Fashion World


Salwar kameez (also spelled shalwar kameez and shalwar qamiz) is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. It is sometimes known as Punjabi suit due to its popularity in the Punjab region and the Pathani suit, due to the fact that the Pathans of Kabul introduced the dress to the rest of South Asia.

Salwars or shalwars are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the bottom. The kameez is a long shirt or tunic. The side seams (known as the chaak) are left open below the waist-line, which gives the wearer greater freedom of movement. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is the preferred garment of both sexes. In Bangladesh and India, it is most commonly a woman's garment. Though the majority of Indian women wear traditional clothing, the men in India can be found in more conventional western clothing. Shalwar kameez is the traditional dress worn by various peoples of south-central Asia. In India and Pakistan it is an especially popular style of dress. Shalwar or Salwar is a short loose or parallel trouser . It can also be narrow which is called churidar or boot cut.


Salwars are pleated at the waist and held up by a drawstring or an elastic belt. The pants can be wide and baggy, or they can be quite narrow and made of fabric cut on the bias. In the latter case, they are known as churidars. 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 the kameez.

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 hijab and purdah). 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.

Modern versions of the feminine salwar kameez can be much less modest than traditional versions. The kameez may be cut with a plunging neckline, sewn in diaphanous fabrics, or styled in sleeveless or cap-sleeve designs. The kameez side seams may be split high up to the waistline and, it may be worn with the salwar slung low on the hips. When women wear semi-transparent kameez (mostly as a party dress), they wear a choli or a cropped camisole underneath it.

 Etymology and history

The pants, or salwar, are known as shalwar in Punjabi: ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ਼, salwaar or shalwaar શલવાર કમીઝ in Gujarati, and shalwar in Urdu: شلوار قمیض. The word comes from the Persian: شلوار, meaning pants, ultimately from Arabic سروال, note the inversion of the letters ل and ر which has happened in the adaptation process.

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:

  1. that Arabic qamis is derived from the Latin camisia (shirt), which in its turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European kem
  2. that Mediaeval Latin camisia is a borrowing through Late Classical Greek kamision from the Central Semitic root “qmṣ”, represented by Ugaritic qmṣ (‘garment’) and Arabic qamīṣ (‘shirt’).

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. In India, the costume originated in Punjab, but is now popular in all of Urban India.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the founders of Pakistan, in shalwar and sherwani, with his sister Fatima Jinnah, in shalwar qamiz.  Picture taken in 1947.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the founders of Pakistan, in shalwar and sherwani, with his sister Fatima Jinnah, in shalwar qamiz. Picture taken in 1947.

Wide legged pants with drawstring were worn in many areas ruled by Turko-Iranian horse riding steppe peoples of Central Asia. The Ottoman empire was ruled by Turks; many Iranian dynasties, including the recent Qajar dynasty, were of Turkic origin. Their characteristic clothing became court dress and eventually popular dress. Their wide-legged pants have been called Turko-Mongol and Turco-Persian.This style is still worn in contemporary Turkey and Iran.

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. The new rulers wore the kameez and the characteristic Turkish pants, which were called salwars or shalwars. Again, fashion followed rule and the salwar suit became popular throughout the area.

National dress

The apparel is commonly worn by both men and women in all parts of Pakistan and is colloquially referred to as 'awami suit' which translates as 'dress of the public'. The Pakistani government has also requested government officials and diplomats to wear it along with the sherwani and Jinnah cap when they are acting in their official capacity. For these reasons it is described as the national dress of Pakistan. Pakistanis prefer to transliterate the term as shalwar qamiz.

It has also been described by some as the national dress of Afghanistan, though the Afghan government has not itself made such a declaration.

English spelling

Transliterations starting from Hindi often render the sibilant sound at the start of salwar/shalwar as an "s". Transliterations starting from Urdu usually 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. There are variations of Salwar Kameez where it is called salwar suit or Indo western suit sometimes.

Other Hindi-Urdu words starting with sibilants exhibit the same variability. See, for instance, the Hindu god Shiva, also frequently rendered as Siva, or the honorific Shri or Sri. Another example would be Shimla, which is pronounced as Simla by some Hindi speakers.

 Purchasing or sewing shalwar kameez

A man's salwar held up to display amount of material needed.
A man's salwar held up to display amount of material needed.
Salwar (with Kabuli sandals) as worn in South and Central Asia.
Salwar (with Kabuli sandals) as worn in South and Central Asia.

In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan 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 internet (through online 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 $10 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, churidar, kameez, and kurta, to be purchased at fabric stores or over the net.

Types of salwar kameez

Indo-western salwar kameez:

The fusion of styles in  clothing and western clothing resulted in Indo western salwar kameez. These lady’s salwar kameez suits are specially designed to give western look with Indian tradition. A western salwar kameez suit may have a sleeveless top and a salwar. western salwar kameez suits also come in spaghetti straps instead of sleeves.

Designers have pioneered the concept of blending ethnic ethos and international trends to give a modern and trendy look to contemporary Indian women

The cliché that dressing is done to please others has become passé. Today's generation wears clothes to please themselves. Even designers belonging to the younger breed carry the same chip on their shoulder. "Designer inspiration varies with attitude and the 'in thing.' Detailing is important. Today's generation wants to show off their body without appearing obscene," .

Casual wear salwar kameez:

The casual salwar kameez are wonderfully comfortable, ideal for the long hot Indian summer.  Available in designs ranging from ethnic chic to traditional, to modern prints, in a wide range of fabrics. Many kurtas are free size, and with their flowing lines, are wonderfully flattering for the fuller figure. Women of all sizes can wear these outfits with confidence, knowing they will turn heads everywhere they go.   

Cotton is the best salwar kameez as casual wear. They are cool, flowing and elegant. Fancy shalwar kameez are suitable for any occasion, casual or formal.

Traditional salwar kameez are the ideal dress for going to temples, birthday parties, and eveningwear, while working at home or office.

 Party wear salwar kameez:

Party wear salwar kameez are made up of a silk, satin, crepe and georgette fabrics, can be worn on festivals or other celebrations. Feminine and graceful, the Indian Party wear salwar kameez is decorated with embroidery and mirror work. The dupatta is also in festive colors and has gorgeous embroidery.

Indian Party wear salwar kameez suits come in many different styles. People prefer Party wear salwar kameez in silk, satin, crepe and georgette fabric embroidered with as many as eighty panels with ornate embroidery and mirror work.   Many could afford more intricate brocade, tanchoi and heavy satins even with real gold and silver embroidery, studded with precious stones.

Embroidery beautifies salwar kameez. Embroidery, like every other art form, needs to be understood to be fully appreciated and enjoyed. Insight of the principles not only creates the urge to "paint" with needle and thread but also gives one the knowledge that enables a more keen perception of the old masterpieces as well as modern day pieces. There are no fix shapes and sizes of embroidery. It may vary from inches to feet.

Printed salwar kameez:

Indian salwar kameez suit is one of the most successful evergreen attire of Indian sub-continent.  Indian salwar kameez suits are available in many types. One of the famous types is Printed salwar kameez. Different type of printing is done on fabrics like cotton, crepe and chiffon.  These fabrics are very comfortable for daily use.

Printed salwar kameez looks very pretty. It is not necessary that both salwar and kameez have to be printed. Most time it is the kameez, which is printed, and the salwar is in contrast color. 

Generally printed salwar kameez are available in sets.  The sets consist of kameez, salwar and dupatta.


Kurta churidar:

A churidar is similar to the salwar but is tighter fitting at the hips, thighs and ankles more like leggings. Over this, one might wear a collarless or mandarin collar dress called a kurta.  The churidar is longer than the legs. Their extremes are crinkled and crumpled to fit. Creases thus developed resemble 'churis' or bangles, hence the name churidar kurta. Kurta churidar is very popular in the north especially Punjab hence is it also know as Punjabi suit.

Short kurta pant:

The next innovation to salwar kameez after churidar was the short kurta pant.  With westernization the salwar kameez adapted to fashion changes in the West in terms of cut, length and hemlines. The kurta did sneak up quite a few inches above the knee. And instead of the salwar, pants were worn, making it ideal for office and formal wear.

The short kurtas came in different styles, some embroidered some plain.  The pants came in parallel, capris and bell-bottom styles.

Short kurtas are also called as kurtis

The salwar kameez seems to offer limitless design possibilities.