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Salwar kameez, from Max Tilke's Oriental Costume, 1922
Salwar kameez (also spelled shalwar kameez or shalwar qameez) is a traditional dress worn by both women and men in South Asia. Salvar or shalvar are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the ankle. The kameez is a long shirt or tunic. The side seams (known as the chaak), left open below the waist-line, give the wearer greater freedom of movement.


Salwar are gathered at the waist and held up by a drawstring or an elastic band. The pants can be wide and baggy or more narrow, and even made of fabric cut on the bias. In the latter case they are known as churidar.

The kameez is usually cut straight and flat; older kameez use traditional cuts, as shown in the illustration above. 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. Modern versions of the feminine kameez can be much less modest than traditional versions. The kameez may be cut with a deep neckline, sewn in diaphanous fabrics, or styled in cap-sleeve or sleeveless designs. The kameez side seams may be split up to the thigh or even the waistline, and it may be worn with the salwar slung low on the hips. When a woman wears a semi-transparent kameez (mostly as a party dress), she wears a choli or a cropped camisole underneath it.

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 also 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 Gurdwara or 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.

The Salwar kameez is sometimes known as "Punjabi suit," in Britainmarker and Canadamarker. 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.

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

Portrait of a Muslim girl from Karachi, Sind, in a salwar and blouse. c.
Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library.

The pants, or salvar, are known as salvar in , salvaar or shalvaar શલવાર કમીઝ in Gujarati, salvaar or shalvar शलवार क़मीज़ in Hindi, and shalvar in . The word comes from the Persian: شلوار, meaning pants.

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 (‘cloak’).
  2. 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 qmṣ (‘grip’, ‘enclose with one’s hand’).

Garments cut like the traditional kameez are known in many cultures; according to Dorothy Burnham, of the Royal Ontario Museummarker, 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.

English spelling

Transliterations starting from Punjabi often render the sibilant sound at the start of salwar/shalwar as an "s". Transliterations starting from Urdu, Persian, Pashto, Turkish languages use "sh". Both spellings are found in common English usage. The shalwar spelling seems to be most common in Canadamarker and the United Kingdommarker, 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. The word kameez is often spelled with an H, as in khameez.


Image:In my salwar suit.jpg|Woman in green cotton salwar kameez.Image:Vita in Bangladesh.jpg|Woman wearing a churidar and kameezImage:Indian Muslim.jpg|A Muslim man wearing a crocheted taqiyah cap and salwar kameez.
Image:Selcuk woman edit.JPG|A woman in Selçukmarker, Turkeymarker wearing traditional Turkish shalvar.Image:Inside The Old Terminal Of Kabul International Airport.jpg|Men wearing shalwar kameez at Kabul Airportmarker in Afghanistanmarker.

See also


  1. . Quote: "And in Bubby Mahil’s fashion store in London, white socialites and young British Asians shop for the same Punjabi suit...."
  2. . Quote: "Meena owns a successful textile design and fashion business in the Punjab, designing and selling high-end salwar kameez (Punjabi suits) ..."
  3. Burnham, Dorothy. 1973. Cut My Cote, Royal Ontario Museum. p. 10.


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