A traditional hula skirt is called a pa’u and is a wrapped skirt. It is often made from raffia, which is long palm fibers woven together. The hula skirt made of raffia is often tied and thus has a wraparound quality. The individual raffia strands are both thick and stiff, so the skirt stands out slightly from the body. It is usually knee length or longer.
Today one can find an inexpensive grass skirt made from imitation raffia. The fibers tend to be a little softer, so the skirt lies flat. This makes a good option for a Hawaiian themed party of for a Hawaiian costume. However, if one is going for the traditional hula look, the real raffia hula skirt is not particularly expensive. Often one can purchase one for about 20-25 US dollars (USD) depending upon waist size.
It should be noted that a traditional hula skirt alone does not evoke the old traditions of the hula. Women dancing the ceremonial Kahiko hula 100 years ago would have worn the raffia skirt and nothing else. For those wishing to copy such a look, it is perhaps best to pursue a more modern look, which includes the coconut bra, or a simple shirt. This is not exactly traditional, but is more in keeping with conventional behavior.
It would be a mistake to assume that the hula skirt is always one made of raffia. In fact, many modern hula dances are done in simple cotton Hawaiian skirts or dresses. Raffia tends to hide the hip movements of the hula, so the modern hula may be more sensual in skirts that cling more tightly to the body. Alternately, it may simply be more comfortable to dance in cotton than in raffia.
If one is preparing to take a hula class and cannot gain access to a grass skirt, consider a loosely flowing wraparound skirt if one has one. Any skirt is essentially acceptable when one is a learner. However, the more adept dancer will want the raffia hula skirt and other Hawaiian skirts for performances.