A sarong is a large sheet of fabric, often wrapped around the waist and worn as a skirt by men and women throughout much of south and southeast Asia excluding Vietnam, and on many Pacific islands. The fabric is often brightly coloured or printed with intricate patterns, often depicting animals or plants, checkered or geometric patterns, or resembling the results of tie dying. Sarongs are also used as wall hangings and other forms of clothing, such as shawls, baby carriers, complete dresses or upper body clothing.
The dyeing technique of batik is associated with sarong production.
In strict usage, sarong [Malay, "sheath"] denotes the lower garment worn by the Malay people, both men and women. The word originates from the Indian word Saree. This consists of length of fabric about a yard wide and two-and-a-half yards 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 secures the sarong by rolling the upper hem down over itself. Malay men wear sarongs woven in a check pattern; women wear sarongs dyed in the batik method, with, for example, flower motifs, and in brighter colors. 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, but sarongs remain very common casual wear at home for men and women of all races and religions in Malaysia.
Sarongs are widespread in the South Indian state of Kerala, where they are called mundu, as well as in Tamil Nadu, where they are called Lungi, and are usually worn at home. Unlike the brightly coloured Southeast Asian sarongs, the Keralan variety is more often plain white and is worn for ceremonial or religious purposes. Mundu are generally worn only by men in this region. The more formal, all-white Dhoti, is worn for formal and religious occasions. There are also dresses based on mundu which can be worn by women, however they more commonly wear sari. It is also very common in rural Sri Lanka.
In North America, the fabric of the sarong is generally quite light, often rayon, and may feature decorative fringing on two sides. They may also have ties, which are long thin strips of fabric used to assist the wearer in holding the sarong to his body so it does not fall off while moving around. In North America, sarongs are often used by women as a cover-up over swimwear.
Numerous tying methods exist to hold a sarong to the wearer's body. In some cases, these techniques customarily differ according to the gender of wearer. If a sarong has ties, they may be used to hold it in place. 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 around the body and knotted, or a belt may be used to hold the sarong in place.
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