is the traditional dress worn by various peoples of south-central Asia.
It is the national dress for both men and women in Pakistan and Afghanistan
(where they say "shalwar" instead of "salwar"). It is also popular among
women in India. Some versions are sometimes called a Punjabi suit, after
the Indus valley area called the Punjab
The salwar kameez, or salwar suit, consists of a
and salwar (trousers).
Salwar are a sort of loose
trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the bottom. The legs
are pleated or gathered into a waistband. There is a drawstring at the top
of the waistband to hold up the salwar. The pants can be wide and baggy,
or they can be cut quite narrow, on the bias. In the latter case, they are
known as churidar.
The kameez is a long shirt or tunic. The side
seams (known as the chaak) are left open below the navel, which gives the
wearer greater freedom of movement. The word
kameez is derived
from the Latin camisia
from which it probably made its way into various European languages (see
and also into Arabic, the likely immediate source for
kameez. The kameez
is usually cut straight and flat; older kameez use traditional cuts, as
shown in the illustration; 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
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
For 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 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.
History of the salwar suit
It is believed to originate with the Turko-Iranian
horse riding steppe peoples of Central Asia. A number of these tribes converted
to Islam. Starting in the 12th century, a series of raids and invasions
established Islamic Turko-Iranian rule -- the Delhi sultanate and later
the Moghul empire, over much of what is now northern India and Pakistan.
Fashion followed rule, and the salwar suit become popular throughout the
area. It now has no association with Islam, being worn by women of many
religions. However, the dupatta, or veil, worn by many women as an accessory,
can be used both as a form of Islamic head covering, as
and as a religious requirement by Hindu women, who cover their heads in
temples and in the presence of elders.
Purchasing or sewing salwar kameez
In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, one simply visits
the local tailor and has a salwar suit made to order. Overseas Asians and
interested Westerners can order custom suits over the net (through eBay
and other websites). One selects the fabric, indicates the style features
desired (type of pants, neckline style, embroidery or other decoration desired,
type of sleeves, length of tunic, etc.), pays, and fills out a measurement
form. The prices range from under $20 to over $600. There are also South
Asian clothing stores in many larger Western cities. Some ethnic and historic
sewing pattern companies sell patterns for salwar kameez, salwar, churidar,
kameez, and kurta, to be purchased at fabric stores or over the net.
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