How do I Wear a Sarong?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

The sarong has a long history throughout Asian, Pacific, and island countries. It has almost as many different names as it has different homes. Furthermore, there are endless ways to wear a sarong. The long rectangular piece of fabric known generally as the sarong is referred to as a lamba in Madagascar, a ma’wees in Somalia, a lungi in South Asia, a lavalava in Samoa, and a sulu in Fiji. In Punjab, a sarong is referred to as a gamcha when it is worn by a woman and as a mayelee when it is worn by a man. Furthermore, in most countries home to the sarong, men and women wear a sarong differently.

Sarongs are sometimes worn as a cover-up at the pool.
Sarongs are sometimes worn as a cover-up at the pool.

Sarongs have just as many uses as they do names. This is one of the wonderful attributes of the garment. You can wear a sarong out of your house in the morning and, with the same fabric, have an entirely different look midday. Generally, a sarong is wrapped around the waist and worn as a skirt. This fashion is acceptable for both men and women in many sarong-wearing communities. Sarongs can also be draped from the upper body and wrapped to effect beautiful dresses. They can also serve as shawls and baby carriers. Because sarongs are often brightly colored with beautiful patterns, they can also be used in decoration. Although the structure of the sarong garment is quite simple, the variations are endless. With the many different patterns and the numerous options for how to wear a sarong, the fashion statements that can be created with the garment are endless.

Sarongs have been adopted (and adapted) by many fashionable Westerners. In North America, the sarong is often worn by women during the summer time and at resorts as a swim suit accessory for pool-side or beach wear. Some women also wear a sarong in the summer months, draped and pinned as a dress. Sarongs have been redesigned in this part of the world to include strategically placed ties which help to secure the fabric about the body. In order to stay up to date with fashion trends, sarongs are sometimes embellished with beads, fringe, sequins, and lurex. The most common way to wear a sarong in the West, however, is as a beach accessory.

Traditional sarongs do not, however, include hidden ties, snaps, or zippers to secure them to the body. There are many ways to wear a sarong without using these aids. Depending on the desired effect, sarongs can be snugly tucked, pinned, or knotted at the corners. These are the historical ways to wear a sarong.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


You fail to mention that pareos, as they are called in Hawaii, are quickly regaining popularity as casual wear for men. In the past, the pareo was widely accepted as a traditional male garment, and after falling out of favor for all but the most confident or traditional man, the pareo is now showing signs of a return.

Lots of women that I have talked to find the pareo to be a very masculine and in many cases "sexy" or attractive alternative to jeans or shorts for guys. Would be curious what your female readers think of pareos/sarongs for and on men.

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