- What's A Sarong?
What's A Sarong?
What Exactly is a Sarong?
Simply put, a sarong is a woven panel of fabric. It is usually decorated and worn as a garment by both men and women in many countries over the world. They are extremely versatile, able to be tied on the body in a wide variety of ways to create short or long skirts, dresses, togas, turbans and more. Sarongs serve more purposes than simply as clothing, though. They are popular as wall decorations, tablecloths, curtains or even as loose sacks for carrying items. They are some of the oldest garments the world knows, and their functionality and beauty remains relevant today.
History of Sarongs
No one knows exactly when people began wearing sarongs. It’s safe to say they have been worn as long as people have been weaving fabric. Because they require no buttons or complicated fasteners, they are some of the simplest garments to create and wear, and early peoples would undoubtedly have taken advantage of that fact.
Recorded history tells us that traditional dying methods, such as batik, were used in many parts of the world, and that sarongs have been a nearly universal article of clothing for thousands of years. They were used in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and many other regions of the ancient world, both civilized and rustic.
Sarongs Around the World
Sarongs are popular all over the world, but they’re not always known by the same name, and they aren’t always used in exactly the same ways. Here are some examples from various cultures:
- In Hawaii, Tahiti and the Cook Islands it is called a pareo or a pareu, and is worn by both men and women as a skirt. Traditional designs include vivid colors and bright, floral patterns. In these areas men even fold their pareos into shorts when they go fishing.
- In Polynesia and Oceania , it is a lava-lava, worn by both sexes in a wide variety of settings, including business wear (when men even pair it with a tie), official state uniforms, school uniforms and more.
- Around Southeast Asia, sarongs are worn by women and men as casual clothing daily, but men only wear them out of the house on Fridays, when attending the mosque.
- In South Asia it is known as a mundu or lungi. A mundu is solid white or black, and is usually donned for ceremonial and religious reasons, while a lungi is multi-colored and decorated.
- In Sri Lanka, only men wear sarongs. Women wear reddas, which are essentially the same thing. Men’s sarongs in this region denote class distinction. Higher class men only wrap them on for comfortable evening wear in the home, while lower class, less wealthy and rural men wear them all the time. For this reason, wearing sarongs publicly in Sri Lanka is becoming less common.
- On the Arabian Peninsula, they are known variously as a futah, wazaar, ma’awiis, and izaar. It’s common to fold “pockets” into the futah, for carrying small items, and different areas have different designs and styles. Around Yemen, these traditional tribal designs are thought to date back to pre-Islamic times.
- Around Oman, it is called a wizaar and is usually white, worn beneath another garment.
- On the Horn of Africa, sarongs are extremely widespread. Somali men traditionally wore them as simple white kilts, however trade has brought more color into the region. Macawiis or ma’awiis are often brightly colored and worked with plaid, checks, or other designs. They are folded several times over around the waist to create a firm hold.
- In Cambodia it is known as a sampot, usually worn as a skirt, and is often folded over and draped in different variations to create more aesthetically pleasing or practical styles.
Traditional and Modern Materials
Depending on the region, traditional materials used for making sarongs varies. Cotton has always been a popular material, as it is a native plant in many sarong-wearing countries such as Africa, India and the Arabian Peninsula. Over time people began to create with more delicate materials, such as silk. Traditional dyes are usually plant and vegetable based.
Modern sarongs are created with time-honored ancient techniques as well as more technologically advanced methods. Today, the garments can be made of cotton, rayon, silk and more. Batik remains a popular method in many countries for creating beautiful designs, but machine-printed, hand painted, embroidered and tie-dyed work is also popular.
Making a Sarong - Traditional and Modern Methods
To make a sarong, first a length of fabric is needed. This panel can be any of the materials mentioned above, or a different material entirely. Many different lengths of sarongs are popular, and they are often cut and hemmed for a particular individual.
Batik is a very old, traditional method for dying sarongs. Batik artisans are especially popular in Indonesia, and many families have been practicing this ancient art for generations. In batik, wax is applied to the fabric on all areas except those which will be dyed. The fabric is dipped into a plant-based dye, and the wax prevents certain areas of the fabric from taking the color. Once the garment is removed and dry, the wax can be removed with hot water, leaving a beautiful design. This process can be repeated multiple times to incorporate different colors.
Traditional dyes used in batik are indigo, brown and white. These symbolize the three main Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Also, those colors are readily available through the local plants.
Today, many sarongs are printed mechanically, to make mass production and distribution easier, but batik artisans are still at work.
More unique, personal and less industrialized methods of decoration include hand-painting by artisans, hand-sewn embroidery, and hand-sewn detailing such as small pearls (popular in ceremonial or wedding sarongs). Sarongs that are hand-decorated using one or more of these methods are one-of-a-kind works of art, which can be treasured not only by the wearer, but passed down through the family as an heirloom.
Sarongs with a high thread count, that is more threads per square inch of fabric, are considered better quality than others. This is especially important if an intricate design is going to be dyed or hand-painted onto the fabric. Higher thread counts mean less color bleeding, and allow for more definition and detail.
Wearing a Sarong
Sarongs are worn as skirts in most parts of the world, and this is the most popular style in the United States, as well. They are simply wrapped several times around the waist and tied off for a long, elegant look. They can also be folded over to create a shorter, more convenient skirt that shows off your legs. Wrapping up in the fabric also provides good protection from the sun, especially when they are used as beach wear. Tying the garment up into a dress, either around the neck or over the breasts, is also popular and timelessly stylish.
Today, these traditional garments are still worn by peoples all over the world who have cherished them time out of mind. In the western world, where they haven’t been as ubiquitous, people have long thought of them as beach wear and swimsuit cover-ups for men as well as women. But even here they are branching out and taking on a more universal role.
Women love them for their natural elegance, and often wear sarongs for ceremonies such as weddings, or formal events like cocktail parties or black-tie dinners. Their comfort and simplicity make them perfect for lounging around the house, or heading out for a day of shopping and running errands. It’s even becoming more common these days to see women wrapped in a sleek sarong topped off with a business blazer and high heels. In professional settings, they allow modern women to express their individuality while maintaining an upscale, sophisticated style. These traditional wraps speak of simplicity, functionality, and beauty, and they continue to make a strong impression wherever they are worn.
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