There’s something intrinsically liberating in wearing the sarong, the skirt-like men’s apparel worn as a substitute for pants. Most people equate it with religious ceremonies, especially for Muslims, but it’s actually a garment that’s can be found in almost every culture in the archipelago.
During the fight for independence, the youths wore sarong as part of their rebellion against the westerner’s modern outfit, which makes it very unfortunate that these days the role of sarong is relegated merely to the elderly and religious or cultural rituals.
A movement that started in 2012 by a group of fashion designers intends to reverse the trend by forming a movement called “Sarong is My New Denim.” The group, members of Indonesian Fashion Chambers, incorporates the garment into their ready-to-wear or high fashion line with the intention to make sarong great again. There are many varieties of sarong across Indonesia: there are the starry ulos from North Sumatera, the checkered silk Bugis sarong from South Sulawesi, and there’s also the checkered poleng sarong from Bali. You’ll see the latter black-and- white sarong covering statues, trees, and home temples. It has a sacred significance for the Balinese Hindu, the color—with an additional grey and red in other versions— basically signifies good vs. evil, which is a manifestation of nature’s equilibrium.
Might take a while for anyone to make the sarong their new denim, but with some producers designing a more contemporary look— like a chic pants-like sarong—who knows what the future has in store.