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All About Sarongs


We present you with a discussion about sarongs, their composition, their variations in style, and comparable garments around the world. In addition, we discuss the fashion uses of sarongs, methods of wearing them, and we point you to where you can find information on how to tie them, as well as how to take care of sarongs.

A Review of Sarongs and Comparable Clothing around the World.

The word "sarong" (or “sarung”) denotes a length of fabric (made of cotton, silk, or synthetic fibers such as rayon) that is worn by both men and women in various parts of the world, including: Southeast Asia, Southern Asia, parts of Africa and Arabia, and also in many of the Pacific islands. In addition, sarongs are now very popular in the West, and considered very stylish. The traditional garment can vary in length and width, but is generally four to five meters in width and length (from the knees to the ankles). Sarongs are usually worn around the waist, but can also be tied in various methods, which we discuss further below.

With regards to design, traditional sarongs usually have varied, square or checkered patterns and symbols and colors that are woven by means of traditional native weaving methods that go back many centuries. Various and often bright colors are added through such traditional native dyeing methods known as the “batik” or “ikat” dyeing methods. Over the years, more and more varied designs and images have been added to designs that include plants and flowers, animals and cultural symbols. Sarongs now also incorporate contemporary designs and patterns that keep pace with the times and the latest fashion styles. The combination of colors and designs that can be found on sarongs is virtually limitless today.

Styles of Sarongs.

We present you with information on the styles of sarongs and similar garments around the world.

Garment Name and Style Variations by Geography.

1. Asia.

South Asia.

  • In India, women wear a traditional dress known as a “sari”, which consists of a 6-meter long piece of cloth, that women drape around the body, wearing it as a long dress.
  • Northeastern India – a sarong is known as a “phanek”.
  • Southern India – a sarong is known as “phanek”, “lungi” or “mundu”.
  • Sri Lanka – In Sri Lanka, sarongs are worn exclusively by men. Women wear a similar garment, akin to a wrap skirt.
  • The Maldives – a sarong is known as a “mundu”.
  • Nepal – a sarong is known as a “lungi” and also “sarong”.
  • Bangladesh and Eastern Indian – a sarong is known as a “lungi”.
  • Pakistan – there is a popular women’s garment known as a “dopatta”, which is a six foot to eight foot long scarf, which is becoming fashionable in the West for use as both a scarf and a shawl.

Southeast Asia.

  • Indonesia – a sarong is known as “sarong”.
  • Malaysia – a sarong is known as “kain sarung”, “kain”, or “kain pelikat”.
  • Thailand – a sarong for men is known as a “pa kao mah”, and a sarong for women is known as a “pa toong”.
  • Cambodia – a sarong is known as a “sampot”.
  • Laos – a sarong is known as a “sinh”.
  • Myanmar (Burma) – a sarong is known as a”longyi”.
  • The Philippines – a sarong is known as a “malong”.

Black Sea Region.
No, sarongs are not a traditional garment in this part of the world. However, due to their increasing popularity, you can now find sarongs worn by both men and women at Black Sea resorts.

2. Australasia.

  • Papua/New Guinea – a sarong garment is known as a “lap lap”.
  • Australia – traditional Australian aboriginal clothing did not include sarongs, but instead the people created garments from animal pelts and other fibers. However, today, sarongs are very popular in Australia.
  • New Zealand – traditional Maori clothing did not include a sarong, but instead included a knee-length garment known as a “puipui”.

3. The Pacific Islands.

  • French Polynesia (Tahiti) – a sarong is known as a “pareu” or “pareo”.
  • Hawaii – a sarong is known as a “kikepa”.
  • Samoa – a sarong is known as a “lava lava”.
  • The Mariana Islands – Instead of a sarong, the traditional dress for Chamorro (the native people of the Marianas) women is the “mestisa”, a dress known for its very stylish sleeves.

4. Africa.

  • Northern Africa – In this part of Africa, sarongs are not worn. Instead, traditional garb for women includes long, simple dresses, and sometimes they wear baggy trousers underneath. In addition, women wear a dark shawl or cloak in public.
  • The Horn of Africa / Arabian Peninsula – The type of sarong worn in Horn of Africa is known as the “macawiis” sarong, which was imported from India and Southeast Asia. In the Arabian Peninsula, a sarong is known by various names, including “futah”, “wizar”, “sarun”, and “izaar”, to name the most common ones.
  • East Africa – a sarong is known as a “kikoy” for men, and “kanga” worn by women.
  • The island of Madagascar – a sarong is known as a “lamba”.
  • The island of Mauritius – a sarong is known as a “pareo”.
  • Central Africa – a sarong is known by different names. In Malawi, a sarong is known as a “chitenje”.
  • Southern Africa – This part of Africa uses various names for a sarong. In South Africa, a sarong is known as a “kikoi”. In Mozambique, a sarong is known as a “capulana”.
  • West Africa – a sarong is known as a “kanga”, which was brought from East Africa.

5. Latin America.

  • Brazil – a sarong is known as either a “kanga” or “canga”.
  • Costa Rica – there were no sarongs in this region. Instead, fashion consisted of the traditional dress, which was of a hand-woven sort.
  • Guatemala – there were no sarongs here. The traditional native fashion was a standard hand-woven skirt, along with the native style and finely woven blouse called the “huipil”, which was the most important part of the woman's costume.
  • Aztec Dress – Women wore a type of skirt called a “cueitl”, which consisted of a strip of cloth wrapped around the waist and held in place by a sash. They also wore a blouse called the “huipil”.
  • Incan Dress – While there were no sarongs in this region, Inca women wore an ankle-length square or rectangular body wrap. It was called an “aksu” in the southern part of the Incan empire and an “anaku” in the northern part of the empire. The women wrapped it under their arms, then pulled up and pinned over each shoulder, held together with a stickpin.
  • Andean Dress – There were no sarongs in this part of the world. Women wore garments which were variations of a square or rectangular piece of cloth. They were woven and dyed using the color of plants.

6. Sarong Fashion in the West.

Sarongs were very popular in the 1960s. Then, the wearing of sarongs by women in the West faded somewhat. However, sarongs have made a very strong comeback, and are very popular among women of almost all ages. Sarongs are popular due not only to their stylishness, but also to their versatility. Women in the West today are wearing sarongs for practically any occasion – from a wrap skirt and cover up for the beach, to shopping trips, as part of a business outfit for the office, and even for posh soirees. It is not uncommon to see celebrities wearing sarongs on many different occasions, as they are considered extremely fashionable. Sarongs in the West are worn mostly by women, and vary in size and design from those of traditional sarongs from other parts of the world.

Sarong Dyeing Methods.

The most well known dyeing methods for sarongs are the “batik” and “ikat” methods. “Batik” is an ancient dyeing method that originated in Java. The word batik comes from the Javanese word “tik”, which signifies to dot. This method of dyeing fabrics consists of applying hot wax over portions of a cloth that is to retain its original color. Then, the cloth is dyed. The portions of the cloth that were not covered in wax then take on the color of the dye, while the waxed portion retains its original color. This process can be applied multiple times to a piece of cloth in order to add different colors and shades to the cloth. When the dyeing has been completed, the wax is then removed, and the fabric is ready for use. Modern batik dyeing is significantly different from the original, traditional batik method. Today, artists use different tools, fabrics and materials, stencils and etching, as well as different combinations of waxes to achieve the final result.

It is important that natural materials such as cotton or silk are used for the cloth, in order that it can absorb the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process. In addition, it is vital that the fabrics be of a high thread count (densely woven). Furthermore, high quality cloth should have this high thread count to maintain the intricate design qualities of batik.

“Ikat” is a type of tribal print and dyeing method that has been historically used in Southeast Asia, as well as in South America. The word “ikat” means to bind or to tie together. The fabric is first dyed using this method, and then woven. Ikat is a woven fabric which is distinguished by a blurred or feathered edge to a design produced by tie dyeing yarns prior to weaving the fabric. In today’s fashion world, ikat is primarily distinguished by triangular shapes. Most frequently, ikat prints are distinguished by their bold colors.

Tying a Sarong.

There are various ways of tying a sarong, which adds to the versatility of the garment. For specific, step-by-step instructions, you can go to How to Tie a Sarong. In addition, there are devices to help tie a sarong, which can be found at sarong tying devices.

Taking Care of a Sarong.

Sarongs should be cared for properly so that they last. You can find more specific information at Caring for Your Sarong.