Shalwar kameez

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For the Homeland episode, see Shalwar Kameez (Homeland).
Schoolgirls dressed in the school uniform of shalwar kameez at play in Abbotabad, Pakistan. The shalwars are the white trousers; the kameez the blue shirt. The man in the background on the right is also wearing a shalwar kameez.

A shalwar kameez, also spelled salwar kameez or shalwar qameez, is a traditional dress of South and Central Asia. It is worn by men and women in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Bangladesh, it is worn mostly by women. Shalwar are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the ankle. The kameez is a long shirt or tunic, often with a western-style collar; however, for female apparel, the term is now loosely applied to collarless or mandarin-collared kurtas. The Kameez might be worn with paijamis as well, for fashion (tight fitting ones) or comfort (loose fitging ones). The side seams (known as the chaak), left open below the waist-line, give the wearer greater freedom of movement.[1]


Salwar kameez, from Max Tilke's Oriental Costume, 1922
Shalwar (with Kabuli sandals) as worn in South and Central Asia.
A man's shalwar held up to display amount of material needed.

The kameez is usually cut straight and flat; older kameez use traditional cuts, as shown in the illustration above. Modern kameez are more likely to have European-inspired set-in sleeves. The tailor's taste and skill are usually displayed, not in the overall cut, but in the shape of the neckline and the decoration of the kameez. Modern versions of the feminine kameez can be much less modest than traditional versions. The kameez may be cut with a deep neckline, sewn in diaphanous fabrics, or styled in cap-sleeve or sleeveless designs. The kameez side seams may be split up to the thigh or even the waistline, and it may be worn with the salwar slung low on the hips.[citation needed]

The shalwar kameez is sometimes known as a "Punjabi suit" in Britain.[2] Quote: "And in Bubby Mahil’s fashion store in London, white socialites and young British Asians shop for the Canada."[3][context?] In Britain, South Asian women from the Punjab region have brought them to mainstream, and even high-fashion, appeal.[4]

In India, the garment was originally popular to the North, but as a convenient and modest alternative to a sari - and also as one that flatters practically any body-type - it has become popular across the nation. By varying the fabric, color, and level of embroidery, they can also be made to suit practically all climates.[citation needed]

Etymology and history[edit]

Ancient form of Shalwar Kameez worn during Gupta Empire.
Portrait of a Hindu girl from Karachi, Sind, in narrow Sindhi suthan and paro. c. 1870. Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library.
Portrait of a Muslim girl from Karachi, Sindh, in a suthan and blouse. c. 1870. Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library.
Hill women, Kashmir, in suthan-kameez. c. 1890.

The pants, or salvar, are known as salwar in Bengali, salvar in Punjabi: ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ, salvaar or shalvaar શલવાર કમીઝ in Gujarati, salvaar or shalvar शलवार क़मीज़ in Hindi, and shalvar in Urdu: شلوار قمیض‎.

Garments cut like the traditional kameez are known in many cultures; according to Dorothy Burnham, of the Royal Ontario Museum, the "seamless shirt," woven in one piece on warp-weighted looms, was superseded in early Roman times by cloth woven on vertical looms and carefully pieced so as not to waste any cloth. 10th century cotton shirts recovered from the Egyptian desert are cut much like the traditional kameez or the contemporary Egyptian jellabah or galabia.[5]

English spelling[edit]

Transliterations starting from Punjabi often render the sibilant sound at the start of salwar/shalwar as an "s". Transliterations starting from Urdu, Lahnda, Persian, Pashto, Turkish languages use "sh". Both spellings are found in common English usage. The shalwar spelling seems to be most common in Canada and the United Kingdom, and is the preferred spelling in the Oxford English Dictionary. Salwar is the spelling most commonly used in India. The word kameez is often spelled with an H, as in khameez.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Unquiet Pasts: Risk Society, Lived Cultural Heritage, Re-Designing Reflexivity - Stephanie Koerner, Ian Russell - Google Books. 2010-08-16. Retrieved 2012-06-14. 
  2. ^ Breidenbach, Pál & Zcaronupanov 2004
  3. ^ Walton-Roberts & Pratt 2005. Quote: "Meena owns a successful textile design and fashion business in the Punjab, designing and selling high-end salwar kameez (Punjabi suits) ..."
  4. ^ Bachu 2004
  5. ^ Burnham, Dorothy. 1973. Cut My Cote, Royal Ontario Museum. p. 10.


External links[edit]