Ten years ago in January 2005, I had a “what the…” moment when I was sitting in the indoor luau dinner show at the Hawaiian Inn in Daytona Beach: my dress was glowing. Like, radioactive glowing. The room was lit with ultraviolet light (blacklight), used for effects on the volcano scenes around the room and other decor. Since then, I’ve occasionally wondered what other secrets my aloha wear collection was holding. I started daydreaming about having a special all-blacklight night party, encouraging people to check their closets for their most fluorescent, eye-popping aloha wear. Last week, the dream came true when I finally held a Blacklight Aloha party at my home tiki bar, Balhi Ha’i.
This summer, I surveyed all of my vintage aloha wear with a UV light. I knew I had a few likely-suspect items, but some of what I found was surprising. A Waltah Clarke shirt that looks like dull mustard in daylight exploded in bright sunshine yellow under UV light. The baby-poop colored fabric on a dress turned into a magenta and green space nebula. (You can see all the results under the #blacklightaloha tag on Instagram.) I started carrying a small, powerful UV flashlight in my bamboo handbag so I could check friends’ aloha wear at get-togethers.
To cover the room in blacklight, I turned to a variety of light sources. I brought in eight compact fluorescent blacklight bulbs, two 24″ fluorescent tube fixtures, and a 16′ strip of blacklight LEDs. It did the trick pretty thoroughly. I kept some of the more dim normal lights in the room on, to bring a little more familiarity, warmth and tiki-ness to the room without interfering with the fluorescent action.
I started to think about the drinks: the obvious choice was tonic water. The quinine in tonic water glows bright blue under UV light. To increase the tiki-ness of an otherwise ordinary Gin & Tonic, I made tonic water moai ice cubes. They were a big hit. Another option I wound up not pursuing, but I think would be cool: the chlorophyll within mint leaves will fluoresce bright pink if it’s processed right. A few drops of pink mint oil on top of a layer of blue-glowing cream could be striking, and aromatically appealing, too. Ran out of time to follow through on that idea, though.
I wanted to buy up a bunch of old early 20th century uranium glass (also called “Vaseline” glass) for the party. The uranium in them glows a bright lime green, and many of the designs are gorgeous and ornate. It was not to be: I wasn’t able to find vessels that were practical in terms of cost or size. Instead, I served the drinks in plastic neon cups. I created a fluorescent drink menu by tracing a design with neon Sharpie pens. I intended to use some of my UV-reactive aloha wear to decorate all the walls, but again: ran out of time. (No childcare for my daughter this month, plus potty training her, has meant a lot of things have had to get back-burnered around here.)
For the big event, I painted my fingernails with UV-reactive bright orange polish, and sprayed novelty UV-reactive hairspray all over my hair. I wore that same dress I wore back in 2005… it’s still my best UV-reactive dress. I found a matching shirt for my husband on Etsy—that was a lucky strike.
Our guests got into the spirit, wearing some remarkable vintage aloha wear, and the room was dazzling. The whole night was a lot of fun, and I think I might make this a regular October event. If this has you thinking about throwing your own Blacklight Aloha party, I think you should, and please invite me: I have so many dresses that need to see the light of
(A small word of warning: when you go looking for blacklight party supplies, you will find them… and 99% of it will be awful. Neon beer bongs, dumb posters and junky bead curtains. We’re not aiming for a rave, here, this is a cocktail party. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to buy decorations, and wind up settling for terrible junk you’d otherwise never purchase. The aloha wear is plenty decoration.)