Puka Shells


The unassuming abode of the cone snail might not seem like the type of thing that would get a teenaged girl all hot and bothered. But string a handful of the little shells together into a fashionable choker-style necklace and slap them around the neck of America’s favorite teen heartthrob, and the next thing you know, every teenage boy is dressing to impress with a puka shell necklace.

The puka shell is the former home of the aforementioned cone snail. The Hawaiian word “puka” specifically refers to the small hole that is formed by natural erosion of the shell, after the inhabitants have died and the little white shells have been thrown around the surf for a while. The process polishes them to a smooth finish and creates a hole in the center – just begging to be made into a necklace.

Elvis Presley wore a puka shell necklace in the movie Blue Hawaii back in 1961, and California surfers embraced the Hawaiian-styled necklaces in the early 70s, but it was one particular long-haired star that turned them into a formidable fashion fad – everyone’s favorite Partridge, teen idol David Cassidy. As soon as the singer was seen with the strands of white shells around his neck, the young girls swooned and drooled, while the opposite sex did everything in their power to swiftly secure their own set of fashionable puka shells.

Sure, boys weren’t accustomed to wearing all that much jewelry back in the day, but they certainly were accustomed to attracting the attention of pretty girls – and puka shells turned out to be just the ticket. While authentic puka shells were rare and expensive, an onslaught of imitation and inexpensive imposters were available at just about every store where teenage boys shopped. They were still real shells, just artificially altered to look like the coveted puka.

Occasionally still found at surf shops around the country, puka shells certainly made their fashion mark, and made their way around the neck of millions of teenaged boys, desperate to look cool for the ladies.

Did you own your very own puka shell necklace back in the day, or date someone who did? Or, did you just swoon when you saw one wrapped around David Cassidy’s neck? We’d love to hear all of your memories of this fashion fad from yesteryear in our comments section below.

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