Popular Hawaiian fashion house in 1957

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from its predecessor Pacific Paradise, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission from King Kalākaua. This makes it the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi, with an enviable archive worth diving into every month. Back to March 1957.

HThe island of awai’i aesthetic has always been a popular avenue of fashion escape. While Edith and Keiji Kawakami were designing Iolani clothes on Beretania Street and Ruth Spooner was sewing custom board shorts in Waikīkī, a young mum was attracting attention for her seashell and bamboo embellished bags and woven hats every time .

“Designate [Barbara] Kim calls her meticulous workshop and wholesale house Barbee’s of Hawaii. … [Barbee’s] makes a sun hat with a puka through which long hair can hang. If it’s a fancy snood that milady yearns for, Barbee’s design comes with earrings. There is a hat and purse combination; there are reversible hats, peek-a-boo beanies, rice planter hats, miniature coconut trimmed hats, grass huts and chopsticks, a peaked beanie with a fishnet tie and spiral bun coolie head shades.

SEE ALSO: Hawai’i History According to Our Records: One Man’s Perspective on Fashion

“As a Honolulu housewife and mother of two children, Barbara Kim leads a busy life. She started a freelance business in 1955, and on several occasions her associates encouraged her to increase her staff and her studio space. However, she prefers to keep operations small and stay personally connected with every step of the business. Designer Kim received her formal education at schools in Honolulu and New York, where she spent two years studying pattern making, drawing and sewing.

A year later, Kim was selling her hats in stores across the continent. We found pictures of his hats in the Telegram Star from Fort Worth (Texas). In 1959, The Honolulu Advertiser reported that his handmade straw bags and hats had become a $300,000-a-year, 180-piece-a-day business. We couldn’t find any mention of Barbee’s of Hawai’i today, but the art of pāpal puka is back in fashion. See our style editor’s pick here.

Hawai'i History from Our Records Covers March 2022

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