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What are Sarongs?

Sarongs are worn by both men and women in India.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Sarongs are single pieces of fabric wrapped around the body and worn as either a skirt or a full-body wrap. They may be worn by both men and women, depending on the culture, and are traditionally found throughout much of south-east Asia, India and the Pacific islands. They have become popular in the global mainstream and are available in a staggering array of styles, colors and fabrics.

The word sarong is derived from an Asian word, surong, which is still used in many countries. Throughout Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, the word surong is used for sarongs. In much of the South Pacific, including Hawaii and Tahiti, sarongs are known as pareos. In parts of Africa, similar wraps to sarongs are known as kanga, and throughout India they may be known as sri, lungi or mundu.

In much of the world, sarongs are worn only by women, and in the West the adaptation of the sarong as a popular garment has tended to follow this trend. This is most likely due to the association of sarongs with skirts or dresses, items generally viewed as feminine apparel.

In India, lungi and mundu are worn by both men and women, though the term mundu may be used to describe a female version of the more masculine lungi. The Indonesian word sarong is widely recognized, no matter what the local word for the apparel, and anyone looking to buy one will likely have no trouble when using sarong as a description.

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In their adoption by the West, sarongs are used not only as clothing, but also as decorative pieces of fabric. Patterned sarongs may be used as curtains, wall hangings, blankets, turbans and even table cloths. Due to their relatively low price, beautiful appearance and light weight, sarongs are ideal for a wide range of uses.

There is an incredible amount of types of sarongs available throughout the world. Some have decorative fringes on the edges, while others are simply straight-edged. Some have ornate hand-batiked patterns on them; others are plain colors. Some are long enough to be wrapped multiple times, and others are barely enough to cover the body. Whatever one's personal desire for texture or aesthetic, it is nearly certain there is a specific sarong available to meet one's needs.

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