Kailua Menswear Shop Gloriously Defies All (Lack of) Hawaii Fashion Sensibility

One writer's rant on how a barrage of uninspired experiences paved the way for a glimmer of hope in a small town beach boutique. 

Kailua Menswear Shop Gloriously Defies All (Lack of) Hawaii Fashion Sensibility

This is a little tale about how one writer (a) moved to a little sliver of paradise in the midst of a very, very large ocean, (b) learned quickly to appreciate all things “island style”—the relaxed fashion in which everything is served/worn/executed, (c) after a decade of island living began to long for some sense of reform in the elegance of everyday occurrences, only to be besodden with example upon example of how a (warning: sweeping statement follows) simple-minded culture refuses to evolve, stylistically, and (d) ultimately found a glimmer of hope in a tiny, backstreet menswear shop in a Windward beach town. Recline your seat and enjoy the read/rant.

 I’d recently decided… I’d had enough. All the conversations that began with “If we only had x here, it would be such a better x scene!” grew too wearisome. H&M is coming? Yay! Only 12 years too late to matter. They finally closed down that decrepit KFC on Kapahulu Ave? Maybe something wonderful and new will take it’s place? W-H-A-T? Popeye’s Chicken will be moving in? How novel! How unique! Barnes & Noble in tony Kahala is shuttering so that a Ross Dress for Less can take it’s place? Wonderful! More islanders wearing the most unappealing (and unsold) garments from 7 seasons ago… perfect.

I had succumbed to the notion that, if I wanted one example of elegance in any manner on a daily basis (seriously; just once daily), then I would have to wait until I was in N.Y. Or Monterey. Or Zurich.

Examples, you ask? Need to understand that I’m not a raving lunatic hermetically sealed up in a white Mercedes SUV with the AC at full blast, but really, just looking for a little grace and civility here in “paradise”? Here’s when it all began, nearly two years ago:

 I invited a very esteemed colleague—a vice president of one of the top publishing companies in the nation—to Alan Wong’s. We (two couples) wore dinner jackets and slacks, albeit covering loosely buttoned dress shirts and sockless loafers. The ladies wore dresses drapped with pashminas.

As usual, the service was eloquent and the food was delicious. But we were seated, perhaps to only my chagrin, next to a family of 5 who, by the local insignia on their t-shirts, I presumed were from Hawaii. The dad wore a tattered baseball cap. The teenage sons, dare I say, were dressed slightly more presentable than the adults. But accompanying the t’s were plastic sandals and board shorts. At 9 p.m. on a Thursday evening, at a James Beard-awarded restaurant in Honolulu.

Cut to “the now”: I’d given up. The expectations and bar has been set so low for hope in finer dining, an array of cuisine outside of what has been mastered and remastered here over and over again. And shopping.

Then, in the middle of the week, I stumbled into Oliver Men’s Shop in Kailua, on Oahu’s Windward side. It’s on “the wrong side” of Kailua for a hip retail outlet; away from the bustling Whole Foods-Lanikai Juice-Morning Brew ha-ha. No—we are on the flipside of Kailua Road, just downwind of the Kawainui Marsh.  

A friend had posted something about it on Facebook, and I thought, “This looks like something I might see en masse in Brooklyn Heights, possibly a beachy lane in Amagansett, or on Portland’s Northwest 23rd St. Who dares open such a shop in this overly-surf-logoed place?”

The answer: Parker Moosman. A Washington State native who (cue: classic story) fell in love with Lanikai and moved with wife, Ali (who owns/operates Olive Boutique two doors down), to Hawaii in 2008.  

When I stepped into the single room retail space, Moosman was fiddling with a small record player, cuing up some early Hawaiian swing. Brands that filled the racks included (the revitalized) Lightning Bolt, Deus es Machina, Quality Peoples and Aloha Sunday. The shelves held one-off bracelets (the kinds worn by manly men), the odd flask and a few belts.

Moosman was proud to point out a new (to his store) line of M.Nii “Makaha” board shorts in the “everything that is old is now new” style. Behind him and covering a large portion of the shop's wall space, was a photograph spotlighting a defying "Big Waimea drop in"—and the rider sports the same M.Nii shorts. (The wave rider is Moosman’s father-in-law, the image from the early 1960s.)

We exchanged pleasantries, and I learned a bit about the clientele that has been flooding the store since it opened last year.

 “We can’t really keep down anything that says ‘Aloha’ or ‘Kailua.’ The tourists—especially from Asia—just buy it all up. And our own logo wear has done surprisingly well,” he says, seemingly surprised—perhaps at the known uncivility I spoke of earlier.

Indeed, Moosman offers the jet set a “join ‘em, don’t beat ‘em” wardrobe option: Elegantly-designed T’s and aloha wear on quality fabrics, well-shaped swimwear and accoutrement (shave cream, canvas shoulder bags, etc.) to one-up the knee-length boardies and surf-brand-of-the-hour tanks and tees that permeate this truly uncivilized—in the most gloriously fantastic way—place.

Brush up. Go there.


49 Kihapai Street, Kailua, Hawaii; www.OliverHawaii.com

"I had succumbed to the notion that, if I wanted one example of elegance in any manner on a daily basis (seriously; just once daily), then I would have to wait until I was in N.Y. Or Monterey. Or Zurich."