Sarong: Wikis


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Javanese men often wear sarongs during religious or casual occasions. Here is a photo of sarongs being worn in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia.

A sarong or sarung (pronounced [ˈsaɾoŋ] in Bahasa; English: /səˈrɒŋ/) is a large tube or length of fabric, often wrapped around the waist and worn as a kilt by men and as a skirt by women throughout much of South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa and on many Pacific islands. The fabric most often has woven plaid or checkered patterns, or may be brightly colored by means of batik or ikat dyeing. Many modern sarongs also have printed designs, often depicting animals or plants.



The dyeing technique of batik is associated with sarong production.

In strict usage, sarong [Malay, "sheath"] denotes the lower garment worn by the Malay people, both men and women. This consists of length of fabric about a yard wide and two-and-a-half yards long. In the center of this sheet, across the narrower width, a panel of contrasting color or pattern about one foot wide is woven or dyed into the fabric, which is known as the kepala or "head" of the sarong. This sheet is stitched at the narrower edges to form a tube. One steps into this tube, brings the upper edge above the level of the navel (the hem should be level with the ankles), positions the kepala at the center of the back, and folds in the excess fabric from both sides to the front center, where they overlap and secures the sarong by rolling the upper hem down over itself. Malay men wear sarongs woven in a check pattern; women wear sarongs dyed in the batik method, with, for example, flower motifs, and in brighter colors. The sarong is common wear for women, in formal settings with a kebaya blouse. Malay men wear sarongs in public only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque, but sarongs remain very common casual wear at home for men and women of all races and religions in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Northeast Part of India, in which Sarong is known as Phanek in Manipuri [1] and most parts of Southern India where it is called lungi or mundu.

Regional variations

Arabian Peninsula

Yemeni men in traditional loincloth

Sarongs known under a variety of local names are worn traditional by people of Yemen and elsewhere on the Arabian peninsula. Local names include Futah, Izaar, Wazaar, Ma'awiis and others. In Oman, where they are called Wizaar, sarongs are often white, similar to Keralan mundu, and worn under the Thawb. In Saudi Arabia, they are known as Izaar. Designs can be checkered or striped as well floral or arabesque, but double plaid (i.e. a vertical section of the izaar has a different plaid pattern) designs from Indonesia are very popular. It is the traditional clothing of Arab fishermen of the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. It was also the traditional undergarment for men prior to the introduction of pant-like pyjamas during the Turkish and European colonial periods. Tube-stitched as well as open sarongs are being worn, even in formal dishdasha-wearing countries, as casual sleep wear and at home. Note that Arabs usually tie the Futah or Izaar in such a way that it does not reach over one's ankles.

Bangladeshi boy in traditional lungi loincloth


Sarongs are widespread in the Northeast part of India, the South Indian state of Manipur, where they are called Phanek, in Kerala, where they are called mundu, as well as in Tamil Nadu, where they are called Sarem or Veshti, or Lungi (worn by Muslims) and are usually worn at home. A standard lungi measures 2.12 by 1.2 metres. Unlike the brightly coloured Southeast Asian sarongs, the Kerala variety ( Mundu ) is more often plain white and is worn for ceremonial or religious purposes. In Kerala the brightly coloured sarongs are called kaily and the white ones are called mundu. The more formal, all-white Dhoti, is worn for formal and religious occasions. There are also dresses based on mundu which can be worn by women, however they more commonly wear sari.


Somali man wearing a macawis sarong

Sarongs are ubiquitous in Somalia and the Muslim-inhabited areas of the Horn of Africa. Although both nomadic and urban Somali men have worn them for centuries in the form of a plain white kilt, the colorful macawis sarong, which is the most popular form of the garment in the region, is a relatively recent arrival to Somalia courtesy of trade with the Southeast Asian islands and the Indian subcontinent. Prior to the 1940s, most macawiis were made of cotton. However, since the industrialization of the market for sarongs, they now come in many different fabrics and combinations thereof, including polyester, nylon and silk. Designs vary greatly and range from checkered square motifs with watermarked diamonds and plaid to simple geometric lines. The one constant is that they tend to be quite colorful; black macawiis are rare. Sarongs in Somalia are worn around the waist, and folded several times over to secure their position. They are typically sold pre-sewn as one long circular stretch of cloth, though some vendors offer to sew them as a value-added service.

Sri Lanka

A Sri Lankan man wearing a sarong

Sarongs are very common in Sri Lanka, and worn only by men. (A similar garment is worn by women. However, the women's garment is not called 'Sarong' but 'Redda', which is wraparound skirt.) It is the standard garment for most men in rural and even some urban communities. However, most men of upper social classes (whose public attire is trousers) wear the sarong only as a convenient night garment, or only within the confines of the house. Statistically, the number of people wearing sarong as their primary public attire, are on the decline in Sri Lanka; the reason being that Sarong carries the stigma of being the attire for less educated lower social classes. However, there is a trend towards adopting sarong either as a fashionable garment, or as a formal garment worn with national pride, only on special occasions.[2] Political and social leaders of Sri Lanka whom want to portray their humility and closeness to 'common man' and also their nationalism, choose a variation of the sarong nicknamed the ‘National’ as their public attire.

Western World

In North America and Europe hip wraps are generally a woman beach wear and not used by men. The fabric of the misnomer "sarong" is generally quite light, often rayon, and may feature decorative fringing on two sides. They may also have ties, which are long thin strips of fabric used to assist the wearer in holding the so called sarong to his body so it does not fall off while moving around. In North America and Europe, sarongs are often used as a cover-up over swimwear. It is traditionally worn over, or sometimes in place of, regular clothing, at Canada/USA MathCamp by campers and staff members alike; the date of origin and if they can be called sarongs at all is disputed, but it is generally accepted to have become a fashion by 2001.

They do not resemble traditional sarongs as used in Africa or Asia, neither in size, pattern or design. Traditional sarongs never have belts, tassels or fringing on them.


Numerous tying methods exist to hold a sarong to the wearer's body. In some cases, these techniques customarily differ according to the gender of wearer. If a sarong has ties, they may be used to hold it in place. If no ties exist, a pin may be used, the fabric may be tightly tucked under itself in layers, the corners of the main sheet may be around the body and knotted, or a belt may be used to hold the sarong in place.

Similar garments

A traditional Khmer dancer wearing a sampot in Cambodia

The basic garment known in English most often as a "sarong", sewn or unsewn, has analogs in many regions, where it shows variations in style and is known by different names.

  • Africa
    • In Eastern Africa, it is called either a kanga (worn by African women), or a kikoi (traditionally worn by African men). Kangas are brightly coloured lengths of cotton that incorporate elaborate and artistic designs and usually include the printing of a Swahili proverb along the hem. Kikois are also made from cotton, but the fabric is heavier and their designs are much simpler, usually consisting of a single colour with striped borders along the edges.
    • In Madagascar it is called a lamba.
    • In Malawi it is called a chitenje.
    • In Mauritius they are called pareos.
    • In Mozambique it is called a capulana.
    • In South Africa it is called a kikoi and commonly used as a furniture throw or for going to the beach.
    • In Zimbabwe they are known as Zambias.
  • Indian subcontinent
    • In South Asia it is called a [phanek] or lungi. It is most often sewn into a large cylindrical shape, so there is no slit when the phanek or lungi is tied.
    • In India similar articles of clothing are the [phanek] in Manipur, dhoti (or dhuti in West Bengali, vertti in Tamil, pancha in Telugu,panche in Kannada and Mundu in Malayalam).
    • In the Maldives, and Indian state of Kerala, it is known as a mundu or neriyathu.
    • In Punjab it is a called maylee when worn by a man, and a gamcha when worn by a woman.
    • In Sinhalese, it is known as the Sarama
  • Southeast Asia
    • In Cambodia it is known as sampot suhrong, or simply suhrong.
    • In Indonesia it is known as a kain sarung ('sarong cloth').
    • In Malaysia it is known as a kain, kain pelikat, kain sarung, kain tenun, kain batik, or kain sampin (specialised sarong worn by men with Baju Melayu).
    • In Myanmar, it is known as a longyi.
    • In the Philippines it is also known as a malong (in Mindanao) or patadyong (in Visayan). A similar wrap-around worn by Tagalog women is called the saya or tapis, and is half of the Baro't saya.
Polynesian Hiva Oa dancers dressed in pāreu around 1909

Motion pictures

The American public is most familiar with the sarong for the dozens of motion pictures set in the South Seas, most of them romantic dramas made in the 1930s and 1940's. Dorothy Lamour is by far the actress most linked with the garment, starring in multiple films of this genre, starting with The Hurricane in 1937. In fact, Lamour was nicknamed "The Sarong Girl" by the press and even wore a sarong on occasion in more traditional films. Among the other actresses to don the sarong for film roles are Maria Montez, Gilda Gray, Myrna Loy, Gene Tierney, Frances Farmer and Movita. Male stars who wore the manly sarongs on film include Jon Hall, Ray Milland, Tyrone Power, Robert Preston, Sabu Dastagir and Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener (film). The sarong was also worn by Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair. In documentary movie, we can see soldiers in Sarong directed by Lokendra Arambam.[3]



See also

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