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The Traveling Sarong

The woman traveler never knows if her kit is properly made up. For the most part, sensible footwear and walking clothes are standard, as are a change of shirt, socks, and underwear. Once in a while, even the dusty traveler might be invited to visit someplace that has a dress code (e.g. a place of worship or a fancy restaurant) in their current host country. In one of those spur of the moment cases, what does one do?

Solid Black Sarong
Solid Black Sarong

Fortunately, she can be thankful for the sarong, one of the most practical and versatile garments that has ever graced a wardrobe. Next to the little black dress that fashion icon Coco Chanel popularized as a must-have, the sarong has entered our style lexicon as a go-to item “just in case’ of a lot of things. It’s long, lightweight, and can be used in so many settings.

In principle, a sarong (or pareo, as some Polynesian people call it) is a rectangular piece of fabric that is wrapped around one’s waist as a skirt. It can be one and a half to two yards or more long and usually drapes from the waist to the ankles.

Among many cultures, the sarong and its local variants constitute a regular part of both sexes’ wardrobe. Men and women have worn it for centuries, especially in tropical climates (like in Tonga or Myanmar) or in arid coastal sites (as in Yemen) to the point that they survived the introduction of pants. These days, however, we are more likely to associate the sarong with the fairer sex as beachwear or light casual wear. For the beach, it doubles as a wraparound skirt over your swimsuit and as your beach blanket and mat. In town, you can wear it as a dress (when knotted properly) or as a shawl. If you need a pouch in a jiffy, you can transform your sarong into a handy tote to carry some lightweight belongings.

As a textile product, the sarong comes in a variety of lightweight fabrics like rayon and cotton, even silk for dressier occasions. The basic fabric can be dyed in a spectrum of colors and patterns, ranging from solids to tie-dyed and beautiful batik. It is this versatility in appearance that adds to the value of a sarong as a stand-alone garment or an accessory; the right sarong for the right occasion. Personally, a solid colored sarong in any dark hues (such as black, gray, or navy) will do double duty for any travel need.