Strings of white puka shell beads emerged as a teen fashion trend in the early 1970s. Puka shells are the leftover parts from the shell of the cone snail found on beaches in Hawaii. The empty conical shells, closed at the larger end, are swept back into the surf. In
Strings of puka shells being sold as souvenirs in Hawaii. Traditional garb for Hawaiians, the shells were worn by surfers in the 1960s and fashion trendsetters in the 1970s. Reproduced by permission of © Tim Thompson/CORBIS.
the waves they then break apart into the flat, jagged white pieces that make up the puka shell choker. Calcium deposits leave a tiny hole, known as a puka in Hawaiian, in the center, through which they can be threaded. They were part of traditional Hawaiian dress for centuries and were adopted by surfers in the 1960s. The actual shells range from shades of white to blue, brown, or purple, but much of the 1970s puka craze involved pure white shells, which were often imitations of the real shells. Actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932—) wore puka shells and was reportedly bombarded with questions about them. Actor and singer David Cassidy (1950—) went to Hawaii for a vacation and the craze began when he appeared on The Partridge Family wearing the shells. Both Cassidy and the sitcom about a family rock band were massive hits, and his trendy wardrobe and shaggy haircut were widely copied.
By 1974 the puka choker fad was even mentioned in respected news magazine Newsweek. Many of the puka chokers sold in stores in the United States were fake shells, but the more expensive, genuine puka chokers were being sold in Beverly Hills, California, boutiques like the one owned by Priscilla Presley (1945—), ex-wife of rock star Elvis Presley (1935-1977), for up to $150. Tourists in Hawaii combed the beaches for the shells, which were difficult to find, to make their own necklaces. In the late 1990s puka chokers enjoyed a brief revival among teens with a fondness for surf styles.
Was this article helpful?