For party-attire-challenged individuals such as myself, it was hard enough to remember the differences between formal, semi-formal, informal, casual, smart casual, business casual, or even "dressy casual" attire on the mainland. Luckily, they're fairly well defined in websites like wikipedia and this party attire site.
Around here though, I don't think I've heard any of those terms. Moving to Hawaii involves a whole new dress code. "Aloha attire" is actually pretty easy to figure out. It's very low key. All you need is a Hawaiian or aloha shirt with any sort of shorts and "slippa's" (flip-flops) you're comfortable in.
The problem arises when people (such as military officers) want to celebrate a special occasion. They don't want people rolling in wearing ratty shorts and sandy slippas like they just came from the beach. At the same time, they don't want to violate that "aloha spirit" and want to maintain some semblance of the laid back atmosphere of living in Hawaii. This is where you start see the term "aloha crisp" on invitations.
I have searched all over for a formal definition of what is and is not allowed for "aloha crisp" attire and have found none. For the sake of anyone else out there new to the island and trying to figure out what the heck they're supposed to wear to this "aloha crisp" social function, here's what I've gleaned through observation so far.
Aloha Crisp (from the fashion dictionary of blunoz - please refer to the first sentence of this blog post before placing any trust or confidence in the veracity of this definition): Of course, the aloha shirt should go without saying. The difference between "aloha attire" and "aloha crisp" is in what you wear WITH your aloha shirt. Trousers or khaki pants would be good, but because of the warm climate, it would be unreasonable to dictate that shorts are not allowed. If you opt for shorts, then they should be nice, "dressy" shorts - maybe something pleated, no heavy, rugged canvas-like things. They should be clean, ironed, in good repair. I have heard at least one opinion that cargo shorts are NOT acceptable for "aloha crisp" attire. For your feet, something close-toed would be best, but certainly not slippas. I bought some brown leather top-siders at the NEX for this purpose.
Aside: The NEX here is HUGE and has a pretty decent sized shoe department, but you have to take a number if you want something not already stocked on the shelf. A lot of the shoes are in boxes you can just take to the register, but some just have a display and you have to ask for employee to get your side out of the back.
If you're wondering "where's the best place to go to buy an aloha shirt?" three places come to mind:
1. The Swap Meet. Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday at the Aloha Stadium. TONS of aloha shirts for sale at a reasonable price. This is a great place to buy souvenirs if you're just visiting the island.
We bought these matching aloha shirts at the Swap Meet during a port call in 2001. (The picture was taken in front of the Hale Koa hotel. I can't believe that's ES in the middle!)
2. Navy Exchange. If you have a military ID card and can get into the NEX, they have some very nice quality aloha shirts for substantially less money. I found one aloha shirt that I really liked that was 25% cheaper at the NEX than it was out in town.
This is my favorite aloha shirt. It's a silk aloha shirt that I picked up at the NEX. (The picture was taken at the Cirque Hawaii).
3. Hilo Hatties. Aloha Shirt Mecca. They have a lot of nice shirts and quite a wide range of both quality and price. If you are military and/or live on the island ("kama-aina"), tell them that and show your ID - you'll get a pretty good discount.
When my family came to visit from Oregon at Christmas, we got them all matching aloha shirts at Hilo Hatties for us to wear to the Paradise Cove Luau.
There you have it. Everything you never wanted to know about aloha attire. Of course, any of you more fashion-sensitive, attire-saavy people want to set the record straight, please let me know where I need to make editorial corrections above.