How to Use a Pareu as a Simple Dress or Cover

Learn how, with just a few yards of fabric, you can make a dress, skirt or cover up. The traditional Polynesian outfit is so versatile!

| May/June 1982

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    How to wear a pareu as a dress.
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    A demonstration of one way to wear a pareu.

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Going native, in the Polynesian fashion, can be a glamorous and comfortable experience as participants in our South Seas Seminar discovered this past winter. It seemed like we'd barely arrived in that tropical, flower-laden paradise before most of the female tour members began learning to wrap themselves in the versatile native "pareu."

Although the colorful clothing was once made exclusively of tapa cloth (produced from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree), the modern pareu is usually cotton and features white or yellow floral designs on a red or blue background. Nowadays, however, the traditional attire (which, in its various permutations, is worn by men and women) can also be seen in a rainbow of hand-printed, batiked and tie-dyed materials including jersey, polyester, Indian gauze and French voile.

The garment starts as a piece of cloth slightly over two yards long (1.90 meters, to be exact) and 45 inches wide. (If you're very tall or very short, you may want to try a different width.) And there's certainly no reason at all to keep this tropical wraparound confined to a South Seas island or even to the beach and back yard. It could also provide a beautiful, appropriate (according to how it's tied), and thrifty outfit to wear to a picnic, to a dinner party, or even for a night out on the town.

So, since we figured that many of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers would be glad of a chance to increase the versatility of their wardrobes at little cost, we asked Marline Post-ma — a French Polynesian woman who, with her husband Richard, helps run the Hotel Bora Bora on the little island of the same name — to demonstrate just a few of the ways in which her national costume can be worn.


Making a Long Skirt

This hipline style involves wearing the pareu widthwise. Start as you do when tying the “short version, knotting the “bunny ear” at whatever spot will allow you to secure it to the back corner for a good fit. But, at this point, take what’s left over, fold it in two vertically and truck the upper edge of the panel over the knot, letting the long fold drape down your leg.


10/11/2014 3:11:57 AM

The article is very helpful to me and I will surely try to make a Strapless Dress with the dress material which I had brought from designer forum { }boutiques. Thanks for sharing.

2/3/2014 6:34:09 AM

Beneficial information shared.Enjoyed reading your article! very thorough and inciteful.

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