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A Sarong by Any Other Name

Moon & Stars Sarong
Would a sarong by any other name be as beautiful and useful?

We know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Would a sarong by any other name be as beautiful and useful?

 

We’ve talked about some of the many uses for a sarong or pareo. Perhaps you’re wondering about the countries where these versatile garments are used, and the different names they are known by.

 

When you hear the word “sarong,” you may picture a beautiful Balinese woman wearing one. Sarongs are worn in many countries, from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, to parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In some places the rectangular lengths of fabric are worn by both men and women. Malaysian men wear their checked-pattern sarongs only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque. Women in Malaysia wear theirs every day. Arab fishermen in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean also wear sarongs. In Sri Lanka, sarongs are traditionally worn only by men and mostly as casual dress at home, since the culture views them as a sign of the lower classes.

 

The word sarong derives from a Malay word meaning “sheath.” The sarong is the traditional clothing of Java and the Malaysian archipelago, where it is wrapped around the body and tied, usually at the waist.

 

In different cultures, sarongs are called by different names.  In certain parts of Africa, sarongs worn by men are termed “kangas;” those worn by women are known as “kikois.” In Saudi Arabia, one hears the name “izaar;” in Oman, they’re known as “wizaars.” In the south of India you might hear the term “mundu,” referring to sarongs worn at religious ceremonies. The better-known name for a sarong in India is “sari,” which means “strip of cloth” in Sanskrit. Saris tend to contain more fabric and be tied differently than the Southeast Asian sarong.

 

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s bestselling novel, Unaccustomed Earth, the title story’s protagonist speaks of her Indian mother owning 218 saris. That does seem like a lot. But when you consider the many different colors, designs, fabrics, and patterns, well, it still seems like a lot. Then compare it to the number of shoes some women own. Okay, we admit it. 218 is a staggering number of sarongs/saris. We’d love to hear from readers about the number of sarongs you or your friends own and the different ways you use them.

 

A sarong by any other name is still a comfortable, convenient, beautiful, and versatile cover-up. The possibilities are numerous, and we’ll explore more of them in future blog articles. Watch this space for more great ideas for using your sarongs this summer.

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Sarongs for All Body Types

The word “sarong” usually conjures up images of a brightly colored wraparound skirt on some lean beach body, usually a girl. This is usually the case in most resort settings, especially in the tropics, where the sarong is part of customary garb.

Deep Colored Rainbow Tie-Dye Sarong
Deep Colored Rainbow Tie-Dye Sarong
In the tropics, you will find that the sarong has long been worn by both men and women and that the stereotypical beach body is more the exception than the rule.  On many Pacific islands you will find the population wearing sarongs or pareos as a regular part of their dress. Men are often seen wearing a dark sarong with a light-colored button-down shirt for office wear. And many women wear the sarong with blouses or as dresses, regardless of figure.

Think, in this case, of Juanita Hall, who plays Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Bloody Mary is not exactly petite; she embodies the typical figure of more mature women in the Pacific islands, especially among Polynesians, with more than the usual curves. However, it does not dissuade them from wearing a garment that can be both loose and form-fitting at the same time, a garment that is solidly part of their culture and tradition.

The sarong’s versatility should not be limited by the impression that it is limited only to a small segment of the population of the world. Anyone can wear a sarong (in appropriate styles and venues, of course). If men can wear the sarong with their business shirts and even as a complement to their cutaway coats, then women can also use it for regular wear.

There are many fastening methods to use. One favorite is to tuck a loose end into a fold that will hold for much of the day, although a safety pin handy would be recommended. For color and texture, it can be as bright and multi-colored as one would desire, with some models bearing metallic threads as major accents to complement the rich hues of more formal variants. More casual sarongs will be of a lighter, beach worthy cotton or rayon, and may be batik, tie-dyed or printed.

Remember that the sarong’s versatility as a variable garment or accessory is complemented by the diversity of its wearers. Therefore, to any woman who wants to wear one but thinks it won’t suit her figure, here’s my two cents: wear it and rock it.

 

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Thanksgiving Sarong Use… Coordinating Mismatched Chairs!

How to use sarongs to cover mismatched chairs around your holiday table. I love Thanksgiving. As much as I like cooking, eating, and visiting with family and friends, my favorite part is setting the table. It is an occasion to bring out the nice china, find all the matching cloth napkins, make a cute little center piece with construction paper and pumpkins…

Batik Leaf Sarong
Batik Leaf Sarong
One challenge we always have in our home is chairs. We have 6 chairs around our table on a normal day, but what do you do when you have 8 or 10 people coming over? Then is it time to bring out the rolling desk chairs, the front hall chair, even that antique chair I painted in rainbow colors when I was 15. Sometimes I borrow folding chairs if I am really desperate…

Well, here is a nifty idea to coordinate all those mismatched chairs for a neat look.

Simply draping a sarong or pareo over a chair has a nice effect. You can use the fringe to tie it to the top and legs so it doesn’t slip. For a desk chair, you can tie the fringe under the arm to a pinched piece of fabric on each side to create a nicely draped but secure chair cover.

Then for the piece de la resistance, you can use a matching sarong as a table runner. Voila – a Thanksgiving table and chair set! You could give the sarongs to your guests as party favors but you’ll probably fall in love with them, so make sure to keep a few for yourself.

This year I am using this sarong, in orange, to cover my chairs.

Just another great use for a sarong!

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How to Decorate Your Rented Space

In every home, apartment and room I’ve ever rented, I’ve always fretted about putting nails in the walls to decorate my space. Sadly, getting my full deposit back has been privileged over personal style.

I discovered the joys of sarongs in this phase of my life. I could add color and flair to my space with push pins! Sarongs are light enough to stay put with the lightest of touches. I have even hung curtains by just tying the fringe to the existing venetian blinds mounting.

As the daughter of sarong importers, I’ve had a hard time choosing from all the gorgeous, hand painted sarongs. Needless to say, I have quite a collection by now. But they are inexpensive, easy to launder and quite unique. Of all the art I hang in my home, the handpainted sarongs always garner the most attention.

Here is my latest favorite decorative sarong.

Richly Textured and Intricately Hand-Painted Lush Jungle Waterfall Sarong
Richly Textured and Intricately Hand-Painted Lush Jungle Waterfall Sarong
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Is it called a Sarong or a Pareo?

It depends on where you happen to be!

Sarong (pronounced “suh-wrong”) comes from the Malaysian language meaning “covering” and it used to describe any wrap with an Indonesian design. The wrapped garment used throughout Indonesia and Malaysia was first imported to the Western world along with spices and other products in the 16th century.

Tahitian Style Pareo
Tahitian Style Pareo

Pareo, pa-u, or pareu (often pronounced “puh-rey-oh) are Tahitian words for a wrap sarong. Pareos can feature hand drawn designs but are usually stamped with fern, leaf, flower or tattoo prints. The traditional Tahitian way to print is to carve the design on a piece of wood, dip it in ink and press it to the prepared fabric.

Sarongs and pareos are typical of light, breezy clothing comfortably worn in tropical climates where sun exposure and cloud bursts are frequent. Indeed, sarongs and pareos offer excellent sun protection, and if the wearer is caught in the rain or wears them in the water, they dry quickly hung in the breeze or even while worn!

Whatever you call them, the variety of rayon sarongs from Bali is amazing – every color of the rainbow and such interesting and varied patterns and motifs including the Tahitian styles of stamped pareos. Many people who buy one sarong or pareo find themselves collecting a new one (or five!) each season. Not only are they great at the beach as swim suit cover ups, but they also help keep a picnic out of the sand. They are so light that they can be easily tied to a few trees or tent poles to provide a shady refuge on a hot day.

It is no wonder that sarongs have been in demand since Westerners first “discovered” them from traders coming from ocean voyages four hundred years ago.