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All About Hawaiian Leis

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Aloha! Welcome to Hawaii, home to beautiful beaches, epic sunsets, tropical food and drink and the iconic flower lei. When it comes to Hawaiian leis, there is a lot to know, from lei etiquette to care and how to wear your lei.

We've written an informative guide to tell you everything you need to know about Hawaiian leis.

Table of contents

What Is A Lei?

hawaiian lei

A Hawaiian lei is a floral garland worn around the neck and common in Hawaii and Polynesia. In Hawaiian tradition, leis symbolize the aloha spirit, which includes love, friendship, respect, greeting, celebration and honor.

You might be given a lei as a welcome gift at the airport or when you check into your hotel. If you attend a wedding or other festive celebration, you might be lucky enough to be blessed with a beautiful lei. Leis are also given as thank you gifts or on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. If you are invited to any event or celebration, you can't go wrong with gifting a lovely lei.

You don't need a special occasion to wear a lei. You might like to wear one during your vacation or buy some to take home for friends and family as gifts.

Lei History

King Kamehameha

In ancient times Hawaiians used teeth, bones, and sticks to make leis. Later weaved leaves, feathers, shells, and flowers were used. In those times, leis were used as an adornment in the same way we use fashion and make-up to look beautiful. They were also given as presents or as offerings to Hawaiian gods. Leis were also used to welcome native travelers back to the islands.

The tradition of making and giving leis arrived in the Hawaiian Islands with early Polynesian voyagers, who traveled from Tahiti using the stars to navigate their wooden canoes.

The Maile lei held special significance and was often used on sacred occasions. We know leis were part of peace agreements made between opposing chiefs, for example. In a Heiau (temple), the chiefs would gather together and braid the Maile vine in the ritual that joined them together.

Leis were also worn by royalty in Hawaii, and the more elaborate and beautiful a lei was, the higher the status of the person wearing it.

These days leis are worn by everyone from Hawaiian Kings and queens to everyday people like you and me. It is also a big part of the tourism industry in Hawaii. If you are a visitor on vacation, you probably won't be in Hawaii for long before you are offered a lovely floral lei. Most people fall in love with this exotic flower gift and all the meaning that goes along with it.

How To Give and Receive A Lei

There is a certain way to give and receive a flower lei properly regarding lei etiquette.

If you are receiving a lei, you should accept it and give thanks. The correct way to wear a lei is softly draped over your shoulders, hanging down in the front as well as the back of your body. Always accept a lei even if you might suffer from flower allergies as this symbol of aloha (love) should never be refused. If you need to remove a lei, try to wait until the person who gifted it has departed and is no longer with you.

If you are the giver of the lei, you should place the lei over the recipient's neck. It is appropriate but not essential to give a kiss on the cheek or hug (being careful not to squash the delicate lei). You can bow your head slightly as you give a lei as a further sign of respect.

credit : iHula Hawaii

Different Kinds Of Leis

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

There are many kinds of leis to choose from in various stunning colors, including pink, green, purple, and yellow. White is also very elegant and eye-catching when blended with fresh vine or greenery.

As well as looking gorgeous, fragrant leis also smell wonderful. The fragrant scent of orchids, plumeria and jasmine will be a happy reminder of your time in Hawaii. Any time you smell the tropical floral scents, you will be transported back to those blissful sunny Hawaiian days.

Below is a list of the most popular Hawaiian leis you will come across during your travels in Hawaii. As you probably have realized, one lei is never enough and most people love to take some leis home with them to enjoy after the trip is over.

Traditional leis

Shell leis

Fresh leis

Artificial leis

Fabric leis

Silk leis

How To Maintain A Lei?

Orchid Leis

Orchid leis can last for up to a week or longer when treated with care. Many leis are made with fresh orchids, and they may need some water to help them last longer. You can spray your lei with water to help keep it fresh. Store your lei in a fridge that isn't too cold. The ideal temperature is around 54°F (12°C). Keeping them in the front of portion of your refrigerator is recommended. Never put your lei flowers in the freezer. If you don't have a fridge in your room, you can put some cool water in the sink and let them sit.

Extra special care needs to be taken with fragrant leis because they are extremely fragile. Try not to handle them too much before using them to ensure your lei is long-lasting.

Fragrant Leis

Fragrant leis need to be handled carefully and touched as little as possible to ensure they are long lasting.

Use a fresh water mist spray before placing your lei in a plastic container in the fridge.

You only need to sprinkle a light layer of water on the stems before refrigeration.

Keep your lei dry in a sealed container in the fridge.

The perfect temperature for all of these fragrant leis is about 54 degrees F or 12 degrees C.

Other Hawaiian Leis

This lei needs to be treated with more water since it grows in the Hawaiian rainforest so thrives on damp conditions. Be generous with the water mist spray and wrap it in a damp paper towel before.

Ti leaf leis are made by freezing the leaves to make them supple and this process means they retain moisture which can stain clothing. To avoid this, hang them to completely dry before they are worn. When storing the lei it should be kept dry in a sealed container before use.

Your lei may come with instructions on how to best care for it or you can ask your supplier if you are unsure. You can also dry your lei to enjoy it for many weeks or even months.

How To Discard A Lei

There is a special way to dispose of used flower leis respectfully. Flower leis should be returned to the earth. You can bury or burn them or scatter the flowers in a natural setting such as the sea or your garden. Never put leis in the trash as it is considered disrespectful.


We hope you enjoyed this article all about Hawaiian leis and don't forget to take plenty of photos of yourself wearing your gorgeous flower leis. As you can see there are many occasions where a Hawaiian Lei can be used. Don't forget when you are in Hawaii to practice these lei giving traditions and spread the Aloha.

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