Shalwar kameez (also spelled shalvar kameez, salwar kameez, or shalwar qameez); is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in South Asia and specially Pakistan and India. Shalwar or salwar 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. The side seams (known as the chaak), left open below the waist-line, give the wearer greater freedom of movement.
Shalwar are gathered at the waist and held up by a drawstring or an elastic band. The pants can be wide and baggy or more narrow, and even made of fabric cut on the bias.
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. When a woman wears a semi-transparent kameez (mostly as a party dress), she wears a choli or a cropped camisole underneath it.
When women wear the salwar kameez, they usually wear a long scarf or shawl called a dupatta around the head or neck. For Muslim women, the dupatta is a less stringent alternative to the chador or burqa (see also hijab and purdah). For Sikh and Hindu women (especially those from northern India, where the salwar kameez is most popular), the dupatta is useful when the head must be covered, as in a Gurdwara or a Temple, or the presence of elders. For other women, the dupatta is simply a stylish accessory that can be worn over one shoulder or draped around the chest and over both shoulders.
The Shalwar kameez is sometimes known as "Punjabi suit," in Britain and Canada. In Britain, especially during the last two decades, the garment has been transformed from an everyday garment worn by immigrant South Asian women from the Punjab region to one with mainstream, and even high-fashion, appeal.
In India, the garment was originally confined 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 the level of embroidery and decoration, the salwar-kameez can be formal, casual, dressy, or plain; and it can also be made to suit practically all climates.
Salwar is the generic term used to describe the lower garment developed in different regions. These include the Sindhi suthan, Dogri pajamma and the Kashmiri suthan. A suthan is a very loose lower garment, examples of which can be seen in the pictures, below.
The traditional dress of women in Sindh was the lehnga choli, of women in Kashmir was the Pheran  flowing to the ankles, and the peshwaj in Jammu for women, also flowing to the ankles. The traditional dress of women of Punjab was the ghagra choli/kurti/kameez.  No one knows when and where the salwar began to be used in the sub-continent. However, the extensive and wide spread use was prevelant in the Punjab with the influence of the Mughals. Punjabis in west Punjab began to wear the suthan. Its use then spread to neighbouring Sindh, east Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir. According to elders, Punjabi women started to combine the suthan with a kurta, and sometimes with a pajamma which would be covered with a ghagra when going outdoors. This tradition, only dying out relatively late in east Punjab: approx. 1950’s circa.
Over time, Punjabi’s discarded the use of the suthan in favour of the salwar to be combined with the kameez. It is this outfit which is common all over the sub-continent. and has influenced dress sense all over India  The salwar kameez is therefore the end product of local devlopment of a dress which has roots in Central Asia, espcially, Uzbekistan.
People in Jammu have changed the traditional attire from the peshwaj to the kurta and Dogri pajjamma. The Pheran in Kashmir has been combined with the suthan with some people wearing the Pheran to below the knees. Kashyap Bandhu is regarded as the person responsible for spreading the use of the suthan with the Pheran amongst the communities that resisted to adopt its use, eventually leading to the use of the salwar. In Sindh, the traditional lengha choli became to be complimented with the poro and suthan.
Needless to say, the suthan and the salwar is also part of men's wear.
Etymology and history
The pants, or salvar, are known as salvar in Punjabi: ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕ਼ਮੀਜ਼, salvaar or shalvaar શલવાર કમીઝ in Gujarati, salvaar or shalvar शलवार क़मीज़ in Hindi, and shalvar in Urdu: شلوار قمیض. The word comes from the Persian: شلوار, meaning pants.
The shirt, kameez or qamiz, takes its name from the Arabic qamis. There are two main hypotheses regarding the origin of the Arabic word, namely:
- that Arabic qamis is derived from the Latin camisia (shirt), which in its turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European kem (‘cloak’).
- that Mediaeval Latin camisia is a borrowing through Hellenistic Greek kamision from the Central Semitic root “qmṣ”, represented by Ugaritic qmṣ (‘garment’) and Arabic qamīṣ (‘shirt’). Both of these are related to the Hebrew verb קמץ qmṣ (‘grip’, ‘enclose with one’s hand’).
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.
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 seems to be more common in the US and is found at many online stores selling salwar kameez. The word kameez is often spelled with an H, as in khameez.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Shalwar kameez|
- Fatima Jinnah Wearing Shalwar Qameez
- Ministry of Culture Pakistan National Dress.
- The Hindu: The spread of the salwar