One of the most commonly asked question but nobody seems to know the correct answers to is what is the Salwar Kameez all about? It is the most commonly used piece of clothing across South Asia and especially in India, worn by almost all women across a variety of age groups, on a daily basis. So let us just sit back and discover the true roots of what is the salwar kameez, where did it come from and what are the different components that form a complete salwar kameez.

What is the Salwar Kameez?

Salwar kameez is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in South Asia. Salvars or salwars 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 waistline, which gives the wearer greater freedom of movement. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the garment is worn by both sexes. In northern India, it is most commonly a woman's garment.

Description of Salwar kameez

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 (also called as Chunari / chunni / odhani) 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.

Parts of Salwar kameez

Salwar kameez is basically a Punjabi suit or set of three parts of clothes namely Kurta or kameez (khamis/qamis/qameez/qamiz), Pyjama (payjama or paijama), which is in the form of tight churidar or salwar and a scarf, called dupatta or chunri.

kurta or kurti

The shirt, kameez, khamis or qamiz, takes its name from the Arabic qamis. A kurta (or kurti, for a shorter version of the kurta) is a traditional item of clothing worn in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is a loose shirt falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer, and is worn by both men and women. It can be worn with a dhoti, loose salwar pants, churidar pants, as well as jeans, a tight-fitting variant of the salwar. Kurtas are worn both as casual everyday wear and as formal dress.

Western women often wear inexpensive imported kurtas as blouses, usually over jeans. These kurtas are typically much shorter than the traditional garments and made with a lighter materials, like those used in sewing kameez. Imported kurtas were fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, as an element of hippie fashion, fell from favor briefly, and are now again fashionable. South Asian women may also wear this Western adaptation of South Asian fashion.

Formal kurtas are usually custom-made by South Asian tailors, who work with the fabric their customers, bring them. South Asians overseas, and Westerners, can buy them at South Asian clothing stores or order them from web retailers.

A traditional kurta is composed of rectangular fabric pieces with perhaps a few gusset inserts, and is cut so as to leave no wasted fabric. The cut is usually simple, although decorative treatments can be elaborate.

The sleeves of a traditional kurta fall straight to the wrist; they do not narrow, as do many Western-cut sleeves. Sleeves are not cuffed, just hemmed and decorated. The front and back pieces of a simple kurta are also rectangular. The side seams are left open for 6-12 inches above the hem, which gives the wearer some ease of movement.

The kurta usually opens in the front; some styles, however, button at the shoulder seam. The front opening is often a hemmed slit in the fabric, tied or buttoned at the top; some kurtas, however, have plackets rather than slits. The opening may be centered on the chest, or positioned off center.

A traditional kurta does not have a collar. Modern variants may feature stand-up collars of the type known to tailors and seamstresses as "mandarin" collers. These are the same sort of collars seen on achkans, sherwanis, and Nehru jackets.

Churidars or salwars or pyjamas

Churidars, or more properly churidar pyjamas, are tightly fitting trousers worn by both men and women in South Asia and Central Asia. They are a variant of the common salwar pants. Salwars are cut wide at the top and narrow at the ankle. Churidars narrow more quickly, so that contours of the leg are revealed. They are usually cut on the bias (at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric) that makes them naturally stretchy. Stretch is important when pants are closefitting. They are also cut longer than the leg and finish with a tightly fitting buttoned cuff at the ankle.

The excess length falls into folds and appears like a set of bangles resting on the ankle (hence 'churidar'; 'churi': bangle, 'dar': like). When the wearer is sitting, the extra material is the "ease" that makes it possible to bend the legs and sit comfortably. The word "churidar" is from Hindi and made its way into English only in the 20th century. The churidar is usually worn with a kameez (a form-fitted overshirt) by women or a kurta (a loose overshirt) by men, or they can form part of a bodice and skirt ensemble, as seen in the illustration of 19th century Indian women wearing churidar with a bodice and a transparent overskirt. Traditionally attired Kathak dancers, from northern India, still wear churidar with a wide skirt and a tight bodice; when the dancers twirl, the leg contours can be discerned -- as can be seen in many Bollywood movies featuring Kathak dancing.

Dupatta

Dupatta / Chunari / Punjabi "Chunni" is a long scarf that is essential to many South Asian women's suits. Some "dupatta suits" include the salwar kameez, the trouser suit, and the kurta. The dupatta is also worn over the Hindu outfit of lehenga or ghaghra- choli. The dupatta has long been a symbol of modesty in South Asian dress. It is traditionally worn across both shoulders. However, the dupatta can also be worn like a cape around the entire torso. The material for the dupatta varies according to the suit: cotton, georgette, silk, chiffon, and more. The other names for dupatta are chunri, chunni and orna [mainly in Bangladesh](sometimes shortened to 'unni' by many Gujaratis).

There are various modes of wearing the unsewn dupatta. When not draped over the head in the traditional style, it is usually worn with the middle portion of the dupatta resting on the chest like a garland with both ends thrown over each respective shoulder. When the dupatta resting is worn along with the salwar-kameez it is casually allowed to flow down the front and back.

The use of the dupatta has definitely undergone a metamorphosis over time. In current fashions, the dupatta is frequently draped over one shoulder, and even over just the arms. Another recent trend is the short dupatta often seen with kurtas and Indo-Western clothing. Essentially, the dupatta is often treated as an accessory in current urban fashion. Nevertheless, the dupatta remains an integral part of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani clothing.