John Openshaw

FIELD NOTES

The Foreigner's Guide to Lungi Wearing

NAVIGATE NOTES

APRIL 1, 2013

FILED UNDER: travel, how-to

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I recently took the plunge and bought myself a lungi. Tubular pieces of cloth worn around the waist, these versatile garments allow unrestricted movement and open a whole new world of stylish dress options.

I don’t really see many foreigners wearing lungis in Dhaka, which I think is too bad. The honest truth is that trouser wearing and high humidity don’t go well together: so it’s high time that we stopped sweating and enjoyed the benefit of a little improved ventilation. When I was brining my lungi home, a rickshaw wallah gave me this huge smile and said something in Bangla that I think was complimentary. I took this to mean that my move to the traditional mode of clothing was accepted and encouraged.

To ease the transition, I’ve put together this short guide to wearing your lungi safely and with style.

I did struggle to originally tie my lungi. But I’ll also admit to having issues with tying knots in general, and I recall having major issues with my tennis shoes when I was a kid, so that doesn’t mean that you well. Of course, the risks involved in incorrectly tying your lungi is higher than struggling with your Nikes: incorrectly fasten your lungi and you risk the embarrassment of exposure. But if you watch the rickshaw wallas, they always seem to be tightening or repositioning their lungis as well, which makes me think that this is a challenge that all lungi wearers face.

I’m sure there are many ways to tie these garments — I use a fairly simple twist knot:

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Step 1 — Grasp two areas of the garment and step into the tube. I start with my right hand corner (labeled A) in the diagram. Bring corner A tightly across your body. You can use your elbows to keep the garment in place (while this isn’t graceful, given that you are a foreigner, you can get away with it).

lungiwearingstep5Step 2 — Now do the same with the left hand (which is grasping corner B). Make sure that as you do this, you are pulling the garment tightly around your waist.

Step 3 — Now this is awkward. If you have done it right, you end up with arms crossed.

Step 4 — This is the hard part, as you must unwind yourself, without letting the garment drop. But practice makes perfect. So take a deep breath and give it a try. Once successful, your right hand is now holding corner B and your left hand is now holding corner A. Pull tight around your waist.

Step 5 — Now comes the twist! Twist corner A around corner B, the hand holding corner A goes down towards your feet, the hand holding corner B comes up. Do one complete twist, your wrists should be crossed again. Now tuck the loose corner A in at the waist. Assuming that you have kept the lungi tight, this should hold. Corner B can be let loose, or, if you want to look neat and tidy, tuck this in as well.

Step 6 — This step is important: jump up and down a few times and run around your apartment. Your lungi should remain snug around your waist. If it feels like it is slipping, start again at step 1.

Once you are confident you can keep your lungi on during daily activities, you are ready to begin exploring the variety of styles available. There are obviously hundreds of ways to wear a lungi and I’ll only provide examples of the most common styles that I have seen.

The most straight forward is to simply walk out the door after putting it on — no shirt required (exhibit A). If you are going to be doing very vigorous activity or need to wade in shallow water you can convert the lungi into a short length garment by rolling up the fabric in the back and then bringing the fabric in front between your legs and tucking it into the back at the waist (exhibit B).

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howtowearalungi4If you want to wear a shirt — it should be collared and can be short or long sleeved (exhibit C). Of course, once it gets hot, you will probably want to unbutton the shirt (exhibit D) — thus arriving at the favored style of most Dhaka rickshaw wallahs.

Once you have mastered these steps and styles, you are well on your way to wearing your lungi all the time.

I find it very comfortable to wear first thing in the morning around the house. It certainly is much cooler than wearing regular pants.

There are also a variety of uses which I have not explored: using it as beach wear or as an over cover when I need to change my clothing in the field, for example.

All of these things mean that a lungi will probably become a staple of my regular wardrobe — regardless of where I am living.