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
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
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
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
By 1974 the puka choker fad was even mentioned in respected news magazine
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Axthelm, Pete. "Puka, Puka, Who's Got the Puka?"
(September 9, 1974): 49.
Rubin, Sylvia. "Trendspotting."
San Francisco Chronicle
(July 15, 2001): 6.