What is a Hula Skirt?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A traditional hula skirt is called a pa’u and is a wrapped skirt. It is often made from raffia, which is long palm fibers woven together. The hula skirt made of raffia is often tied and thus has a wraparound quality. The individual raffia strands are both thick and stiff, so the skirt stands out slightly from the body. It is usually knee length or longer.

A hula skirt might be paired with a bra made of coconut shells.
A hula skirt might be paired with a bra made of coconut shells.

Today one can find an inexpensive grass skirt made from imitation raffia. The fibers tend to be a little softer, so the skirt lies flat. This makes a good option for a Hawaiian themed party of for a Hawaiian costume. However, if one is going for the traditional hula look, the real raffia hula skirt is not particularly expensive. Often one can purchase one for about 20-25 US dollars (USD) depending upon waist size.

The hula has its origins in Hawaii.
The hula has its origins in Hawaii.

It should be noted that a traditional hula skirt alone does not evoke the old traditions of the hula. Women dancing the ceremonial Kahiko hula 100 years ago would have worn the raffia skirt and nothing else. For those wishing to copy such a look, it is perhaps best to pursue a more modern look, which includes the coconut bra, or a simple shirt. This is not exactly traditional, but is more in keeping with conventional behavior.

It would be a mistake to assume that the hula skirt is always one made of raffia. In fact, many modern hula dances are done in simple cotton Hawaiian skirts or dresses. Raffia tends to hide the hip movements of the hula, so the modern hula may be more sensual in skirts that cling more tightly to the body. Alternately, it may simply be more comfortable to dance in cotton than in raffia.

If one is preparing to take a hula class and cannot gain access to a grass skirt, consider a loosely flowing wraparound skirt if one has one. Any skirt is essentially acceptable when one is a learner. However, the more adept dancer will want the raffia hula skirt and other Hawaiian skirts for performances.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


grass/straw/raffia. skirts are traditions of Tahiti/cook Islands etc, not so much hawaiian. Maybe the hawaiian skirts made of ti leaf may remind one of grass, when they are shredded.

The common pa'u for kahiko (traditional) hula dancing is a four-yard wide fabric skirt made of poly cotton, often worn with tube tops made of the same fabric.

Just look up real hula and how to make a pa'u.


Can anybody tell me where to find a white girls hula skirt? My daughter really wants to be a hula girl for Halloween, and she's got it in her head that she wants to wear a white one rather than any other color one. Most of the ones I see in costume stores are either brown or multicolored -- where can I get a white one?


When I was a kid, we always tried to make grass hula skirts out of the tall grass in our field, but we could never quite get the look we wanted.

Now whenever I see a child in a hula skirt I always think of my sister's and my attempts at making what we called "Tahitian" hula skirts -- I think that we heard that Tahitians wore hula skirts on the radio, and we figured that would be more unique than a Hawaiian hula skirt. We were nothing if not fashion conscious!


I never knew there was so much tradition behind the Hawaiian hula skirt -- I always just see the cheap kids hula skirts come Halloween.

Very interesting and informative article; I'm so glad that you brought this article out of the realm of hula skirt costumes and told us something we don't already know.

I really like this a lot, thanks.


A traditional hula skirt was made from kapa (or tapa) which is cloth made from pounding bark. There were adornments and overlay skirts that were worn made from native plants, such as the one mentioned.

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