Tropical Costume Ideas

Bring the enchantment of the tropics to a costume party by
utilizing probably the most popular and versatile go-to clothing in the tropics -- the sarong, or, as it's called in the Tahitian and Hawaiian Islands, the pareu. Alternately, pull your costume out of a hat, a la Carmen Miranda.

Polynesian Pareo

Wrap yourself in a Tahitian pareu, or pareo, as it is pronounced (pah - ray - oh). Also known as a sarong and by many other names depending on the locale, in Hawaii, the pareo is commonly worn by women, men and kids as skirts and by women as dresses. Depending on how you tie it, this versatile, tropical costume can be worn in a variety of ways.

If you're wearing it as a skirt, fold the pareo to shorten it, wrap and tie around the hips. Men in Hawaii and Samoa wear these skirts knee-length or longer, often with tank tops. Women wear them at all lengths with sleeveless, halter and bikini tops. Or, using fabric glue, adhere two coconut shells to a bikini top for a costume.


  • If you can't get your hands on a pareo in time for the costume event, create your own with a rectangular piece of tropically printed, lightweight fabric. Cut the fabric to about 44 by 66 inches for an adult of regular size or slightly larger or smaller, as needed.

    Or, cut up a plain bedsheet and add your own design with fabric paint. Free-hand draw or use stencils to paint a tropical flower pattern such as hibiscus, orchid or plumeria. Other typical designs include tropical fish, fruit, dolphins, sea turtles, surfers, Polynesian canoes or coconut trees.

Shipwrecked on a Tropical Isle

For a quick-and-easy tropical costume that doesn't cost all your savings, dress yourself or a child as someone stranded on a deserted island:

  1. Using scissors to start the process, rip off the pant legs of a pair of unwanted, well-worn trousers so they hang above calf length or shorter.
  2. Tear off the sleeves of an unwanted, well-worn shirt.
  3. Brush on a tan or burn with bronze or pink blush.
  4. Create beach hair by combining 1 tablespoon sea salt to 1 cup warm water, scrunching or waving your hair, using your fingers, as you spray from bottom to top. Then, muss it up a bit. Guys should avoid shaving for a few days before the costume event.
  5. Protect your face from the deserted island's "blistering sun" with a ratty hat. If you know how to weave palm fronds, make a coconut hat.
  6. Transform sneakers or sandals into faux Hawaiian ti leaf shoes: After putting on the shoes, wrap a banana leaf or other broad leaf around each foot, securing with string.


  • Using a handful of beach or craft sand and fabric glue, apply thin layers of sand in random areas to your shipwrecked costume.

Carmen Miranda Costume

Create a Carmen Miranda fruit-topped hat, and you have most of your tropical costume on your head. Use a hot glue gun to apply artificial fruit and some tropical greenery, such as pineapple leaves or coconut fronds, to a baseball cap, sans the bill. If you sew, add a tropical scarf to the cap. Wear it with a pareo or a bright, tropical evening dress. For a young girl, a ruffly, Brazilian-style skirt and blouse with the fruity headdress completes a kid-size Carmen Miranda costume.

Tropical Accessories

No matter how fancy or ratty the costume, tucking a tropical flower behind the ear adds a sweet fragrance. Secure the flower to the hair with a bobby pin. For a Polynesian look, purchase or create a lei of flowers such as plumeria or orchids, or make one of shells.

Appear almost barefoot by wearing the type of barefoot sandals with thin soles; add a jungle look by winding a thin vine around the sandal straps. Or, purchase a pair decorated with shells or faux pearls. If the costume is not for trick-or-treating or dancing, consider the official tropical shoe go-to: flip-flops.

About the Author

Cindy Blankenship, a California native, began reporting in 1996 for the Grants Pass Daily Courier after teaching in Hawaii where she lived 14 years. As assistant editor at the Rogue River Press, she wrote and edited several stories that earned awards from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. Her writing appears in numerous publications.