Pakistani clothing is a reflection of the various cultures that are thriving in the area. From Khyber Pakhtun Khwa to Sindh, the five provinces have their own histories and identities that are shown in the way they dress. The clothing culture is influenced by the years’ old heritage of the people and the settlements that lived in the specific areas for a time. The climatic conditions and lifestyles are the two most important factors that have given ‘Shalwar Kameez’ the title of the national dress of Pakistan.
Shalwar is a trouser that is wide at the waist and has a cuffed bottom. The wide waist is held up by a drawstring or elastic belt which causes pleats and tightens it to the needed size. Over the years, the styles of the shalwars have changed. From tight cuts to more loose shapes, women, in particular, have experimented with different shapes and sizes. A kameez is a long shirt or tunic that is worn on top of a shalwar. The side seams are left open below the waist-line to allow the wearer ease of movement. Traditionally, the kameez has long sleeves which cover the arms. The cuts are straight and flat. The modern style of Shalwar Kameez is inspired by Western cuts. Women are moving towards sleeveless shirts and adding European-style collars while men are opting for straight tight pants to wear with their kameez.
In the 13th century, when Muslims entered South Asia, they introduced the Shalwar Kameez in the region. At first, it was worn by women only but after a while, men started wearing them too. Especially in Punjab, people took a liking to the dress as it was very comfortable and complemented the kind of work they did. The plain dress was replaced by vibrant colors and customized according to the preference of the wearer. Formal shalwar kameez is worn at weddings. Women get heavy embroideries done on their dress while men take a more minimalist approach to the design of their dress.
Due to the Islamic influence, women in most regions usually wear a long scarf known as a ‘dupatta’ with shalwar kameez. The dupatta signifies modesty and is made of delicate material. For men, the turban used to be a popular addition with the shalwar kameez. This was also passed down from the first Muslims who settled in the region. Now, the turban signifies power, respect, and is limited to special occasions only. While modern versions of the Shalwar Kameez have emerged all over Pakistan, the basic style remains the same.