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Dutch military personnel wearing sarong, 1949
Three women wearing sarongs in 1905

A sarong or a sarung (/səˈrɒŋ/) is a large tube or length of fabric, often wrapped around the waist, worn in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, Northern Africa, East Africa,[1] West Africa, and on many Pacific islands. The fabric often employs woven plaid or checkered patterns or may be brightly colored by means of batik or ikat dyeing. Many modern sarongs have printed designs, often depicting animals or plants. Different types of sarongs are worn in different places in the world, notably the lungi in the Indian subcontinent and the izaar in the Arabian Peninsula.

The unisex sarong is typically longer than the men's lungi.


The term sarong is an English loanword of Malay sarong ([ˈsaroŋ]) origin, meaning 'to cover' or 'to sheath'.[2] It was first used in 1834 referring to the skirt-like garment of the Malay. Sarong is also the colloquial and old spelling of the Indonesian and Malay word for sarung, while in formal Indonesian it is known as sarung ([ˈsaruŋ]).

Sarongs are known as many different names across Asia, including Javanese sarung (ꦱꦫꦸꦁ), Tamil saram (சாரம்), Arabic ṣārūn (صارون); and Sinhala sarama (සරම).

In West Africa, the word srong or sorong is found in the Akan language, and this word means "the highest point", in reference to the garment being fastened at the very top in order to secure it.[3]


Sarong or sarung denotes the lower garment worn by Southeast Asian men and women. This consists of a length of fabric about a yard (0.91 m) wide and two-and-a-half yards (2.3 m) long. In the center of this sheet, across the narrower width, a panel of contrasting color or pattern about one foot wide is woven or dyed into the fabric, which is known as the kepala or "head" of the sarong. This sheet is stitched at the narrower edges to form a tube. One steps into this tube, brings the upper edge above the level of the navel (the hem should be level with the ankles), positions the kepala at the center of the back, and folds in the excess fabric from both sides to the front center, where they overlap and secure the sarong by rolling the upper hem down over itself. Malay men wear sarongs woven in a check pattern, while women wear sarongs dyed in the batik method. However, in Javanese culture, the wearing of batik sarongs is common and not restricted to a particular gender; sometimes they are also worn on formal occasions such as weddings.

The sarong is common wear for women in formal settings with a kebaya blouse. Malay men wear sarongs in public only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque,[citation needed] but sarongs remain very common casual wear at home for men of all ethnicities and religions in Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and much of the Indian subcontinent.[4] (In the Indian subcontinent, excluding Sri Lanka, sarongs are sometimes known as mundu or lungi.)

Regional variations

Arabian Peninsula

Main article: Izaar

Sarongs known under a variety of local names are traditionally worn by the people of Yemen and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. Local names for the garment include ṣārūn, fūṭah, izaar, wizār, maqtab and maʿwaz (pl. maʿāwiz). In Hadhramout, Yemen sarongs are called Saroon (Arabic: صارون ṣārūn) in the interior and the coastal region. In Oman, sarongs are called wizār and are often white in color, similar to the Keralan mundu of the Indian subcontinent and it is usually worn under the Thawb. In Saudi Arabia, sarongs are known as izaar. Designs can be checkered or striped as well floral or arabesque, but double plaid (i.e., a vertical section of the izār with a different plaid pattern) designs from Indonesia are also very popular. In southwestern Saudi Arabia, tribal groups have their own style of unstitched izaar, which is locally woven. This is also worn in northern Yemen. However, the tribal groups in Yemen each have their own design for their ṣārūn, the latter of which may include tassels and fringes. It is thought that this tribal ṣārūn resembles the original izaar as worn on the Arabian Peninsula since pre-Islamic times such as the Shendyt. They are generally worn open and unstitched in such a way that the garment does not reach over one's ankles. Other izaars, often imported from Bangladesh, are the traditional clothing of Arab fishermen of the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. It was the traditional garment for men before the introduction of pant-like pajamas and kaftans during the Turkish and European colonial periods. Tube-stitched, as well as open sarongs, are both worn, even informal dishdasha-wearing countries, as casual sleepwear and at home.

Indian subcontinent

Main article: Lungi

Sarongs, very similar to those of South-East Asia and completely different from the Indian subcontinent (excluding Sri Lanka) are widespread – in the state of Manipur, where they are called phanek and mekhela in Assam which are very similar to traditional attire of other South-East Asian nations. In the South Indian states of Kerala, they are called mundu (if fully white or fully black) and lungi or kaili if coloured, and in Tamil Nadu, they are called kaili or saaram or vetti or lungi and are usually worn at home. A standard lungi measures 2.12 by 1.2 metres.

Unlike the brightly colored Southeast Asian sarongs, the Kerala variety (the mundu) is more often plain white and is worn for ceremonial or religious purposes. In Kerala, the brightly coloured sarongs are called kaily and the white ones are called mundu. The more formal, all-white dhoti is worn for formal and religious occasions. While there are dresses based on the mundu which can be worn by women, they more commonly wear the sari.

Sri Lanka

Sarongs are very common in Sri Lanka and worn only by men. (A similar garment is worn by women. However, the women's garment is called redda, which is a wrap-around skirt.) It is the standard garment for most men in rural and even some urban communities. However, most men of upper social classes (whose public attire is usually trousers) wear the sarong only for ceremonial purposes, as a convenient night garment or only within the confines of the house. The Tamil-speaking communities, the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sri Lankan Moors people also call it saaram or chaaram.

Statistically, the number of people wearing sarong as their primary public attire is on the decline in Sri Lanka, the reason being that the sarong carries the stigma of being the attire for less-educated lower social classes. However, there is a trend toward adopting the sarong as a fashionable garment or as a formal garment worn with national pride, only on special occasions.[5] Political and social leaders of Sri Lanka who want to portray their humility and closeness to the common person and their nationalism, choose a variation of the sarong nicknamed the "national" as their public attire.

Horn of Africa

Sarongs are ubiquitous in Somalia and the Muslim-inhabited areas of the Horn of Africa. Although nomadic and urban Somali men have worn them for centuries in the form of a plain white skirt, the colorful macawiis (ma'awiis) sarong, which is the most popular form of the garment in the region. Before the 1940s, most macawiis were made of cotton. However, since the industrialization of the market, they now come in many fabrics and combinations thereof, including polyester, nylon and silk.

Designs vary greatly and range from checkered square motifs with watermarked diamonds and plaid to simple geometric lines. The one constant is that they tend to be quite colorful; black macawiis are rare. Macawiis in Somalia are worn around the waist and folded several times over to secure their position. They are typically sold pre-sewn as one long circular stretch of cloth, though some vendors offer to sew them as a value-added service.

Southeast Asia


In Indonesia the sarong is generally known as a kain sarung ('sarong cloth') except for in Bali where it carries the name kamben, possibly etymologically related to kemben (Javanese torso wrap). The sarung or sarong is often described as an Indonesian skirt; it is a large tube or length of fabric, often wrapped around the waist and worn by men and women throughout much of the Indonesian archipelago.[6] The sarong is also commonly described as a unisex tubular skirt.[7]

The most common design of the Indonesian sarong is woven cloth with checkered motifs, usually used by Muslim men for salah prayer. This kind of sarong cloth is stitched together to create a tubular skirt-like lower garment. In Bali, sarongs are not stitched together as a tube, but remain as a piece of cloth to wrap around the waist and secured with a knot.

Other than common checkered motifs, other woven or print methods might be employed, such as batik, ikat, songket, and other kinds of tenun traditional woven clothes. Sarongs are used by various ethnic groups in Indonesia. They are made from a variety of materials such as cotton, polyester or silk.[6] Indonesian women wear traditional costumes called kebaya as upper garments, while for lower garments they wear sarongs dyed in the batik method, with flower motifs and in brighter colors. However, in Javanese culture, the wearing of batik sarungs is not restricted to women on formal occasions such as weddings.

In 2019, in an effort to promote and popularize the sarong among its people, the government encouraged Indonesians to wear the sarong in public at least once a month. President Joko Widodo said the sarong is a significant element of Indonesian culture and that wearing it will be a sign of appreciation for sarong craftsmen.[7]


In Malaysia, the sarong is known as a kain. The word kain is paired with specific words to specify its type and function such as kain pelikat (a type of sarong with a simple stripe and box pattern), kain sarung,[8] kain tenun (woven sarong), kain batik (sarong with batik motifs and design, normally worn by women and paired with a kebaya or Baju Kurung) or kain samping or sampin (specialized sarong worn by men with Baju Melayu). In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, it is called sabok (for men) and tapeh (for women).


Main articles: Tapis, Patadyong, and Malong

Sarong from the Philippines are generally known as tapis in Luzon, alampay in the Cordilleran highlands, patadyong in the islands of Visayas and Sulu, and malong in Mindanao. They are worn by both men and women and can be rectangular or tube-like. They can be knee-length or ankle-length and come in various colors that are usually unique to the specific ethnic group that wove them. Among men, the skirt is usually drawn up and tied at the waist (like a dhoti), forming a trouser-like clothing known as a salawal. They can also serve as shawls or blankets. They were paired with close-fitting shirts or jackets known as baro or bayu.[9][10][11][12][13]

Among the Maranao people, the malong is featured in the folk dance kapa malong malong which shows the various ways that the malong can be utilized.[14]

During the Spanish colonial era, the tapis was worn over a longer skirt (saya or falda) due to the shortness of the tapis being deemed too immodest by the Spanish clergy to be worn alone. It evolved over time to become part of the traditional Filipino dress for women, the baro't saya.[11][15]

Western world

Woman wearing sarong over bikini at a beach.

In North and South America as well as Europe, hip wraps are worn as beach wear or as a cover-up over swimwear. The wrap is often made of a thin, light fabric, often rayon, and may feature decorative fringing on both sides. They may have ties, which are long thin straps of fabric which the wearer can tie together to prevent the wrap from falling down. These wraps are mostly worn by women as beach cover-ups and do not usually resemble traditional Asian or African sarongs in size, pattern or design. Western men who wear male sarongs are influenced by the Scottish kilt or lavalava within the Polynesian or Samoan culture. Typically sarongs are worn by men when they are at home, the beach, by the pool, or on a cruise.[16]


Numerous tying methods exist to hold a sarong to the wearer's body. In some cases, these techniques customarily differ according to the sex of wearer. If a sarong has ties, they may be used to hold it in place. Sarong ties give the wearer a little extra hold and security.[17] If no ties exist, a pin may be used, the fabric may be tightly tucked under itself in layers, the corners of the main sheet may be wrapped around the body and knotted, or a belt may be used to hold the sarong in place.

Similar garments

A traditional Khmer dancer wearing a sampot in Cambodia
The batik sarong in "Kawung" pattern, Java, Indonesia

The basic garment known in English most often as a sarong, sewn or unsewn, has analogs in many regions, where it shows variations in style and is known by different names.

The tapis of the traditional colonial Filipino baro't saya dress, evolved from a sarong-like wrap with the addition of a long skirt (saya) underneath, due to Spanish demands for modesty[11][19][15]
A group of local women wearing sarong and kebaya at the entrance of traditional house in a village at Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Indonesia c. 1900
Polynesian Hiva Oa dancers dressed in pāreu around 1909

In the media

The American public is most familiar with the sarong for the dozens of films set in the South Seas, most of them romantic dramas made in the 1930s and 1940s. Dorothy Lamour is by far the actress most linked with the garment, which was designed by Edith Head.[citation needed] Lamour starred in multiple films of this genre, starting with The Hurricane in 1937. In fact, Lamour was nicknamed "The Sarong Girl" by the press and even wore a sarong on occasion in more traditional films.[citation needed] Among the other actresses to don the sarong for film roles are Maria Montez, Gilda Gray, Myrna Loy, Gene Tierney, Frances Farmer and Movita. Male stars who wore the manly sarongs on film include Jon Hall, Ray Milland, Tyrone Power, Robert Preston and Sabu Dastagir, as well as Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener and Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair.

The 2005 documentary film Soldiers in Sarong, directed by Lokendra Arambam, depicts the women's resistance movement in Manipur, North-East India.[23] The 2020 Indonesian film Tarung Sarung depicts a martial arts tradition where combatants are joined together by the garment.

In Singapore, the term Sarong Party Girl refers to a local single Singaporean woman especially of Chinese ethnicity who favor socializing and having relationships with expatriate Caucasian men rather than the local ones.

See also


  1. ^ "Selyn - Fair Trade Handlooms". Selyn - Fair Trade Handlooms. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Sarong". Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper. 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  3. ^ Christaller, Johann Gottlieb (June 22, 1881). "A Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language Called Tshi (Chwee, Tw̌i): With a Grammatical Introduction and Appendices on the Geography of the Gold Coast and Other Subjects". Evangelical Missionary Society – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Singh, Atom Sunil; "Indigenous Games between Cambodia and Manipur: A Borderless Connectivity"". Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  5. ^ "Travelsrilanka - Seven Additional Uses for a Sarong - Sri Lanka". Archived from the original on October 7, 2007.
  6. ^ a b Gultom, Obbie Afri (2014-04-26). "Indonesian Skirt : The Famous Indonesian Sarong". Eat,Travel and Style. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  7. ^ a b "Jokowi Wants Indonesians to Wear Sarong at Least Once a Month". Jakarta Globe. 5 March 2019. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  8. ^ Mohamad, Maznah (28 March 1996). The Malay Handloom Weavers: A Study of the Rise and Decline of Traditional Manufacture. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9789813016996. Retrieved 28 March 2018 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ So, Michelle. Caught in the Net: ‘Tapis’ cops(editorial column) Sun Star Cebu. April 17, 2008 Archived April 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "The Filipiniana Dress: The Rebirth of the Terno". Vinta Gallery. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Coo, Stéphanie Marie R. (2014). Clothing and the colonial culture of appearances in nineteenth century Spanish Philippines (1820-1896) (PhD). Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.
  12. ^ Perdon, Renato (22 August 2013). "Muslim Filipinos: An Ethnic Ensemble". Munting Nayon. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  13. ^ Lorna Kaino (1995). The Necessity of Craft: Development and Women's Craft Practices in the Asian-Pacific Region. University of Western Australia Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-875560-62-2.
  14. ^ "Kapa Malong-Malong". DanceAndDance. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  15. ^ a b Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4.
  16. ^ "men". Sarong Blog. 2014-04-03. Retrieved 2016-09-21.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Sarongs : A Journey Through Style and Function". 15 July 2023.
  18. ^ Sarong, The British Museum
  19. ^ "Baro't Saya". Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  20. ^ "SEAlang Dictionary". Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  21. ^ "SEAlang Dictionary". Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  22. ^ "Tapis". Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  23. ^ "Soldiers in Sarong directed by Lokendra Arambam". Retrieved 2011-09-18.