Men’s Salwar Kameez is also known as Salwar Kurta. Salwar a loose flowing Pants/ Trousers narrowing down to the ankle with a draw string at waist to adjust to different waist sizes. Kurta for men is straight cut long shirt/ tunic with slits at sides to facilitate easy movement, is worn over the Salwar.
Women’s Salwar Kameez Suit consists of Salwar, Kameez and Dupatta.
Shalwar is a loose flowing pants narrowing down to the ankle. It has a wide band measuring about 7-8 inches from waist to hips with gathers that at the hip line. A draw string at waist or elastic band helps to adjust to different waist sizes.
Dupatta or Shawl, is a long piece of complimentary rectangular fabric measuring 2 to 2.5 meters draped over the chest, or drawn over the shoulder and draped around the head completes the suit.
Salwar Kameez: From the Royal Mughal Courts to the Fashion Runway
by Azmy Hussain
Salwar Kameez is emerging as one of the most popular costume in the fashion scene all over the world. Many western designers are taking inspiration from the Indian and Pakistani Shalwar Khameez.
The Shalwar Kameez has a very significant place in the History of theTextiles and traces its roots back to the invasion and subsequent rule of the Indian subcontinent by central Asians as far back as 400 CE. Evidence of Persian influence on Textiles and Clothing in India can be traced to the Kushan Empire (001 AD). Coinage and stone palettes found from the Indo-Scythian/Parthian period show Greek and Persian influences in clothing. The palettes depict people dressed in caps or head-bands, ruched long sleevedTunics, calf-length Coats worn loose crossed-over from right to left and secured with leather or metal belt and baggy trousers.
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 Emperors are renowned for their impassioned interest in painting, architecture, jewellery making literature and poetry, textiles. Textiles flourished remarkably under the Mughals. Various techniques of weaving, crinkling, dying, patterning and embroidery were developed and encouraged. Interestingly, each emperor maintained his own contemporary style of dressing in court and otherwise.
Badshah Babur who laid the foundation for the empire came from the cooler climate of Samarkand, retained the costumes of his homeland. The most popular Garments in his period were a long Coat called Chafan and a sheep-skin Overcoat called Postin worn with Pajama-like trousers. His son, Humayun introduced Persian elements in the court costumes. A patron of arts and painting and passionately interested in astronomy, he is said to have sought the help of planetary movements in choosing what to wear. He also maintained a special treasure house in his palace to accommodate Textiles and Garments.
Humayun’s successor Jalaluddin Akbar led the empire to its classic and most flourishing period inhistory. This Classic period saw the spread of the empire from the north to most areas of the Indian subcontinent. His reign encouraged a synthesis of Persian and Indian styles in everything from architecture to clothing. This led to the flowering of classical forms, styles and shapes that later became an integral part of Indian Dress Design. Akbar took the initiative of introducing local textiles, which were best suited to the hot climate of the region. He commissioned workshops for carpet making, textile design and was devoted himself to making haberdashery which he considered a pleasant pastime! He himself took interest in the fashioning of Court Dresses and introduced the Chakdar Jamah to his court, which is a cross over Tunic, with slits around the skirt and an asymmetrical hemline. The men dressed in a Tunic called Jamah and was worn with close fitting Pajama trousers called Izar and later known as Shalwar. Although it was in fashion in India since medieval times, Akbar restyled the garment and developed it into a formal gown by removing slits, rounding the hemline and increasing the fullness of the Skirt. The Tunic was tightened at the waist by a belt of fabric with tassels called Patka. The Jamah which was knee long in the beginning, reached up to the ankles (referred to as Sarbgati meaning that which covers the entire body) in the later Mughal days. The women’s Dress of the empire consisted of close fitting trousers paired with a bodice (a variation of Jamah called Angharakha or Qameez) that came down to the end of the Shalwar and worn with a half-sleeved embroidered open Jacket with a delicate transparent Shawl(called Paramnarm meaning extremely soft) draped like a sari.
During subsequent reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb the royal garments became more decorated with heavy embellishments of floral designs. Motifs were outlined with gold thread coupled with ‘Pietra-dura’ effect of the precious stones. Block printing and the art of Kalamkari (meaning pen work) were rejuvenated with Persian influences of Persian flower motifs and designs by the 17th century.
The Mughal rule is considered a ‘golden age’ of textile crafts in the Sub-continent. By the seventeenth century, Jamah, Chogha(cape) and Anghrakha remained the height of fashion along with accessories for men such as the Atamsukh (a long, loose garment worn like an overcoat in winters), Turban (the style of tying the turban varied according to social status), Patka, Jutis (shoes) and Farji (kind of a coat) etc. The precursor of the current Cummerband was another popular piece of clothing (called Kamarbandh meaning waistband) worn as girdle or waistcoat by both men and women to enhance the bust-line. The court Garments of era were marked by intricate patterning of clothing and delicate handmade embellishments.
The form of dressing followed by Indian classical Kathak dancers is a near accurate portrayal of the styles of clothing in the Mughal period and shows vividly the influences in the fashion world in the Indian subcontinent today.
The present day Salwar Kameez in its various styles is an adaptation of the clothing of Mughal era. The different fabrics (Silks, Cotton Muslins, Brocades, Velvets, Organzas, Wool broadcloth), types of patterns (Block-printed, Kalamkari, Ikkat, Patola, Deccan himroo, Batik, Bandhani, Leheriya, Khadi), types of embroidery (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 etc) and styles in fashion (Churidar, Patiala style, Punjabi Suit, Anarkali style, Sherwani, Anghrakha style and Afghani style) used in Salwar Kameez today has such a rich history.
Like all garments, the Salwar Kameez has also transformed with time to suit the current day demand of the modern South Asian women. Even with the changes in time it remains a costume that describes comfort and elegance. The cut of the Shalwar Khameez have changed with the changing fashions of the times and they have been tried out with various traditional combinations like the Laccha , Gharara, Sharara, Ghagra Choli etc. and more contemporary styles like the Parallel Trousers. Flared pants with outside hem slits have replaced the traditional Salwar on the fashion runways. The Kameez is cut shorter and more fitted and the Dupatta has been altogether dropped and the modernized outfit is categorized as Party Wear. The fashion industry has converted the Salwar Kameez from a regional court garment to the national urban outfit for women in the Indian subcontinent. Since the 1980s designers from around the world have re-contextualized and developed this into a ‘Global Chic’ Garment for the mainstream fashion market. The Salwar Suit economy has a range from $30 for Cotton Suits in the street to $300 for designer labels and up to $ 30,000 for elaborate designer wedding styles.
The various Salwar Kameez Styles that are popular today are:
Afghani Shalwar Kameez
A multi paneled tunic that looks like a Chador paired with very baggy trousers. The trouser has an embroidered cuff called ponchay at the ankles and looks like harem pants.
Anarkali Salwar Kameez
A Kameez with snug empire waist bodice with a paneled and flared skirt piece attached to it and paired with Churidar style or Salwar style trousers.
Kameez has an overlapped front in its bodice often worn with churidar style trousers and transparent stole.
Churidar Salwar Kameez
A semi fitted snug ruffled pants or narrow pants worn with tunics and stole.
Parallels or Trouser Style Salwar Suits
A short Tunic Top called Kurti and paired with narrow straight cut pants.
A very baggy pants, regular Kameez and matching Duppatta.
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.