The Salwar Kameez today has a very rich history
Salwar Kameez is one of the most popular South Asian apparel worn by women. It is a suit made up of three items of clothing, the Salwar which is the trouser part; Kameez which is a long tunic worn over the Salwar, and a Duppata. Chunni or Shawl which is a long piece of fabric which may be worn around the head, draped over the chest or over both shoulders to complete the suit.
The Salwar is usually loose flowing which narrows at the ankles. The waist is purposely made much wider than the waist of the wearer and it gathers at the hip. A draw string is tied or an elastic is used to adjust it to different waist sizes.
The Kameez is a long tunic top with slits on the sides. The length of the Kameez varies depending on the style. Some Kameez styles are tight fitting at the top part down to the waist and then are loose.
Salwar Kameez is a dress sense highly associated with the North of India, Pakistan Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Especially, the Punjab region of India, where women commonly wear this outfit, commonly called a ‘Punjabi suit.’
However, its origins goes back to the Mongol era and was once considered as a Muslim Dress. The Timurids (Muslim Dynasty of Turko Mongols) who invaded the northern part of the subcontinent in the 12th century brought with them their traditional nomadic attire with its Persian and Turk Mongol influences. The descendants of the Timurids established the Mughal Empire (derived from Mogulistan or Land of Mongols – AD 1526-AD 1857). The Mughal rule is considered a ‘golden age’ of textile crafts in the Indian subcontinent.
In the history of the textiles, the Salwar Kameez has a definitive place. It traces as far back as 400 CE when the Indian subcontinent was invaded and rules by central Asians. There is also a Persian connection with the garment. Influence of Persian styles on textiles and clothing in India trace back to the Kushan dynasty (001 AD). Coinage and stone palettes found from the Indo-Scythian/Parthian period, show Greek and Persian influences in Indian clothing.
During the Mughal era, women’s dress of the empire consisted of close fitting trousers paired with a bodice (called Angharakha or Kameez) that came down to the end of the Salwar and worn with a half-sleeved embroidered open Jacket with a delicate transparent Shawl (called Paramnarm meaning extremely soft) draped like a sari.
Salwar Kameez is worn by men too. Especially, those who follow religious values and those who look for comfort and freedom of movement. The men’s designs are very different from women. Men’s Salwar Kameez is also known as Kurta Salwar or Kurta Pajama. Salwar is a loose flowing trousers narrowing down to the ankle with a draw string at waist to adjust to different waist sizes. The Pajama is similar to the salwar at the top but is more of a ‘drain pipe’ and tighter design along the legs. Kurta for men is straight cut long shirt/tunic with slits at sides to facilitate easy movement and is worn over the Salwar or Pajama.
Like all clothes, the Salwar Kameez has also transformed with time to suit the current day demand of the modern South Asian women.
The fashion industry has converted the Salwar Kameez from a regional court garment to the national urban outfit for women.
The cut of the Salwar Kameez has changed with fashion trends. It’s been fused with various traditional combinations like the Laccha , Gharara, Sharara, Ghagra Choli etc. Contemporary styles have been developed such as ‘Trouser Suits’ – trousers with outside hem slits have replaced the traditional Salwar and the Kameez is cut shorter and more fitted, and the Dupatta is no longer worn with many of the contemporary styles. Even with the changes in time it still remains an outfit that projects comfort and elegance.
The Salwar Kameez today has a very rich history and is an adaptation of the clothing from the Mughal era.
There are many different styles and designs of the Salwar Kameez for women. Fabrics used for Salwar Kameez include Cotton, Silks, Muslins, Brocades, Velvets, Organzas, Wool broadcloth; the patterns include, Block-printed, Kalamkari, Ikkat, Patola, Deccan himroo, Batik, Bandhani, Leheriya, Khadi; the types of embroidery include, Applique or Phoolpatti, Bagh, Badla, Abhla or Shisha, Resham, Sitara, Jaali, Tambour, Zardozi, Zari, Aari, Phulkari, Chikankari, Kashmiri kashida, Soof, Gota, Ahir, Kantha, Katiawari, Kutchi, Sindhi, Sozani or Dorukha, and the popular styles of today include the following:
- Punjabi – Consists of a loose fitting Salwar, straight cut Kameez and a long scarf called Dupatta or Chunni.
- Churidar – A semi fitted snug ruffled Salwar or narrow Salwar worn with dress-like Kameez and Duppata.
- Patiala Style – A very baggy Salwar, regular Kameez and matching Dupatta.
- Trouser Suits – A short Kameez called Kurti and paired with narrow straight cut Salwar.
- Anarkali – A Kameez with snug empire waist bodice with a panelled and flared skirt piece attached to it and paired with Churidar style or Salwar style trousers.
- Afghani – A multi panelled Kzmeez that looks like a Chador paired with very baggy Salwar which has an embroidered cuff called ‘ponchay’ at the ankles and looks like harem pants.
- Anghrakha Style – Kameez has an overlapped front in its bodice often worn with Cchuridar style trousers and transparent Duppata.
- Ready to Wear – Salwar Kameez made in standard measurements which can be mixed and matched. The 3 parts of the outfit can be mixed and matched to achieve fashionable combinations.
The Salwar Kameez is hugely popular in the fashion scene around the world today. Western designers are taking inspiration from the Indian and Pakistani Salwar Kameez styles for their hybrid designs. Non-ethnic women are wearing the contemporary styles and Western stores are stocking them to attract customers looking for comfort and style.
The Salwar Kameez, an outfit with strong roots from South Asia has survived the changes in time and fashion by maintaining a firm position in the wardrobe of many generations of South Asians both in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and abroad.
Check out our gallery of photos showing you the various fantastic styles of Salwar Kameez available. Hover your cursor over the ‘Gallery’ at the top to scroll through the photos and click on an image to view, or use the left and right arrows.