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.
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.