The Story of Pareo

Pareo has roots in deepest Polynesia, the word originally meaning a wraparound skirt worn by women in the Cook Islands and Tahiti. The original print was flowers – especially hibiscus – but also geometric tapa prints.  As the pareo spread through Polynesia and the South Pacific, by the time the fashion got to Hawaii pareo came to mean any wraparound skirt worn by men or women – and also the various, colorful prints of animals, tropical scenes and geometric patterns.


Originally, pareo were made of fabric derived from ti leaf, banana leaf, lauhala leaf, coconut fiber, inner wild hibiscus bark, ulu (breadfruit) bark, and inner paper mulberry bark. Fortunately, the modern world has natural materials like cotton and silk which make an old Tahitian fashion even more comfortable.


On the west side of Oahu. M Nii tailor had bolts of fabric in cotton and silk for making pareo. Women would come in, buy the fabric, wrap it around themselves and wear it out – very little tailoring needed. For men, it was a little more complicated as they would pick a flowered, tropical or geometric fabric and have M. Nii make a pareo-print aloha shirt, or maybe a pair of shorts. Or both.