Embracing Diversity: Sarongs in Global Fashion

Sarongs are more than just versatile garments; they are cultural artifacts that reflect the rich heritage and traditions of various societies around the world. Originating in Southeast Asia, the sarong has transcended its regional roots to become a global fashion staple, embraced by different cultures in unique ways. Let’s celebrate the global influence of sarong and explore how different cultures incorporate them into their fashion traditions.

The Origins of Sarongs

The word “sarong” comes from the Malay and Indonesian word “sarung,” which means “covering.” Traditionally, sarongs are lengths of fabric, often about 66 x 44 inches, that are wrapped and tied around the body. They are typically made from materials such as cotton, silk, or rayon, and are known for their vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

Sarongs in Southeast Asia


In Indonesia, sarongs hold a significant place in both daily life and ceremonial occasions. The batik sarong, made using a wax-resist dyeing technique, is particularly famous. Each region of Indonesia has its distinctive batik patterns, which often tell stories or convey symbols of cultural importance. Indonesian men and women wear sarongs as skirts, often paired with traditional tops such as kebayas or baju kurung.


Similar to Indonesia, Malaysia also boasts a rich tradition of sarong wearing. The Malaysian sarong, or kain sarung, is commonly worn at home and during traditional ceremonies. The patterns often feature floral and geometric designs, and they are frequently worn with the baju kebaya, a traditional blouse-dress combination.

Sarongs in South Asia

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the sarong is a popular garment for men, known locally as the “sarama.” It is often worn as casual wear and for formal occasions. The Sri Lankan sarong is typically made from cotton or silk and features checkered or striped patterns. It is paired with a simple shirt or a traditional top called the “banian.”


While not as widespread as in Southeast Asia, the sarong, known as the “lungi” in India, is worn in several states, particularly in the south. The lungi is a casual garment, usually made from cotton, and is characterized by its colorful plaid or plain patterns. It is wrapped around the waist and tied in various styles depending on the region.

Sarongs in the Pacific Islands


In Hawaii, the sarong is referred to as the “pareo.” It is a vibrant and essential part of Hawaiian beachwear and island culture. Pareos are typically brightly colored with floral or tropical patterns and can be worn as dresses, skirts, or cover-ups. They reflect the laid-back, sunny lifestyle of the islands.


The Tahitian pareu, similar to the Hawaiian pareo, is an integral part of Tahitian attire. It is often made from lightweight cotton or rayon and features bold, tropical designs. The pareu is versatile and can be worn in numerous styles, making it a popular choice for both everyday wear and traditional dances.

Sarongs in Africa

East Africa

In East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania, the sarong is known as the “kanga” or “kikoi.” The kanga is a rectangular piece of cloth that typically features bright colors, bold patterns, and Swahili sayings printed along the borders. Kangas are worn by women as skirts, dresses, or head wraps. The kikoi, on the other hand, is often made from thicker cotton and is used as a wrap or shawl by both men and women.

Sarongs in Western Fashion

Bohemian and Beachwear

In Western fashion, sarongs have become synonymous with bohemian style and beachwear. They are popular for their versatility and ease of use, making them a favorite choice for vacations and summer outfits. Fashion designers often incorporate sarongs into their collections, using luxurious fabrics and innovative designs to create high-fashion looks.

Runway and Haute Couture

Sarongs have also made their way into haute couture. Renowned fashion houses have embraced the sarong’s elegance and adaptability, featuring them in runway shows and high-end collections. By blending traditional sarong elements with contemporary fashion, designers celebrate cultural diversity and create unique, globally-inspired pieces.


The sarong is a testament to the beauty of cultural diversity and the shared appreciation for versatile and stylish garments. From Southeast Asia to Africa, the Pacific Islands to Western fashion runways, sarongs have been embraced and adapted in myriad ways. Each culture’s unique interpretation of the sarong adds to its rich tapestry, making it a true global fashion icon. Celebrate the diversity and timeless appeal of sarongs by incorporating this versatile garment into your own wardrobe, honoring the traditions and creativity of cultures around the world.