The Humble Sarong: Summertime’s Multi-Tool

by Team Prototype
A young woman with a crochet sarong

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it claims that a towel is perhaps the most massively useful thing to have in the universe. I beg to differ. It’s actually a sarong.

A sarong is, in fact, the most massively useful thing in the universe.

-Me

Why? Because the sarong is used for every imaginable purpose under the sun. It’s clothing, it’s a blanket, it’s a towel, it’s a privacy screen, a swim cover up, a bed sheet, a baby blanket, a scarf, a ceremonial dress…. You name it, the humble sarong can do it!

Let’s say you’re at the beach and the only thing you managed to remember to bring with you is your trusty sarong. What will you sit on? Ah, perfect! Ooh, the sun’s so hot! What will you do about it? Use your sarong for shade! Time to go swimming but you forgot your towel. No worries! Your sarong will do the trick! Kids cold? Yep! Wet bums getting back in the car? Covered! Runny nose? Too easy! Cheeto fingers? …

I think you get the picture.

And the best thing about it? It works perfectly for both men and women. How many other pieces of clothing/magical items can you say that about? Indiana Jones didn’t endorse the sarong the way he endorsed the purse aka. “satchel”, but if he spent more time at the beach, I’m pretty sure he would have.

I think by now you’re convinced, but some of you might still be wondering. Just what exactly IS a sarong? Is it some kind of dress or skirt? Is it a swimsuit cover up? It’s all of those! But if you’re looking for the definition of sarong, here you go…

What IS a sarong anyway?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sarong is defined as “a garment consisting of a long piece of cloth worn wrapped round the body and tucked at the waist or under the armpits, traditionally worn in Southeast Asia and now also by women in the West.”

In layman’s terms, a sarong is literally just a big piece of fabric that you wrap around your body in whatever way you can feel like. In other words, it’s the simplest article of clothing in the universe. They can be square, rectangular, any shape you like. Most typically rectangular. They can be made from a thousand different materials and various colors and patterns. There’s only 1 thing that most sarongs have in common: they usually lightweight.

Type of Sarongs

“There are as many types of sarongs as there are fish in the sea, each uniquely adapted to its ecosystem and its host.”

-David Attenborough, BBC

Ok, I made up that quote. Sorry David Attenborough. But I do think it’s something he might say if we can ever convince him to do a special documentary on the subject.

The truth is that there is a limitless variety of sarongs out there in the wild. I’ll touch on just a few of them here.

The Sheer Sarong

A gauzy sarong

I honestly can’t explain to you the true purpose of the sheer sarong. It’s the only one of bunch that pretty much fails at all the useful skills that I mentioned above. The sole purpose, I suppose, is to give the wearer some very slight and totally unconvincing, degree of modesty. It’s the sexy sarong. The lingerie of the beach world. They’re hot and don’t they know it! If you’re wearing one of these, please walk past my beach chair. I’ll be the one in the plus-size sarong, sitting in the shade surrounded by empties. 😛

The Crochet Sarong

Woman with crochet sarong

No exhaustive study would be complete without mentioning the crochet sarong. This is a more bohemian style, sometimes verging on vintage. The benefit of a crochet sarong is that it easily doubles as a shawl or a scarf when you’re going for a little more classy look at the beach. Let’s say you’ve just stepped off the beach for a quick bit at a trendy cafe. Just pull this fancy sarong around your shoulders or tie it around your waist and ta-da! you’re ready for your close up!

The Hawaiian Sarong

The Hawaiian Sarong

For most Americans, the Hawaiian style sarong will be most familiar. Super popular in the 80s, it never really went away. The colors and artwork look pretty much the same way now as they did back then. Along with its close cousin, the muumuu, Hawaiian sarong typically features bright and bold floral prints. Hawaiian styles are often bigger and longer than their Southeast Asian counterparts, making them popular as a longer style sarong dress. This type is great for more full coverage type beach cover ups.

The Batik Sarong

A batik sarong

Batik is a very old, UNESCO-recognized, traditional style of printing fabrics using dye and wax. The wax is first applied with a brush or hand-carved wood or metal stamp. The fabric is then dipped in dye and the wax resists the color. Next, the wax is removed with hot water. This labor-intensive process can be repeated several times to give the batik richness in color and appearance. Batik can be expensive when it’s authentic. Batik sarongs can be worth hundreds of dollars.

The Bali Sarong

The Balinese Sarong

In Bali, the sarong is part of a rich cultural tradition. More than perhaps anywhere in the world, the humble sarong is transformed into beautiful formalwear and is used in the most sacred ceremonies. In the homes, they’re used after bathing. People sit on them, wrap their babies in them, and use them for absolutely every imaginable purpose. They can range in cost from a couple of dollars up to hundreds for special hand-woven sarongs called songkets and ikats. On the beaches of Bali, you’ll see tourists using them everywhere as a towel, a cover up or a beach blanket. In the markets you’ll see sarongs with designs ranging from Bob Marley portraits to Australian aboriginal designs.

Ethical Sarongs

If you’re in the market for an ethical sarong manufacturer, then you’ve come to the right place. With a staff mostly comprised of Balinese men & women, Prototype is a great resource for custom, private label and wholesale sarongs. We can provide you with any of the types mentioned above, or anything you can dream up!

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