Hawaii Political Fashion: Abercrombie vs. Ige

Forget substance vs. style. It’s all about the right shirt and hair.
Neil Abercrombie and David Ige dressed in Sig Zane.  
Photos: Courtesy of Neil Abercrombie and David Ige 


One of the great things about watching political candidates debate is the opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of each contender—not just on the issues, but on their personal style. Just take a look at the top Hawaii Democrats running for governor and sometimes you’ll find their primary point of agreement is their aloha wear.

The political season hasn’t even peaked yet, but it’s probably safe to say Hilo-based designer Sig Zane has the lead on the fashion front, with his handcut cultural designs appearing on candidates across the islands and at a political podium near you. Our unofficial poll of the governor’s race, the U.S. Senate and various legislative contests puts Sig Zane out front.

The top Democratic gubernatorial candidates—Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige — also gave a nod to Sig Zane when HONOLULU Magazine dug deeper into what drives their fashion choices.

What did we learn?

Abercrombie is a shopper. Ige, not so much.

“I love shopping for aloha shirts. I also enjoy shopping for art, books, music, et cetera,” Abercrombie said via email.

Ige, also by email, said his wife and daughters are his chief fashion advisers.

“We follow the sales,” said Ige’s wife Dawn. “David enjoys wearing all brands, such as Reyn Spooner, Sig Zane, Cooke Street, Ono, Hawaiian Force (and) Tori Richard.”

If forced to shop for himself, Ige confesses he’s more likely to browse electronics over apparel. “I enjoy the Apple and Microsoft stores, and Best Buy because I’m a tech guy,” Ige says, adding that he tends to look more than buy. (Not altogether surprising for a politician whose main prior claim to fame has been leading the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, the formal title for his role as chief budget geek.)

Abercrombie, on the other hand, gets pretty passionate and chatty about local designers and actually shows up at fashion events. “My whole start with aloha shirts was with Dave Rochlen and Jams World in the 60s. Since that time, there’s been a renaissance. There are now numerous designers whom I love: Rick Ralston (Rix), Reyn’s, Sig Zane, Amos Kotomori, Tori Richard, Alfred Shaheen and so many others,” he said. “I’m sure I’m leaving some off the list but I love our local designers.”

And the governor revealed that he dabbles in fashion TV: “I also love watching Project Runway because of the number of Hawaii designers who have been on the show including Ari South.”

The governor’s wife, Nancie Caraway, helps steer his choices. “She’s a great patron and supporter of young local designers in Hawaii fashion,” Abercrombie says.

The two leading Democrats also take different approaches on haircuts, with the senator opting for a stylist close to home yet someone fairly new to his acquaintance.

“David likes his haircut by Arlene at Taki's in Aiea near our neighborhood. He's been going there about a year now,” his wife said.

The governor goes traditional on this one, favoring someone he’s known for years. Abercrombie gave a shout-out to Debbie Tuttle at Connie Gayle Salon. “I started with her when she worked at a salon that used to be on the second floor of Ala Moana shopping center right next to Reyn’s. I’ve been going to her forever. I’ve been going to her all these years because she’s the absolute best,” he says.

Turns out that the governor knows that hair salons have a special vantage point on life in the Islands. For him, it’s not just the haircut he’s seeking. “I also go there to hear from Debbie, Cindy and Julie who work at the salon. They are my unofficial focus group in Honolulu,” the governor added. “They have a unique view and always give me insight into the pulse of the people and what they’re talking about.”

Do either Abercrombie or Ige have lucky shirts or favorite colors? Well, kind of.

Abercrombie says, “I have a blue shirt with pink-and-white plumeria from Reyn Spooner that I’ve had for over 30 years. I still wear it occasionally. It looks as good today as it did decades ago. It’s so well-made. I also have a bunch of antique rayon aloha shirts I got from Bailey’s years ago. It’s incredible—they’re so collectible and valuable these days.”

As for Ige, we’ll have to wait to see his favorite shirt. His wife explained, “David’s favorite color is green. We’re saving his lucky shirt for election day.”

Check back for more reports from the fashion front as we get closer to the General Election and find out the sartorial leanings of other gubernatorial contenders: Republican candidate Duke Aiona and Independent candidate Mufi Hannemann.