The sarong (pronounced sah rong) comes from Malayan culture; it is literally a cloth sheath. Thus the sarong is an unstructured garment, topologically a single long and wide piece of cloth that is wrapped around waist and thighs to form a skirt, or, in our definition, which is drawn through the crotch, and secured with a knot in the front or the side of the body.
The sarong skirt appears in the dance costumes of the Mata Hari in the first decade of the 1900s; Hari may have imported the concept from her travels in Sumatra. By the 1920s it has become a stable of Hollywood temptress Myrna Loy, and it is such a part of the costume of early 1940s movie star Dorothy Lamour that she becomes The Sarong Girl (fig. 32-1). In Bikini Science these developments are best studied as part of the miniskirt, as many of Lamour's contemporaries demonstrate.
The sarong culotte is a special case of the sarong where it is drawn between the legs and tied, diaper style, to make a distinct culotte species.
The 1940s maillot sarong has a strong horizontal bias: the two-piece sarong, typified by that effervescent Norma Jean, a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe, is high-waisted yet conspicuously knotted in front of her (MM4601). The knot, of course, is not only the vehicle of closure, but of removal as well. Sometimes only the line of the fabric reveals the sarong (YK4X10), sometimes the wearer fiddles with the knot to remind us (YK4X20).
The 1940s sarong culotte has yet to reveal navel, but stylistically, the cut has much in common with its reintroduction in the 1980s. The center knot of the brief is reflected in the bow tie of the halter top, and with its string straps, a premonition of things to come.
Monroe is but one of the 1940s pin-ups who jumps on the sarong bandwagon. Susan Hayward and an unnamed Popular Photography girl also demonstrate a variation of this panty-like brief that wraps around the hips but ties on the side of the waist (fig 13-4). In Monroe's and Pop Photo's case, the wrap emerges from the crotch and raises up the pubis to the sidetie, a particularly suggestive line that invites voyeuristic inquiry. The Popular Photography pictures date from 1947, like Monroe, the models wear looser fitting halter tops. Hayward, a consummate pin-up queen throughout the 1940s, here flaunts a rather unique bandeau with a single, asymmetrical strap. Her sarong wraps around from the side, triangulating the pubis, and also ties on the side.
Sarong is a style with rather wide variation. This version appears to go around the waist and tie behind (SS4710). Miniskirt styles are worn by "The Sarong Girl," Dorothy Lamour (fig 13-4a). Monroe, never one to shirk the vulgar, play with the uncertainties of a skirted brief that rather rudely worn so as to frame the revealed brief. Like so much of Monroe's image, what one is not supposed to see is just, after all, just part of the swimsuit. In retrospect, the briefs seem rather baggy and conservative, but in 1940 acts like these made mothers fearful.
The Wrap Maillot
Sarong wilts after 1950, overpowered by the simpler panty brief, and it remains extinct until the 1980s. During the heyday of the string bikini in the 1970s, the maillot sarong emerges as a one piece equivalent to the bikini, complete with strings, ties and a complicated assembly. The maillot sarong is an important silhouette in bikini development, not only because it is one of the few maillot silhouettes to exist during the string era, but because it provides design momentum to the rediscovery of the culotte sarong in the 1980s.
The effects of the maillot sarong is not lost on bikini, where the diaper-like tie is easily adapted to the brief. This suit passés through the crotch, up the hip, and ties in front (G8852C, fig. 13-5). This early 2000s pattern combines a steep front that lies, as expected, inside inguinal, with a high waistline, and which may be worn topless (EC0732F), tangaed, or both. Like the 1940s sarong brief, the newest incarnations also features a knot in the front center, and because the waistline can slide up or down, and belly-button can be covered, revealed, or framed below the bow tie and the top of the trunks. Bikini sarong can also capture the profanely lower, often deep V waistline of the 1980s (fig. 32-5). The result eliminates the bunching on the sides encountered in the 1946 Monroe suit.
The sarong brief, like the sidetie brief, incorporates cloth or string ties, sometimes with a hidden fastener in the back. The significant difference is a shift to a ventral/dorsal symmetry instead of left-right symmetry. Sarong always invites bizarre asymmetrical ties. Furthermore, the central knot of the brief catalyzes tops like the front knotted bandeau, or the x-back, criss-cross halter in the diagram.
This cross-cross halter and front-tie sarong both incorporate the theme of wrapping and fastening.