Summer is almost here, which means it’s beach time! And what better beach attire than a sarong? It’s easy, breathable and makes for a great coverup. The only real downside to a sarong is if you’re at a loss when it comes to fashioning these beautiful pieces of cloth. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Best of all, we’re here to help! Let’s take a lesson from our island girls about how to manipulate these sarongs, or pareo, for any occasion.
Let’s first rewind and talk about the evolution of this fabric, which has grown to be a Polynesian closet staple. If you take a look at the history of the pareo, specifically the clothing of Tahiti (French Polynesia), you’ll notice that their garments were traditionally made of ti leaf, banana leaf, lauhala leaf, coconut fiber, inner wild hibiscus bark, ulu (breadfruit) bark and inner paper mulberry bark. The fibers fabricated from these plants were then made into long pieces of cloth called tapas, which adorned intricate designs woven into them (as seen below).
What do tapas have to do with pareos, you ask? Well, back in the 1700s, European explorers arrived on the islands where they introduced textiles, industrial advances and Christianity to the natives. Along with the Christian missionaries’ push to “civilize” the Tahitians, cotton clothing replaced the tapa. The cotton fabric was higher in quality, easier to work with and more durable than the traditional tapa cloth. Prior to contact with Western ideals, women often went topless during the regular course of the day. As Western influence entered the Tahitian society as well as other South Pacific islands, the women gradually adapted the pareo to mimic western women’s wear.
Eventually, the tapa became obsolete when Tahitian women began to adapt and modify the Western style of dress to suit their island lifestyles. From bark and leaves to cotton fabric dyed with iconic Polynesian floral designs, we now see a plethora of modern day pareos billowing all over beaches everywhere.
Now, let’s take some pointers from Cherrelle Chan–the designer of Mareko Creations–as she shows us an array of ways to fashion a pareo beyond simply tying them around your hips. With one pareo, you can go from casual to date night, and you can even style them for cocktail parties! Watch below to learn to fashion a pareo like a “PolyDolly” as Chan calls her island girls: