferred over synthetics, and loose-fitting options will be most comfortable and quickly wick away sweat.
When to dress up
There are some occasions where a more “polished” look might be necessary. Some of Maui’s golf courses have strict rules for attire, such as requiring that collared shirts and pants be worn. Formal restaurants and dinner cruises are also ideal places to break out a nice summer dress or Capri pants and matching top for wahine (ladies) and a light button up shirts with pants for kane (gentlemen). Dinner cruises can be breezy, so loose, flowy skirts and dresses are not recommended.
Pair your dressier items with strappy sandals or casual loafers for the guys. But please note, should you be invited into a resident’s private home, it is customary to remove your footwear when entering. This is an important Hawaiian custom that shows respect for the home by leaving the dirt and grime of the day outdoors.
Dress for the weather
In preparation for your getaway, keep in mind the climate of the islands as well as your planned activities. Maui’s summer, or Kau, is from May to October, and temperatures average 85 degrees. The months of November through April are considered winter, or Hooilo, where temperatures drop to a still-comfortable average of 78 degrees. Temps can easily be 5 degrees hotter at the beach. Nighttime temperatures are slightly cooler, but you should be comfortable with a light sweater or jacket.
Weather can change quickly and sometimes unpredictably, switching from a warm breezy morning to a refreshing (albeit comfortably humid) afternoon drizzle. The best way to stay comfortable and be prepared for unexpected surprises is to dress in layers. You can even wear your bathing suit underneath your casual outfit, or bring it with you to change into later.
Keep in mind that elevation affects weather – for example, Haleakala National Park on Maui peaks at 10,000 feet above sea level. The top of this dormant volcano can get downright chilly in the early morning and evenings, but is definitely a must-do adventure. Volcanic landscapes drop down to a lush tropical rain forest with rare endangered species, many of which are found only on Maui. You can read more about Haleakala and other sights on our Things to Do guide.
Sunscreen is essential in the islands, even on a cloudy day. There is nothing like an uncomfortable peeling sunburn to mark you with the scarlet letter T – tourist.
Hawaii is the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Though the new law doesn’t go into effect until 2021, stores are already converting over. Plus, protecting the reef is the right thing to do.
Look for products with Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide instead. Not only are you helping to protect aquatic life, you are also protecting yourself from harsh chemicals. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are naturally occurring mineral ingredients that offer broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, and they block harmful rays immediately upon application, versus having to wait 30 minutes when applying a chemically based sunscreen. Do you really want to waste precious ocean playtime waiting for sunscreen to absorb? We sure don’t!
Keep makeup light
When it comes to your beauty routine, less is definitely more in Maui. Makeup is generally kept to a minimum to make getting ready a breeze, and it is totally acceptable to explore the island with wet beach hair. Hello effortless beach waves! You’ll be hard pressed to replicate the real thing without the salty ocean water, so embrace it while you can.
Here is a quick guide for what to wear, and when, on your Maui vacation:
- Breakfast and Lunch– These are the most casual meals of the day – come as you are, let your hair down (or wear in a messy bun) and don your shorts, t-shirt and slippers.
- Dinners & Luaus – Evenings out can mean you want to dress a step above casual. Ladies: a simple cotton or linen dress, nicer shorts or a skirt with a tasteful lightweight top work well. Men: light weight slacks or khakis and polo or short sleeve button up shirt. Men can also pair a nicer pair of shorts with loafers and a quality shirt. Subtle patterned aloha shirts or dresses are appropriate, but avoid the neon colors.
- Hikes– Wear covered tennis shoes or hiking shoes. Sandals and flip flops do not do well on rocky terrain which may have sharp lava. We recommend a hat or sunglasses, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Remember that hikes on Maui can go from the shoreline to 10,000ft elevation. It can get quite chilly, and even snow on top of Haleakala. Shorts and t’s are fine in the lowlands, but you will want pants and even a jacket up on the mountain (layers work well). A quick safety note- make sure and bring a charged cell phone, a power bar and water when hiking on Maui. Always tell someone where you are going to hike and when you will be back.
- Beach, Water & Boat Activities– Unless you are hitting Maui’s famous clothing-optional beach, start your beach and water wardrobe with your favorite bathing suit and casual clothing that are easy to pull on and off. You may want a sweatshirt for early morning boat charters. Ladies, a loose coverup is a beach bag essential, especially one cute enough to go from beach to happy hour. Toss in slippers, sunglasses and sunscreen along with beach towel and environmentally friendly refillable beverage container and you are ready for sand and sea.
Finally, the most important piece of advice while planning your Maui wardrobe – enjoy yourself and don’t let your style get too stuffy. Let the spirit of the Islands and the lush natural surroundings welcome you as you relax in your most comfortable and casual attire. Your mind and body will thank you, and you will blend in with our easy-going island lifestyle.