Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art History

Second Department

Art Conservation

Reader 1

Professor Julia Lum

Reader 2

Professor Carina Johnson

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Rights Information

2022 Tess E Anderson


When Native Hawaiians and haole (foreigners) first met, both participants belonged to fashion systems unknown to the other, composed of different materials, styles, tastes, standards, and construction techniques. As the outside world was introduced to the cultural heritage of Hawaiian hulu manu (featherwork), kūkaulani (chiefly fashion), and European skewed conceptions of Hawaiian indigeneity; the ali‘i (chiefs) and kama‘āina (commoners) received and adapted to incoming materials, technologies, and information. When these encounters transitioned into “prolonged contact” and settlement, dress and adornment proliferated in new ways. Analyzing the case studies of historic pā‘ū, holokū, ‘ahu'ula, and military uniforms shows the significance of Hawaiian dress as an iconographic tool of socio-political, spiritual, gendered, and diplomatic power. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Kalākaua Dynasty’s utilization of photographic portraiture and the staging of nā hulu ali‘i, European regalia, and intentionally crafted ‘fusion fashions’ are accentuated as diplomatic tools used to represent Hawaiian sovereignty and modernity for both local and international audiences. The ‘Iolani Palace’s Ali‘i Garment Reproduction Project has reincarnated these diplomatic ensembles through reproductions crafted by cultural practitioners of featherwork, designers, fashion historians, and museum staff. As dress and portraiture brokered diplomatic encounters between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the world, the reproductions of these garments in the twenty-first century represent another form of agency, where the Hawaiian communities of today have reproduced and care for ensembles that embody their ali‘i and their legacies. In a world where people are absorbing information and media faster than ever before, these reproductions force visitors to slow down, meet them face-to-face, listen to their stories, and realize the visual language and power of dress.