Fashion: That's summer wrapped up: This may not be Java, and OK, it's not that hot, but feeling exotic is simple in a sarong, says Marion Hume

THE sarong spells summer. At the slightest hint of sun, we reach for the one exotic garment that has become an integral part of the British wardrobe. Meaning 'sheath' in Malay, the sarong was originally a long strip of fabric worn tucked around the waist - exactly how it is worn here.

There are two kinds of sarong. One can double as a tablecloth or a picnic blanket when unfolded and the other has strings attached that wrap around the waist, pull through a button-hole slit at the side and tie in a knot. This is less authentic but far more practical.

The former threatens to come unfurled when put in western, urban situations for which it was never intended - running for the bus in that glorious and vivid sarong you brought back from your Far Eastern holiday is a dangerous activity unless you have learnt to move quickly with the grace of a Javanese dancer.

Here we show a couple of sarongs you can wear safely, plus some ideas for bright pieces of cloth that you might decide look best on the beach. Prices vary from a few pounds to designer-high, with Rifat Ozbek, Marcel Marongiu, Gianni Versace, Martine Sitbon and Yves Saint Laurent (his is in gold lame) being just a few of the catwalk names who offer sarongs for this summer.

What we don't show is men in sarongs. But the menswear shows in Paris and Milan indicated that the only sensible men-in-skirts option besides the kilt is gaining popularity. In Malaysia, sarongs have always been worn by both sexes. On the Milanese catwalk, Dolce e Gabbana offered a crisp, white sarong, tied below the waist like a butcher's apron as a macho, westernised version.

And for men, what looks like a sarong can also be a length of cloth by another name. In Madagascar, currently a favourite, far-flung destination for western zoologists, conservationists and anthropologists, a wider piece of cloth called a lamba is thrown on to keep cool by Harrison Ford-lookalike scientists.

In East Africa, the traditional men's garment of a colourful, cotton cloth wrapped and tucked at the waist, known in Swahili as a kikoi, also has western converts. Simon Friend, who once lived in Uganda, decided on returning to London to set up a business importing kikois for like-minded converts. In India, there's the dhoti and in Western Samoa the lava lava - our photographer, a New Zealander, insisted on wearing his, off-camera, throughout this shoot.

(Photographs omitted)

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