Seriously, We Need To Bring Back The Muumuu

A case for embracing the shapeless, flowery frock.

Art credit: Kevin Whipple

A couple of weeks ago, my husband surprised me with a wonderful gift: the gift of comfort. No, he didn’t hand me a too perfectly wrapped gift box containing a fluffy robe or adorable, yet functional bunny slippers. Instead, he told me that I should start dressing more like Hawaiian wahines (women).

The feminist in me probably should’ve been taken aback by what my husband said. And I’ll admit that my immediate impulse was to bring out the side-eye. Once I processed his comment, however, I took it to mean “you need to wear more muumuus around the house.” 

And no one — certainly not this aficionado of leisure apparel — would say no to more muumuus.

To be clear, muumuus are already a big part of my life. For one thing, I live in Hawaii. Elsewhere, it might be unusual to see an auntie sporting a muumuu on the beach or in line at Target. But muumuus don’t turn heads here. (They just cover bodies, as comfortably as anything could.) And I’ve fully embraced muumuus at home — a space with no central air conditioning, no shoes worn indoors, and all the free-flowing, flowery garments a gal could wish for.

I just didn’t think it was kosher to wear them all day, every day. But now that I’ve gotten the nudge, I’m going all in. 

Before we go any further, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page about this garment that everyone, everywhere, should be wearing. First, the name: For the most part, mainlanders pronounce it “moo-moo.” The correct pronunciation, however, adds in two extra moos (each “u” is its own “moo” sound): moo-oo-moo-oo. Another version of the spelling also includes the Hawaiian ‘okina: mu’umu’u. But no matter how you say it, the word means “cut off” in Hawaiian, thanks to its origins: The muumuu emerged in the 19th century as a shortened version of the more formal, floor-length holoku. Soon enough, it became a popular dress in its own right. 

Throughout its lifetime, the muumuu has been the fashion world’s champion of positive body image. While I may fit the stereotypical muumuu wearer’s description — I’ve got plenty of extra curves in plenty of extra places — it is by no means limited to plus-size folks. Big or small, tall or short, the muumuu welcomes you. It proudly eschews a size tag in favor the inclusive “one size fits all” label. It draws you into its generous folds like a grandmother with soft, flappy batwings for upper arms.

The muumuu also lends an air of effortless glamour to anyone who dons it — its light, thin fabrics kiss the skin and allow you to float around a room like an enchanting ‘60s actress laughing her way through a backyard pool party. With flow and ease and a nice breeze right where you need it, the muumuu makes the perfect dressing gown, and any pregnant woman would probably be very happy to add a muumuu or two to her maternity wardrobe (though its cut does make it difficult for nursing moms to get a boob out with any sort of grace or ease).

And it represents everything that it means to be Hawaiian, even more than the aloha shirt. Typically vibrant and unafraid to sing or dance like (and while) everyone is watching, Hawaiians generously use color, flowers, and any other element of the earth’s beauty to express themselves.

Some younger Hawaiian designers are trying to make the muumuu fashionable again through updated designs and fabrics, but I don’t feel any pressure to refresh my muumuu look. That goes against the muumuu’s no-fuss ethos. I prefer my muumuu shopping experience to be just as easy as the shapeless wonder-dress itself: I walk into a discount department store and pick up whatever old-fashioned, floral frock I find in the racks. Then I walk out, delighted that I didn’t have to set foot in a dressing room to be completely satisfied with my purchase.

Really, the muumuu is the ultimate working-from-home outfit. You’ve likely heard how much freelance writers loathe wearing pants. Well, this writer foregoes pants and shirts in favor of a more relaxing employee dress code. It doesn’t even matter that my eight-year-old stepdaughter told me I looked like a weird old lady. At least I’m a comfortable weird old lady. 

So go forth and search your vintage stores, your eBays, your off-brand retailers, and your mom’s attic. Or just plan a vacation to Hawaii. Trust me, making muumuus a part of your life is worth the price of admission.

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About Woolly

A curious exploration of comfort, wellness, and modern life — emotionally supported by Casper. It’s a beautiful magazine published by a mattress. Come on, you know it’s not the weirdest thing to happen this year. The first issue includes a love letter to comfort pants, a skeptic's guide to crystals, and an adulting coloring book.