December 2, 2022

Traditionally Stylish: A Quick Look at Wearing the Indonesian Sarung

Let’s take a look at how a traditional clothing can make you look stylish!

The author wearing a sarung

If you are Indonesian, sarung/sarong must not be something strange for you. Sarung is a fabric traditionally used when you are praying salah (if you’re Muslim) or just to complement your shorts at home. However, sarung can be used to make you look cool and stylish too.

You just need to get rid of bad ideas about sarung to be stylish; well, you also need to adjust your style too. But don’t worry, this article will tell you how to look cool with it.

Wait… What is a Sarung?

Sejarah Kain Sarung dan Tradisi yang Antibasi
Indonesian sarung (source:

Some of you might not be familiar with sarung, but it’s fine we got you covered!

Sarung is a fabric made from materials such as polyester, cotton, and silk. People usually wear them as skirt. Both men and women can wear sarung. It is special because of their patterns and color.

The motives are dyed and/or woven into the fabric to make fascinating color combinations. Each areas traditionally have different styles and color for the pattern of the sarung. Indonesian sarung from Java have darker tone mostly using black and brown color, for example.

jual kain batik tulis asli jogja
Batik from Jogjakarta, Java (picture source:

The patterns from each areas contain special symbolisms. The popular checkered motive is a good example. This motive symbolizes life, namely whichever directions we take in life would have consequences.

This strong association with symbolism made sarung seems fit as a religious clothing used by Indonesian Muslims. However, sarung is not just a religious clothing. It’s history shows more varied usage of the fabric.

Sarung is not Just a Religious Clothing

We often think that sarung is just a clothing used for Muslim prayer. Sarung is traditionally very related to Muslim prayer.

However, it is not accurate to say so. We can use the Indonesian sarung for a variety of purposes. From scarves, turbans, and even togas, you can use it creatively in many ways! You can also simply use it as a skirt and a replacement for your trousers.

Now, it is good to know a little bit of history so you can appreciate sarung’s style a little more.

A Quick Look at the History

Sarung actually does not come from Indonesia, which is surprising considering its association with Indonesians. The fabric came from Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, the bedouins and fishermen there wore it. The name of the sarung in Yemen is futah.

As the futah spreads throughout the world, it acquired new names like Izaar in Saudi Arabia and, of course, Sarung in Indonesia.

Sarung started to enter Indonesia in the 14th century. It was carried by Merchants from Arabia and Southern India. Sarung is also spread to other countries in Southeast Asia, giving them various different names as well such as pataydong in the Philipines.

The Merchants that carried what will be called sarung also brought Islam with them, which explains why it is highly associated with Islam. However, sarung is traditionally used by people from other religions too. People from Bali, which are mostly Hindus, also use sarung in their religious ceremony as well. They developed their own style and name for sarung, calling it kemben instead of sarung.

11+ Pakaian Adat Bali Pria Dan Wanita Beserta Gambar Dan Penjelasan
Balinese people wearing sarung (source:

Sarung’s style and design is intended for everyday use, however The people in Arabia use it for everyday occasions. Indonesian people also use sarung in the same way although traditionally they also use sarung for formal occasions.

It is true that sarung does not come from Indonesia, but sarung has a long history in Indonesia. Sarung used to be stylish among Muslim religious students in Indonesia known as santri. The santri wore it as a style of resistance against Western culture when most of the country preferred to wear trousers instead.

So that is a quick history of the sarung. What is the big deal then?

Learning from History

Now that we know the history, we understand that sarung carries many symbolic meanings.

Sarung represents independence because of its association with the independence movement of the santri. It represents cultural independence and a sign of being proud of your heritage.

132 Tahun KH Abdul Wahab Chasbullah
Abdul Wahab Hasbullah, the man who wear sarung for freedom (picture:

If symbolism is not enough, you can actually feel the independence and freedom of the sarung simply because of its design. Sarung is designed to be very flexible you can try it in so many styles. Starting from a headcover, an extra garment, a unisex skirt, and even a cloaked pajama for sleeping! You definitely feel free because sarung is not bound by any style.

Not to mention the material of the sarung itself has very comfortable materials. The fabric for sarung is very handy to be used in hot situation and could give you a ‘cool-warm’ sensation during cold night too. Even in history, some Dutch women used it inside their homes despite the Dutch Colonial government not allowing cultural items to be mixed like that.

This freedom gives sarung a type of flexibility. Despite coming from Arabs and widely used by Muslims, the sarung is not only a symbol for Muslims. It is also used by Hindus from Bali and gets more recognition as a traditional national clothing.

If symbolism doesn’t enough for you, we will see how sarung can be cool to wear with these combinations!

Some Inspirations for Style

Because sarung can be used in different ways, there are people who have made great combinations for sarung. Indonesian designers and politicians have worn sarung stylishly, which can be a great inspiration for us.

Here are some examples of stylish sarung and how to wear them:

1. Extra Skirt Layer

David Beckham wearing the sarung (source: Absolute Pictures)

One cool idea is to turn sarung into an outer layer skirt. This is done by wearing the sarung slightly above your pants/trousers so your thighs would be covered by the sarung.

This would give you an extra motif in your trousers, thus giving you some more art in your style and appearance!

2. Complement to Your Vest and Jacket


Another idea is just a combination between sarung and extra clothing for your shirts. The extra clothing could be a vest or an oversized jacket.

This idea looks and sounds traditional, but you can make it more modern and stylish by pairing it with different clothing varieties. It works particularly well with a coat or an oversized jacket. The sarung will give a perfect extra touch, it looks as stylish as an oversized trouser!

3. Turn it into a trouser

You can even turn sarung to look like a trouser! Do this by tying and wearing the sarung in a particular way.

Mudah Banget Loh Gaes! Begini Cara Sederhana Menyulap Sarung Jadi Celana
from Instagram @farhanbashel via:

Indonesian fashion enthusiast, Farhan Bashel, have given you this tutorial which you can also see in the video:

1. Fold the sarung by meeting the ends of the sarung from the left and the right.

2. Hold the middle part of the folded sarung using your elbows.

3. Pull some of the middle part of the sarung with both hands and tie them.

4. Flip the sarung around. The folded and tied sarung should now be on the bottom side.

5. Wear the sarung by inserting both of your feet to it. But, we’re not done yet!

6. In the upper part of the sarung, squeeze both of the sarung’s ends

7. Tie them in the middle of your stomach area

8. You can now wear your trouser styled sarung!

4. Just wear it like usual?


Moving to another very cool idea, you can just wear your sarung as usual! Yes, you read that right.

You can simply use your sarung in a traditional way, paired with a shirt and tied in a normal way. You have probably seen the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, wearing his sarung with a t-shirt.

There is a bit of extra conditions required here, however. To make the sarung looks more stylish, you need to use a sarung that has the same color as your shirt. For example, you can have a black t-shirt paired with a black sarung.

This can make your sarung looks like an extension of your t-shirt since it flows naturally. Looks cool and elegant right?

5. As a shawl and scarf

source: pinterest via

This one is particularly useful for women who cover their heads with scarves and want to look stylish with sarung motifs. Or it can also be useful for people who simply want to protect themselves from cold or even from heat!

You can do this simply by tying the sarung to your neck like a shawl. You can also put it over your head if you want it as a head covering.

Just one more extra condition to look more stylish: To wear it as a shawl, you might want to choose sarung with a good traditional motif so that you will look cooler.


Now with knowing the sarung’s symbolism and contemporary style you should not be ashamed of wearing this traditional clothing anymore!

If you ever feel tired of wearing the same modern clothes every day, you might want to break the ice once or twice with sarung.

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