Salwar kameez

Salwar kameez

Salwar kameez ("also spelled" shalwar kameez or shalwar qameez) is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in Southern Asia. "Salvars" or "shalvars" 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. It is the most common dress for men in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Salwars are gathered 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 Sikh and 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.

The Shalwar kameez is sometimes known as "Punjabi" suit," in Britain [Harvnb|Breidenbach|Pál|Zcaronupanov|2004. Quote: "And in Bubby Mahil’s fashion store in London, white socialites andyoung British Asians shop for the same Punjabi suit...."] and Canada. [Harvnb|Walton-Roberts|Pratt|2005. Quote: "Meena owns a successful textile design and fashion business in the Punjab, designing and selling high-end salwar kameez (Punjabi suits) ..."] In Britain, especially during the last two decades, the garment has been transformed from an everyday garment worn by immigrant South Asian women from the Punjab region to one with mainstream, and even high-fashion, appeal. [Harvnb|Bachu|2004]

In India, the garment was originally confined to the North, but as a convenient and modest alternative to a sari - and also as one that flatters practically any body-type - it has become popular across the nation. By varying the fabric, color and the level of embroidery and decoration, the salwar-kameez can be formal, casual, dressy, or plain; and it can also be made to suit practically all climates.

Etymology and history

Shalwar kameez have been in use for at least 2,000 years. The women from the royal graves found at the site of Tillya Tepe in northwestern Afghanistan, dating from c. early 1st century CE, were wearing shalwar kameez. [Véronica Schiltz. (2008). "Tillya Tepe, the Hill of Gold: A Nomad Necropolis". In: "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum", Kabul, p. 228. National Geographic, Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1-4262-0295-7.]

The pants, or "salvar", are known as salvar in _pa. ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ਼, salvaar or shalvaar શલવાર કમીઝ in Gujarati, salvaar or shalvar शलवार कमीज़ in Hindi, and shalvar in _ur. شلوار قمیض. The word comes from the Persian: شلوار, meaning pants, ultimately from Arabic "sarwal" : 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:
# that Arabic "qamis" is derived from the Latin "camisia" (shirt), which in its turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European "kem" (‘cloak’). [ [ Online Etymology Dictionary: chemise] ]
# that Mediaeval Latin "camisia" is a borrowing through Hellenistic Greek "kamision" from the Central Semitic root “qmṣ”, represented by Ugaritic "qmṣ" (‘garment’) and Arabic "qamīṣ" (‘shirt’). Both of these are related to the Hebrew verb hebrew|קמץ "qmṣ" (‘grip’, ‘enclose with one’s hand’). [ [ The American Heritage Dictionary: qmṣ] ]

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. [Burnham, Dorothy. 1973. "Cut My Cote", Royal Ontario Museum. p. 10.]

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" [Baker, Stephen. 2000 [ "Turko-Mongol Trousers"] . "The Red Kaganate".] and "Turco-Persian". [Mellor, Charles. 2000. [ "Salwar - Turco-Persian Pants"] . "The Red Kaganate".] 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 Pakistan and a small portion of north western India. 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.

English spelling

Transliterations starting from Punjabi often render the sibilant sound at the start of salwar/shalwar as an "s". Transliterations starting from Hindi-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.


Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, in shalwar and sherwani, with his sister Fatima Jinnah, in shalwar qamiz. Picture taken in 1947.
Selçuk, Turkey wearing traditional Turkish trousers similar to a salwar.
Kabul Airport in Afghanistan.

See also

* Kurta
* Churidar
* Sherwani
* Dupatta
* Sari



*Harvard reference|last1=Bachu|first1=Parminder|title=Dangerous Designs: Asian Women Fashion the Diaspora Economies|publisher=London: Routledge. Pp. "xii", 196|year=2004|isbn=0415072212|url=
*Harvard reference|last1=Breidenbach|first1=Joana|last2=Pál|first2=Nyíri|last3=Zcaronupanov|first3=Ines|title=Fashionable Books|journal=Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture|Volume=11|issue=4|year=2004|pp=619-628
*Harvard reference|last1=Walton-Roberts|first1=Margaret|last2=Pratt|first2=Geraldine|title=Mobile Modernities: One South Asian Family Negotiates Immigration, Gender and Class in Canada|journal=Gender, Place and Culture|volume=12|issue=2|year=2005|pp=173-195.

External links

* [ Shalwar Kameez Tips]
* [ The Hindu: The spread of the salwar]
* [ HIMAL South Asian: The Salwar Revolution]
* [ Salwar Kameez: Information, Types, About - Paragraph 26]

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  • Salwar kameez — Drei Frauen in traditionellem Salwar Kamiz in Jaipur Der Salwar Kamiz oder Shalwar Kamiz (Hindi, सलवार क़मीज़ salvār qamīz, auch: शलवार क़मीज śalvār qamīz, Panjabi ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ਼ salvār kamīz, Urdu شلوار قمیض šalwār qamīz, auch in den Schreibungen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • salwar kameez — /salwa kəˈmiz/ (say sahlwah kuh meez) noun a South Asian set of matching garments comprising baggy pants, a long tunic, and scarf. Also, shalwar kameez. {Persian salvar pants + Arabic qamis shirt} …  

  • salwar kameez — noun /ˈsʌlvɒː kəˈmiːs/ an outfit worn in South Asian countries, with its origins in Sindh, by men and women comprising loose trousers and a long shirt …   Wiktionary

  • Salwar — Drei Frauen in traditionellem Salwar Kamiz in Jaipur Der Salwar Kamiz oder Shalwar Kamiz (Hindi, सलवार क़मीज़ salvār qamīz, auch: शलवार क़मीज śalvār qamīz, Panjabi ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ਼ salvār kamīz, Urdu شلوار قمیض šalwār qamīz, auch in den Schreibungen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Salwar Kamiz — Drei Frauen in traditionellem Salwar Kamiz in Jaipur Der Salwar Kamiz oder Shalwar Kamiz (Hindi, सलवार क़मीज़ salvār qamīz, auch: शलवार क़मीज śalvār qamīz, Panjabi ਸਲਵਾਰ ਕਮੀਜ਼ salvār kamīz, Urdu شلوار قمیض šalwār qamīz, auch in den Sch …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • kameez — /kəˈmiz/ (say kuh meez) noun (plural kameezes) the top part of a salwar kameez, typically with short sleeves. Also, kamiz …  

  • kameez — UK [kəˈmiːz] / US [kəˈmɪz] noun [countable] Word forms kameez : singular kameez plural kameezes Indian English a piece of clothing like a long shirt, worn especially by people in South Asia, and often worn with a salwar …   English dictionary

  • salwar — [sʌl wα:] (also shalwar) noun a pair of light, loose, pleated trousers tapering to a tight fit around the ankles, worn by women from the Indian subcontinent, typically with a kameez. Origin from Pers. and Urdu šalwār …   English new terms dictionary

  • salwar — noun a pair of light loose trousers with a tight fit around the ankles; worn by women from the Indian subcontinent (usually with a kameez) • Syn: ↑shalwar • Hypernyms: ↑trouser, ↑pant * * * salwar var. shalwar …   Useful english dictionary

  • salwar — noun Loose trousers worn by men and women in South Asia; often worn with a kameez …   Wiktionary

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