South Seas Attire

woman in a sarong

Traditionally, South Seas attire refers to the sarong or pareo; it is a large piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist of men and women throughout much of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. If you are visiting a resort area, your attire might include a sarong, but there are other basics you'll want to include in your wardrobe as well -- as well as know when to wear what for different settings and different times of year.

Traditional South Seas Attire

Sarongs can be made out of cotton, silk, or synthetic materials like rayon. They are usually plaid or checkered. They are sometimes brightly colored by batik or ikat dyeing methods. Women generally wear more brightly colored, decorative sarongs than men; they are typically adorned with flowers, animals, or other similar designs.

The pareo is a specific type of sarong indigenous to Tahiti and the Cook Islands. Among the most vibrantly colored of their kind, pareos are made out of cotton and commonly feature a traditional tapa print or hibiscus flowers. Though a daily costume for many, they are also thought of as a staple of resort-wear for tropical getaways.

Where to Buy Sarongs

Buying a sarong or pareo from your travel destination is a great way to get a one-of-a-kind, authentic souvenir. If you want to buy one before you leave for your trip, though, you have many options. Specialty and online stores offer a wide variety of sarongs and pareos that are perfect for any beach vacation:

  • 1World Sarongs: You can find a wide variety of styles, fabrics, and prints at All Sarongs. You get free shipping on all orders.
  • Sassy Sarongs: Sassy Sarongs offers solid, printed, and plus size sarongs.
  • Hawaiian Sarong: Get authentic Hawaiian style sarongs and pareos here. Shipping is free on orders over $30.
  • Sabine Sarongs & Silks Co.: Sabine offers a great selection of sarongs in silk or polyester. They can custom make garments to your specifications.
  • Amazon: With a huge selection of styles and colors, you're sure to find a sarong that suits you on Amazon.

How to Wear Them

There are three ways to wear a sarong or pareo:

  • Dress: To wear your sarong as a dress, place it behind your back with the ends in both of your hands. Wrap the ends diagonally across your chest and tie behind your neck. You can also drape the sarong around your chest like a towel to create a loose, strapless look.
  • Skirt: The most common way to wear a sarong is as a skirt or cover up. To do so, simply place the sarong behind your hips while holding both ends, wrap around and tie closed on either hip.
  • Scarf: Sarongs and pareos make great scarves and wraps. Simply drape the sarong around your neck or shoulders to achieve the desired look.

Styling Tips

  • Go lightweight: Choose a sarong or pareo made of lightweight, breathable fabric. That way it's suitable to tropical climates and will be comfortable and easily washed.
  • Personal coloring: When deciding on color, consider what complements your skin tone with and without a tan. Also keep in mind the bathingsuits and clothing you'll be bringing. You want your sarong to be versatile enough to match most of your outfits.
  • Patterns: Don't choose a pattern based on the traditional designs of the region you're visiting unless you like that pattern to begin with. If you're not into florals, don't get a hibiscus print pareo just because you're going to Tahiti. If you buy a pattern you love, you'll be sure to get use out of your sarong on many vacations. If you hate patterns altogether, choose a plain fabric in a color your enjoy.
  • Color blocking: This is a great look, especially in tropical settings where vibrant colors abound. You can pair a brightly colored sarong with complementary brightly colored clothing. If you find the idea of color on color overwhelming, use your sarong as a pop of color for a neutral outfit or pair a neutral sarong with a colorful dress.

Other Resort-Wear Staples

casual white dress


A white sundress is a must. Striped dresses are great if you're going for a nautical style. Any floral or brightly colored sundresses (think coral, turquoise, etc) are a great way to highlight your tan.


Linen shorts and pants are fantastic for tropical vacations. The fabric is super lightweight and comfortable and is perfect beachwear.


Nothing beats a breezy white cotton top. Striped t-shirts are also great to pair with shorts and pants for a sailor-chic look.


Bring at least one great swimsuit with you. Choose something that suits your body type and make sure you're comfortable in it. With so many styles available, you can easily find one that plays up your assets and hides your flaws.


Essential beach accessories are sunglasses, a hat, and a tote bag. For evenings, be sure to pack a belt to wear with dresses that need to be cinched in at the waist and a purse that you can bring to dinners. A brightly colored leather clutch would be ideal.


You need two pairs of shoes for a beach getaway -- flat leather sandals to wear on the beach and while touring, and a pair of wedge sandals for evenings. A straw wedge is a great way to dress up your look at night while maintaining a casual island vibe.

General Rules of Dress

Seasonal Attire

When dressing seasonally on a tropical vacation, you should check the weather for the specific island area you will be going. Although most of the 20,000 islands in the South Pacific known as the South Sea Islands enjoy a tropical climate, it's best to consult the specific place to check for weather conditions during the time of your visit.

  • Fall and Winter: If you're visiting your destination during it's fall or winter season, you can plan to bring essentially the same clothing you would any other time of year. Just consider that it may cool down more at nighttime so you will want to bring a cardigan, a pair of pants, and at least one maxi dress or long skirt to wear in the evenings.
  • Spring and Summer: When traveling to a beach during the spring or summer, bring lots of comfortable, lightweight, breathable clothing. Go all out with the brightest of bright colors and fun patterns.

Occasion Attire

dress for dinner

When at the beach, the dress code is always casual. However, considering exactly where you are and what you're doing affects how relaxed your look should be.

  • At the resort: While hanging out at your resort, you can wear basically whatever you want. If you're planning to have breakfast and/or lunch there, it's perfectly acceptable to throw a cover-up over your swimwear while you're eating so you can move easily between the beach and the on-site restaurant.
  • In town: If you're heading in to town to sightsee, shop, or eat, ditch your bathingsuit and put on some clothes. You can keep it casual with shorts and a tee or a sundress, but leave the swimwear at your hotel.
  • Evenings: When dressing for dinner, you want to step it up ever-so-slightly. Again, you don't have to dress up in the traditional sense, but you want to look a little more put together for dinner and a night out than you would during the day. Throw on a simple dress with some wedge sandals and wrap your pareo around your shoulders and you'll be set.
  • When outside the resort: If you are visiting areas outside of the tourist or resort area, consider the local customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples of the island. For some areas, it can be considered offensive for women to wear shorts, short skirts, or to bare their shoulders. Consult with a travel agent or tour guide beforehand and be prepared with some lightweight layers to keep comfortable and as well as maintaining sensitivity to the people of the island.

Armed with the right combination of clothing and style tips, you can look great and be comfortable when visiting an area of the South Seas.

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