The History of Sarongs

Across many parts of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, an ancient dyeing technique known as batik is used to produce the distinct colors and patterns on the fabric of each sarong. These pieces of fabric are often worn by both men and women in Asia, the Arab Peninsula, and the horn of Africa. In these different regions of the globe, sarongs take on significant historical meaning. For example, in Malay, men wear their sarongs with a checked pattern only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque. On the other hand, women in Malay customarily wear their sarongs every day. Traditionally, Arab fishermen in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean also wear sarongs. In another example, in Sri Lanka, sarongs are traditionally worn only by men and mostly within the home as it signifies lower class stature in Sri Lankan culture.

Sarongs also take on different names as one migrates through various regions. In southern parts of India, sarongs are better known as mundus. Here, they are often less colorful than those from Southeast Asia and worn for religious and ceremonial purposes. In Saudi Arabia, they are known as izaars, whereas in Oman they are known as wizaars. In East Africa, sarongs worn by men are referred to as kangas. The sarongs worn by the women are known as kikois. Similar to the differing number of ways to refer to a sarong, there are also various ways in which an individual can wear a sarong. This even holds true for how American women tie their sarongs around their waists. In Somalia, sarongs are usually double tied so that they remain firm around the waist. The endless techniques used in wearing a sarong are heavily influenced by both gender and culture. Sometimes there are ties woven into the garment so that it will hold firm around the waist. However, in those instances where they are nonexistent, it is not uncommon to see people make use of pins and different syles of wrapping and folding around the waist.

The word sarong is from the Malay word for "covering". The sarong is a traditional garment of Java and the Malay archipelago, consisting of a length of fabric wrapped and tied around the body at the waist or arms. Sarongs are worn by both men and women. In today's society, the fashion version of sarongs are often brightly colored, used as a wrap skirt and worn to the beach.

Today, sarongs are popularized by women across many beaches of the world as an outer garment covering for swimwear. These loose garments are conveniently used as skirts that wrap around the waist and make for comfortable, casual attire. Presently, sarongs are also woven into summer dresses, skirts, bridal dresses, scarves, turbans, table/seat covers, togas, and curtains. The possibilities that arise in the use of sarongs are indeed endless!


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