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What is a Loincloth?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A loincloth is a simple, one-piece garment worn in cultures throughout the world. At a minimum, it covers the genitalia and sometimes part of the buttocks, while at the other extreme, it may reach to the ankles. There are many variations on the loincloth, which may be worn alone or as an undergarment, by men, women, or both, depending on the culture.

A very simple loincloth may consist of a strip of leather, bark bast, or a plant leaf tied around the waist and between the legs. Other cultures use woven textiles in their loincloths, some heavily decorated. The most basic loincloth does not cover much, but some look more like shorts or a skirt. Some loincloths must be wrapped in a specific way.

While the loincloth is popularly viewed as "primitive" and inferior in the Western world, it has many benefits. It is generally comfortable, especially in hot climates, and allows significant freedom of movement, which can be ideal for certain types of work or recreation. Many loincloths, such as the finest Indian lungi, may be quite elaborately woven or made of luxury textiles like silk. Others are more utilitarian.

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Nowadays, many associate the loincloth with non-Western cultures, but a primitive version known as the breechcloth was worn in ancient Europe. The loincloth was the standard garment for men in many significant cultures of the ancient world, including Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In Europe, the loincloth was superseded by hose in the medieval era and trousers in the 15th century. When Europeans encountered people in other parts of the world, such as Meso-America, in loincloths, they considered the fashion strange, indecent, and "uncivilized," and the garment continues to carry this stigma in the minds of many today.

Conversely, the loincloth may be a symbol of cultural pride or prestige for some. In South Asia, there are many types of loincloth, including the lungi, the mundu, and the dhoti, which the majority of men wear as an everyday garment. In Bangladesh, elaborate versions of the lungi are sometimes presented to the groom on his wedding day.

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