Shalwar kameez, also spelled salwar kameez or shalwar qameez, is a traditional outfit originating in the Indian subcontinent. It is a generic term used to describe different styles of dress. The shalwar kameez can be worn by both men and women, but styles differ by gender. The shalwar (pantaloons/drawers) and the kameez (body shirt) are two garments which are combined to form the shalwar kameez.
Etymology and history
The shalwar (Persian: شلوار) (Urdu: شلوار, translit. shalwar); šalvār (Turkish: şalvar) (Punjabi: ਸਲਵਾਰ also pronounced salwar); sirwāl (Arabic: سروال); salwar (Bengali সালোয়ার); selwar (Sylheti); shalvaar (Gujarati શલવાર) (Hindi शलवार) are a form of baggy trousers.
Shalwar (with Kabuli sandals)
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.
The kameez or qamis is a shirt of varying length. Garments cut like the 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to Dorothy Burnham, of the Royal Ontario Museum, the "seamless shirt," woven in one piece on warp-weighted looms, was superseded in early Roman times by cloth woven on vertical looms and carefully pieced so as not to waste any cloth. 10th-century cotton shirts recovered from the Egyptian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 kameez or the contemporary Egyptian djellaba or jellabiya. The word kameez is originally an Arabic word and is therefore also spelled with a Q, as in qameez or qamis.
Shalwar kameez, from Max Tilke's Oriental Costume, 1922
Children in shalwar kameez
Schoolgirls in shalwar kameez and headscarves, Abbotabad, Pakistan
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.
The kameez can be sewn straight and flat, in an "A" shape design 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 South Asia wear the outfit in its various forms, the outfit was originally only popular on a wide scale in Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the Punjab region of Pakistan and India However, the shalwar kameez has now become popular across South Asia.
Different forms of shalwar kameez
The following are some of the styles of shalwar kameez.
The shalwar kameez known as the Anarkali suit is named after the court dancer from Lahore. 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 South Asia 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. It also links to the Punjab region, where the Anarkali suit is similar to the anga and the Peshwaz worn in Jammu.
Priyanka Chopra modeling an Anarkali suit
Perahan tunban worn by most Pashtun males in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Man in Afghan clothing: perahan tunban
Afghan kids wearing traditional clothes in Kabul
Men wearing perahan tunban, a form of shalwar kameez at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan
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 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.
Peshawari shalwar suit
The traditional dress of Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, is the khalqa (gown) which opens at the front, or shirt which does not open at the front, and the Peshawari shalwar which is very loose down to the ankles. The Peshawari shalwar can be used with a number of upper garments and is part of the clothing of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Men's Balochi suit
The clothing of Balochistan, Pakistan includes the shalwar kameez which when worn by males consists of a very baggy shalwar using large lengths of cloth. The kameez is also loose, and traditionally is long, with long sleeves. 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.
Balochi male shalwar kameez, Quetta, 1867
Traditional Balochi suits
Tribal elders, April 1896
Women's Balochi suit
The female Balochi suit consists of the head scarf, long dress and a shalwar.
Balochi traditional dress
Traditional Balochi dresses
Phiran, poots and shalwar
Left and right: phiran shalwar; centre: Punjabi suits
A man from Srinagar wearing phiran
Kashmiri women in traditional long phiran 1870
Kashmiri Pandits in phiran and pajama
Men in Kashmiri phiran and poots, 1875
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" with the kameez being cut straight and flat with side slits (which is a local development as earlier forms of kameez did not have side slits). The shalwar is wide at the top but fits closely to the legs and is gathered at the ankles. 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, alongside the churidar and kameez combination (which is still popular). In Britain, South Asian women from the Punjab region have brought the dress to the mainstream, and even high-fashion, appeal. The Punjabi suit is popular in other regions of South Asia, such as Mumbai and Sindh. Punjabi suits are also popular among young women in Bangladesh and are especially popular amongst school girls in India. The outfit is also popular in Afghanistan, where it is called the Punjabi.
Punjabi Shalwar kameez
Women in Punjabi suits
Miss Pooja of the Punjab region in a Punjabi suit
Men's Punjabi Shalwaar qamiz
Girls arriving at school, Jammu, ca.1875-ca.1940
Women in ornate shalwars
Rohi (Cholistan) woman's bandhani dress (Punjab, Pakistan)
First Punjabi Wikipedia Workshop: women in Punjabi suits
School girls wearing Patiala salwar suits
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. 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, similar to the chador or phulkari that was used throughout the plains of the Punjab region.
Saraiki shalwar suits
Saraiki shalwar suits are Punjabi outfits which include the Bahawalpuri shalwar suit and the Multani shalwar suit.
Bahawalpuri shalwar suit
The Bahawalpuri shalwar originates from the Bahawalpur region of Punjab, Pakistan. The Bahawalpuri shalwar is very wide and baggy with many voluminous folds. 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. The other name for these types of mixed cloth is shuja khani. The Bahawalpuri shalwar is worn with the Bahawalpur style kameez, the Punjabi kurta or chola.
Nawab Muhammad of Bahawalpur (1868-1900) wearing a loose Bahawalpuri shalwar
Prince Suba Sadiq Abbasi, Bahawalpur
Nawab Sadiq Khan Fifth (died 1966) in the Bahawalpuri shalwar
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Multani shalwar suit
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 and adopted in these locations during the 7th century A.D. The Multani shalwar is very wide, baggy, and full, and has folds like the Punjabi suthan. The upper garments include the Punjabi kameez and the chola of the Punjab region.
Cholistani Saraiki chola
Suthan and kurta suit
An older variety of shalwar kameez of the Punjab region is the Punjabi suthan 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 and were worn with the tunic called varbana 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) of up to 20 yards hanging in many folds. The suthan ends at the ankles with a tight band which distinguishes the suthan from a shalwar. 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 offer a striking slim line resemblance to the centuries-old tight Punjabi suthan, although the churidar is cited as its source. 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.
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 worn in parts of north India which has remained a traditional garment for women in Punjab, 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.
19th-century Punjabi suthan suit worn by the lady on the right
Women in Punjabi suthan 1890
Woman on left in loose Punjabi suthan suit
Punjabi woman in Punjabi suthan and short kurta, 1874
Ancient svasthana and varbana outfit worn during the Gupta Empire, the basis of the Punjabi suthan suit
Men in tight Punjabi suthan, 1893
The Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi V Bahadur (1883–1907) of Bahawalpur State in suthan
Bertrand Blanchard Acosta in jodhpurs and goggles
Dogri kurta and suthan
The outfit in Jammu is the Dogri kurta and suthan. When the tight part of the suthan, up to the knees, has multiple close fitting folds, the suthan is referred to as Dogri pants or suthan, in Jammu, and churidar suthan in the Punjab region and Himachal Pradesh.
Men and boys wearing a knee length variation of the Punjabi ghuttana and Dogri kurta. The full suthan is tight from the knees to the ankles, associated with the Punjab region.
Punjab Hills 1895, Kulu woman in churidar suthan, Himachal Pradesh
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Sindhi kancha shalwar suit
The traditional Sindhi shalwar, also called kancha, are wide pantaloons which are wide down the legs and are also wide at the ankles. The Sindhi shalwar is plaited at the waist. The kancha shalwar is traditionally worn with either the Sindhi cholo (blouse) by women, or a knee length robe which flares out, by men.
Man in Sindhi traditional Kancha shalwar.
Girl from Karachi, Sindh, in a shalwar and blouse. c. 1870. Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library
Man in Sindhi long angerkho(1845)
Woman, in Sind, British India, in Sindhi slim kancha shalwar
Sindhi suthan suits
Related South Asian outfits
Gujarati kediyu and chorno suit
The men in the rural coastal parts of western Gujarat, including Junagadh district, wear the kediyu and chorno outfit. The kediyu is a long sleeved upper garment, pleated at the chest, which reaches to the waist. The prints on the kediyu include bandhani designs which are local to Gujarat and Rajasthan. The chorno, also called kafni, refers to the pantaloons which are wide 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 by traders. The chorno/surwal can also be worn with a jama.
India (Gujarat), man's kediyu suruwal, Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum
Man on the left in jama and chorno (jama/suruwal)
Gujarati men in kediyu
Bandhani print open
Nepali daura suruwal suit
In Nepal, the traditional male dress, which is also the national dress, is the Nepali shirt called daura and suruwal (Nepali: दौरा सुरूवाल) 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. The daura is a modification of the upper garments worn in Rajasthan.
The Nepali suruwa/suruwal is a combination of the churidar and the lower garment worn in the coastal regions of Gujarat, especially Saurashtra and Kutch where the garment is also called suruwal (and chorno/kafni). It is tight along the legs but wide at the hips. However, the suruwa fits comfortably around the legs so that it can be tapered tightly around the ankles.
Photo by by Mahalaxmi Silwal; daura suruwal, Nepal's national male dress
Photo by Mahalaxmi Silwal; man in short daura
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