The sarong, loosely defined as a long piece of fabric wrapped around the body, is one of the oldest garments used across the Nusantara and the wider Asian region. Originating from the Malay/Indonesian word sarung, which means “to cover” or “to sheath”, it is traditionally tied around the waist like a tube in everyday and formal wear. The sarong is believed to have been the first type of woven fabric used by both men and women in the region.
Today, a sarong is typically produced at the loom or in mill, and is around 1 metre high and just over 2.2 metres in length.The cloth is secured at the hip or under the arms by either bringing both ends towards the center or pulling the sarong to one side of the body and folding the remaining fabric to the front. The top is then rolled down and tucked in, or tied in a knot.
Variations of the sarong exist across Asia, parts of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. In the Mekong countries, where textile weaving is a significant part of local culture, wrapping lengths of uncut fabric around the body can be traced back to ancient times. Sarongs allow air to circulate around the body, keeping their wearers cool in hot and humid climates.
Easily folded and stored, the sarong’s versatility shows in its ubiquity across the Southeast Asian landscape. Slung around the shoulders, the rectangular fabric can even hold a sleeping baby, and it can protect wearers from the sun and its heat when lifted above the head or draped around the shoulders.