Shalwar kameez

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Shalwar kameez, also spelled salwar kameez or shalwar qameez, is a traditional outfit originating in the Indian subcontinent.[1] It is a generic term used to describe different styles of dress.[2][3] The shalwar kameez can be worn by both men and women, but styles differ by gender. The shalwar (baggy trousers) and the kameez (long shirt)[4] are two garments[5] which are combined to form the shalwar kameez.[6]

It is the national dress of Pakistan,[7][8] and commonly worn throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Etymology and history[edit]


The shalwar (Persian: شلوار‎, Urdu: شلوار‎), spelled sirwal (Arabic: سروال‎) in Arabic, and variously pronounced as šalvār/shalvaar (Turkish: şalvar, Punjabi: ਸਲਵਾਰ, Gujarati: શલવાર, Hindi: शलवार), salwar/salowar (Bengali: সালোয়ার) and selwar (Sylheti) are a form of baggy trousers predating the Christian era.[9] They are typically worn in Muslim countries but also extensively in the Greek countryside (and other places in the Balkans that were influenced by Ottoman Turks) prior to World War II.

Transliterations starting from Urdu, Lahnda, Persian, Pashto, Turkish languages use "sh". Salwar is the spelling most commonly used in India. Transliterations starting from Punjabi often render the sibilant sound at the start of salwar/shalwar as an "s". 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.


Left: Indian actress Shriya Saran in a sleeveless and embroidered woman's kameez with dupatta draped over the neck. Right: The kameez is backless with a deep cut at the back.

Originally qamis (Arabic: قميص‎, translit. qamīṣ, possibly from Latin, see chemise),[10] the kameez (Persian: قمیض‎, Urdu: قمیض‎, Hindi: कमीज़), known in Bengali as kamij (Bengali: কামিজ) and in Sylheti as kamiz is a tunic of varying length. Garments cut like the kameez can be found in many cultures. According to Dorothy K. Burnham, of the Royal Ontario Museum, the "seamless shirt," woven in one piece on warp-weighted looms, was superseded in early Roman times by cloth woven on vertical looms and carefully pieced so as not to waste any cloth. 10th-century cotton shirts recovered from the Egyptian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 kameez or the contemporary Egyptian djellaba or jellabiya.[11]

While transliterations of the Arabic word preferably use "q" due to the use of Qāf (ق), that of languages which later imported the word, such as Urdu, Hindi and Persian[dubious ] use "k".

Men often wear a vest over their qameez known as a sadri (also called a waskat or bandi).[12][13]


The dupatta (Hindi: दुपट्टा, Urdu: دوپٹا‎) or chunri, known as oṛna in Bengali: ওড়না, and unna in Sylheti is a scarf that is like a shawl and is essential to many women's clothing from the Indian subcontinent. It is worn with the shalwar and kameez but only by women. It is an evolved form of the ancient Indian Uttariya and is originally part of the Gagra choli costume. The Dupatta is worn in many regional styles across India, the most common style since early medieval times being to pleate the dupatta on the one end and tucking it into the front of the ghagra (or lehenga) and wrapping it across the waist and over the shoulder or head, similar to the way the sari is worn. The dupatta is traditionally seen as a symbol of modesty as its main purpose is as a veil.


The 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 seen 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 pajamas as well, either for fashion or comfort. Some kameez styles have side seams (known as the chaak), left open below the waist-line, giving the wearer greater freedom of movement.[14]


The kameez can be sewn straight and flat, in an "A" shape design[15] or flowing like a dress; there are a variety of styles. Modern kameez styles are more likely to have European-inspired set-in sleeves. If the tailor's taste or skill is displayed, this will be seen in the shape of the neckline and the decoration of the kameez. The kameez may be cut with a deep neckline, sewn in diaphanous fabrics, or styled in cap-sleeve or sleeveless designs.

There are many styles of shalwar: the Peshawari shalwar, Balochi shalwar, Sindhi choreno and Punjabi shalwar.

Although various regions of the Indian subcontinent wear the outfit in its various forms, the outfit was originally only popular on a wide scale in Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan[16] and the Punjab region of Indian subcontinent.[17][18][19] However, the shalwar kameez has now become popular across the Indian subcontinent.[20]

Different forms[edit]

The following are some of the styles of shalwar kameez.

Anarkali suit[edit]

The shalwar kameez known as the Anarkali suit is named after the court dancer from Lahore.[21] This suit has a timeless style which has become very popular. It is made up of a long, frock-style top and features a slim fitted bottom. This style of suit links the Indian subcontinent with the women's firaq partug (frock and shalwar) of northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan and to the traditional women's clothing of parts of Central Asia.[22] It also links to the Punjab region, where the Anarkali suit is similar to the anga[23][24] and the Peshwaz worn in Jammu.[25]

Afghanistan suits[edit]

The styles of shalwar kameez worn in Afghanistan include the khet partug,[26] perahan tunban and Firaq partug.[27] The shalwar tends to be loose and rests above the ankles.[28]

Pashtun suits[edit]

As a chiefly rural and nomadic population, the Pashtun dress is typically made from light linens, and the garments are loose fitting for ease of movement. The Pashtun dress includes local forms of the shalwar kameez, which are differently made for males and females.

The traditional male dress includes the khet partug and perahan wa tunban. Males usually wear a kufi, Peshawari cap, turban, sindhi cap or pakul as traditional headgear.

The traditional female dress is the firaq partūg. Women typically wear solid-coloured trousers, a long kamīs shirt with a belt. Sometimes they wear an encompassing burqa over this outfit or a tsādar on their head.[29]

Peshawari shalwar suit[edit]

The traditional dress of Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, is the khalqa (gown) which opens at the front,[30] or shirt which does not open at the front,[31] and the Peshawari shalwar which is very loose down to the ankles.[32] The Peshawari shalwar can be used with a number of upper garments and is part of the clothing of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.[33]

Balochi suits[edit]

Men's Balochi suit[edit]

The clothing of Balochistan, Pakistan includes the shalwar kameez which when worn by males consists of a very baggy shalwar[34] using large lengths of cloth.[35] The kameez is also loose,[36] and traditionally is long, with long sleeves.[37] The Balochi shalwar kameez is similar to the styles worn in Afghanistan. The present Balochi shalwar kameez replaced the earlier version which consisted of a robe to the ankles and a shalwar using cloth of up to 40 yards.

Women's Balochi suit[edit]

The female Balochi suit consists of the head scarf, long dress and a shalwar.

Phiran, poots and shalwar[edit]

In Kashmir, the outfit consists of the phiran, poots and shalwar.[38]

Punjabi suits[edit]

The traditional shalwar kameez worn in the Punjab region is cut differently to the styles worn in Balochistan and Afghanistan and is known as a "Punjabi suit"[39][40] with the kameez being cut straight and flat with side slits[41] (which is a local development as earlier forms of kameez did not have side slits).[42] The shalwar is wide at the top but fits closely to the legs and is gathered at the ankles.[43] The Punjabi shalwar is also cut straight and gathered at the ankles with a loose band reinforced with coarse material. In rural Punjab, the shalwar is still called the suthan, which is a different garment that was popular in previous centuries,[44] alongside the churidar and kameez combination (which is still popular).[45] In Britain,[46][47] British Asian women from the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent have brought the dress to the mainstream, and even high-fashion,[48] appeal.[49] The Punjabi suit is popular in other regions of the Indian subcontinent,[50][51][52] such as Mumbai and Sindh.[53] The popularity of Punjabi suits in India was extentuated during the 1960s through Hindi cinema.[54] Punjabi suits are also popular among young women in Bangladesh[55] and are especially popular amongst school girls in India.[56] The outfit is also popular in Afghanistan,[57] where it is called the Punjabi.[58][59][60]

Patiala salwar[edit]

The modern Punjabi shalwar kameez is the Patiala salwar which has many folds and originates in the city of Patiala.

Pothohari suit[edit]

Another style of the Punjabi suit is the use of the shalwar which hails from the Pothohar region of Punjab, Pakistan and is known as the Pothohari shalwar.[45] The Pothohari shalwar retains the wideness of the older Punjabi suthan and also has some folds. The kameez is also wide. The head scarf is traditionally large,[61] similar to the chador or phulkari that was used throughout the plains of the Punjab region.[45]

Saraiki shalwar suits[edit]

Saraiki shalwar suits are Punjabi outfits which include the Bahawalpuri shalwar suit and the Multani shalwar suit.

Bahawalpuri shalwar suit[edit]

The Bahawalpuri shalwar[62] originates from the Bahawalpur region of Punjab, Pakistan. The Bahawalpuri shalwar is very wide and baggy[63] with many voluminous folds.[64] The material traditionally used for the Bahawalpuri shalwar and suthan is known as Sufi which is a mixture of cotton warp mixed with silk weft and gold threads running down the material.[65] The other name for these types of mixed cloth is shuja khani.[66] The Bahawalpuri shalwar is worn with the Bahawalpur style kameez, the Punjabi kurta or chola.[67]

Multani shalwar suit[edit]

The Multani shalwar, also known as the 'ghaire wali' or 'Saraiki ghaire wali' shalwar as it is very wide around the waist, originates from the Multan area of the Punjab region. The style is similar to the Sindhi kancha shalwar as both are derivatives of the pantaloon shalwar worn in Iraq[69] and adopted in these locations during the 7th century A.D.[70][71][72] The Multani shalwar is very wide, baggy,[73] and full, and has folds like the Punjabi suthan.[74] The upper garments include the Punjabi kameez and the chola of the Punjab region.[75]

Suthan and kurta suit[edit]

An older variety of shalwar kameez of the Punjab region is the Punjabi suthan[76] and kurta suit. The Punjabi suthan is a local variation of the ancient svasthana tight fitting trousers which have been used in the Punjab region since the ancient period[77][78] and were worn with the tunic called varbana[79] which was tight fitting.

The Punjabi suthan is arranged in plaits and uses large amounts of material (traditionally coloured cotton with vertical silk lines, called sussi)[80] of up to 20 yards hanging in many folds.[81] The suthan ends at the ankles with a tight band[82][83] which distinguishes the suthan from a shalwar.[45] The modern equivalent of the loose Punjabi suthan are the cowl pants and dhoti shalwars which have many folds.

Some versions of the Punjabi suthan tighten from the knees down to the ankles (a remnant of the svasthana). If a tight band is not used, the ends of the suthan fit closely around the ankles. The Jodhpuri breeches devised during the 1870s by Sir Pratap Singh of Jodhpur[84] offer a striking slim line resemblance to the centuries-old tight Punjabi suthan, although the churidar is cited as its source.[85][86] The tight pantaloon style suthan was popular with the Indian Cavalry during the 19th and early 20th centurie; they were dyed in Multani mutti or mitti (clay/fuller's earth), which gave the garments a yellow colour.[87]

The kurta is a remnant of the 11th century female kurtaka which was a shirt extending to the middle of the body with side slits[88] worn in parts of north India[89] which has remained a traditional garment for women in Punjab,[90] albeit longer than the kurtaka. The suthan was traditionally worn with a long kurta but can also be worn with a short kurti or frocks. Modern versions of the kurta can be knee length. The head scarf is also traditionally long but again, modern versions are shorter.

Dogri kurta and suthan[edit]

The outfit in Jammu is the Dogri kurta and suthan.[91] When the tight part of the suthan, up to the knees, has multiple close fitting folds, the suthan is referred to as Dogri pants[92] or suthan, in Jammu, and churidar suthan in the Punjab region[93] and Himachal Pradesh.

Sindhi suits[edit]

Sindhi kancha shalwar suit[edit]

The traditional Sindhi shalwar,[95] also called kancha,[96] are wide pantaloons[97] which are wide down the legs and are also wide at the ankles.[96] The Sindhi shalwar is plaited at the waist.[98] The kancha shalwar is traditionally worn with either the Sindhi cholo (blouse) by women, or a knee length robe which flares out, by men.

Sindhi suthan suits[edit]

The other styles of shalwar kameez are female Sindhi suthan and cholo and male Sindhi suthan and angelo.[99]

Related outfits from the Indian subcontinent[edit]

Gujarati kediyu and chorno suit[edit]

The men in the rural coastal parts of western Gujarat, including Junagadh district, wear the kediyu and chorno outfit.[100] The kediyu is a long sleeved upper garment, pleated at the chest, which reaches to the waist.[101][102] The prints on the kediyu include bandhani designs which are local to Gujarat and Rajasthan.[103] The chorno, also called kafni, refers to the pantaloons which are wide[97] and tied loosely at the ankles, and is based on the styles worn in Iraq which were introduced to the coastal region during the 7th century[104] by traders.[105] The chorno/surwal can also be worn with a jama.

Nepali daura suruwal suit[edit]

In Nepal, the traditional male dress, which is also the national dress, is the Nepali shirt called daura[106] and suruwal (Nepali: दौरा सुरूवाल)[107] or daura-suruwal suit. The upper garment is the long Nepali shirt, which is similar to the Guajarati kediyu, but does not have the pleats going across the chest, but has cross-tied flaps.[108] The daura is a modification of the upper garments worn in Rajasthan.[109]

The Nepali suruwa/suruwal is a combination of the churidar[110][111] and the lower garment worn in the coastal regions of Gujarat, especially Saurashtra and Kutch where the garment is also called suruwal[17] (and chorno/kafni). It is tight along the legs but wide at the hips.[112] However, the suruwa fits comfortably around the legs so that it can be tapered tightly around the ankles.[113]

See also[edit]


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