Save the shalwar!

Published: February 28, 2011

As summer approaches I see colourful billboards everywhere! Skinny models in glam make-up are wrapped in designer fabric – all to impress female consumers. The models wear long qameezes and short ones, baggy shirts and tight ones – what they do not wear are shalwars.

The traditional shalwar has all but disappeared from the modern silhouette. It has been replaced by the more Western inspired pants, capris, trousers and churidaars. The shalwar suit that was once a cultural icon is now, nowhere to be seen!

The dupatta has met a similar fate. Not so long ago, the dupatta was a cultural symbol worn by Pakistani women and was considered an accessory that was necessary to complete your outfit. Today, it is worn only by a particular segment of society who wear it for  “modesty” not for fashion.

Fashion designers scoff at the traditional shalwar and embrace hybrid East meets West outfits which they label ‘shalwar kameez’. But really? Who are they kidding? The latest designs have little to do with the traditional outfit.

Pakistani women rely on fashion designers to make shalwar kameez fun and new – for some reason this mean Western and foreign. Cut off the sleeves! Do away with the dupatta! Who need a shalwar?

Designers  have not given the national dress the prestige it deserves.

I won’t lie – my own wardrobe has been updated with new outfits and the shalwar is missing along with  traditional kameezes and dupattas. Instead, I have capris and trousers which go well with the baggy shirts which are now referred to as kameezes.

This cultural corruption should not be acceptable. Saris remain popular in India, even though people wear skirts, jeans and trousers there too. Arabian maxis are worn by Arab women in addition to the long abaayas; Malay women prefer to be comfortable wearing silk wrappers along with scarves covering their hair. Multicultural and secular nations give their women the privilege to wear whatever they want – what they don’t permit is cultural exploitation.

New things should not come at the cost of old ones. Let’s save the shalwar, our culture and the livelihood of the poor street guys who once used to sell azaarbands and elastics on streets!

Farzeela Moid

Farzeela Faisal

A writer and a blogger whose blogs can be found at Articlesbase and Triond.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Salma

    But how do you intend to “save the shalwar” if in your own wardrobe the “shalwar is missing”? It becomes a case of “do as I say but don’t do as I do”.Recommend

  • Soha

    I don’t miss the shalwar at all! Chudidars are sexy, pants look professional and capris are fun – there is only one word for shalwars and that is frumpy. Good riddance!Recommend

  • Sara

    It’ll be back. Trends get recycled in new form every year.Recommend

  • Old News

    Finally something fresh and not run of the mill! Liked the honesty behind the post!Recommend

  • CB Guy

    @ Soha! So clothing is just about how much appealing it is to the on lookers? Isn’t that what women complain about all the time, guys ogling at them and now you say this, i think guys are not the only ones to be blamed for being indecent. Recommend

  • Sana

    i do believe that shalwars are an important part of our culture…but as soon as shalwar comes into fashion…so does short skimpy shirts.Its difficult for a majority of women to carry out the short shirt trend…thus we’re still hanging on to the trousers and capris and pants. Atleast we have an option to wear any of these 3 4 things…but as soon as shalwar takes over…no one will have an option left.
    We are the kind of society which is afraid of individualism. We will do what others are doing and not what we want to do or what we think is right. So i hope that the Shalwar trend doesn’t come back. Recommend

  • RaG

    I’ve been missing the shalwars too and come this lawn season, I’m going back to my shalwars and knee-length kameezes even if I’m the only one- I’m through with pants etc =)Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    Don’t get me wrong here, the intention is just to evoke a small awareness, with some addition of honesty :) Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    I agree with Sara, the trend gets recycled every couple of years. Go back a few decades, there were capris, wide legged pants, and every wear out that today we are having. The point is that we ought to have one national dress to stick to other than wearing the latest fashion trends. Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    @Old News:
    Thank you!

  • zainab.imam

    Pointless post. Why does it matter if women wear shalwars, pants or capris? It’s just current trends…not like clothes ever die. For instance, an overwhelming majority of brides today wear ghararas and shararas as has always been the case. And chooridars are part of our “culture” too. Also, what about kurtas that have come back because women are able to wear them with jeans? East/West fusion is awesome.

    Very pointless post. Recommend

  • MS

    Agree with Zainab. Also who is asking you to follow the Pakistani fashion? I have refused to be a Bakri and follow whats being sold. I wear tradional shalwar kameez, trousers, hareem pants, chooridars, tights etc etc..I wear everything regardless of what the world is saying or doing. Recommend

  • usman

    i like ur emotionz but is a pakistan yahan log 1 dosray ko daikh kr dresing kartay hain insan wo karay jo kay sab say difrant ho (a man known by his company)@Sana: Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    Thank you for your consideration, its a school of thought for culture conscious nationals and @MS, since we all are Pakistanis there is a need to value what our traditions offer us, the option is open to everyone to wear whatever one feels comfortable with, however still there is a need to value our traditional dress code, designers must not underestimate it.Recommend

  • Amna

    I like this post, and I think Pakistani women AND men should take advantage of all the variety we can add to society with all the options for clothes. But yes, even the very traditional stuff should not be totally rejected. Our traditional clothing is very “wearable” and comfortable for daily use, more so than the sari. Shalwars are very cool!Recommend

  • Name (required)

    @Farzeela Moid

    Preaching values and culture, our culture, to the readers of Tribune? Lady, you’re barking at the wrong tree!Recommend

  • Wasim Ali

    Miss Farzeela,
    I salute you. A standing ovation for youRecommend

  • Abdullah Wiqar

    Off with the shalwar! Recommend

  • Kulsoom

    Well written and genuinely raised. Only if you could name the post something better :)Recommend

  • Lola

    Thanks for pointing out that we are letting a part of our culture fall by the wayside.

    Clothes are an integral part of culture. When we let part of it die, it says something about who we are as a people.

    Why do we think saris are hot and shalwars are dowdy? Why is our culture shameful and the foreign one so attractive? We continue to live with a colonial mind set.

    I am going to go ask my tailot to make me a shalwar today – if he remembers how!

    SAVE THE SHALWAR!!!!Recommend

  • Noor

    Breeze of fresh air! Buck up Farzeela, would love to have more on cultural identity things.
    at least somebody highlighting our very own cultural lagging behind.
    nationalism comes in every dimension,e.g, dress, language, attitudes, etc.
    Shalwar, Dupatta are always graceful, it is lustful males that like & promote pants & capris.
    choice rests with the wearers, whether they want to remain as apparatus for designers or have their own respectable choices.Recommend

  • Abdullah


    The reason we think saris are hot and shalwars are dowdy is because a sari, if worn by a female who has the proper physique to pull it off, are actually sexy and shalwars are in fact dowdy. The reason for that is that a shalwar was designed with sharam and haya in mind and these two generally don’t go hand in hand with hotness.


    “it is lustful males that like & promote pants & capris”? we, lustful males, force you to wear what you wear? lustful males are the only designers out there? we set the trends and ensure that you follow? we have that much say over the minds and psyches of females out there? man, you give lustful males too much credit. look within to see where the problem is.

    the woman, not just in Pakistan, but globally has allowed man and woman alike to exploit her. use her. belittle her into an advertising gimmick. its the woman who has lost sight of her dignity, her culture, her position within the society. blah blah blah, u get the point :D Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    I appreciate your consideration :)
    Thanks for getting something out of it
    I am happy we have intellect mindset individuals that cares for our dying culture.Recommend

  • Noor-ul-ain Hanif

    Shalwar is ever-green and its not going to be out from the fashion the trends will repeat themselves! soon!Recommend

  • http://deleted ali zhoraiz

    @ Farzela
    First of all Farzela u r the and u no fashion better than me, a boy
    u were right to when u said that Shalwar Kamez is our Traditonal dress
    but Dear these days Trousers and Churiidars are engendering in the way of Shalwars.
    and u said that who need a shalwar?
    Come and visit low class society, u will see the Shalwars every where Larki Recommend

  • SSP

    we have become fashion slaves you may deny it..we don’t care whether something looks good on us or not but we have to make sure it’s trendy and we’re not the odd one out from the lot! Shalwar it is for me this season :)Recommend

  • aslam

    What a ridiculously silly post this is!. Ms. Farzeela don’t you have ANYTHING else to write about than to complain about the loss of shalwars from our lives? What’s you next post going to be? “Save the chappal”? Shalwars, capris, pants, or churidaars… you think anyone but you cares?Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    @ali zhoraiz:
    Right you are, shalwar must not be a symbol of social status.
    Thank you!
    :) thanks for the critic, however my next post won’t be about “saving chappal” anyway :)Recommend

  • Zahra

    “This cultural corruption should not be acceptable.”

    I daresay that you are grossly exaggerating by calling this cultural corruption and exploitation. Everything evolves, and apparel very much so. While I don’t have anything against the shalwar, it hardly matters what it’s fate is. What you are calling a loss of symbolism can hardly be called that. Like you said, “Multicultural and secular nations give their women the privilege to wear whatever they want” — so please do give us the ‘privilege’. Calling it cultural exploitation is ridiculous, really! According to your logic, the whale bone petticoats of old England should still have been paraded on the streets there to this day! If the shalwar is versatile and wearable (which I think it is), it will be back sooner or later, without such a nonsensical fuss being created about it!Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    Thanks for elaborating your point, shalwar qameez is our national dress, it must not be altered or changed for any reason. It must not be underestimated either, we are what our roots are and our roots must not be changed!Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Pray anyone tell which Western Country has adopted Shalwar as a style… Let see in last 10 years, I have seen none…

    Though, I think shalwars have too much cloth in it to be handled but we should keep it for our culture’s sake.Recommend

  • Natasha Tarique

    Just a thought! I do follow fashion myself and before coming to london my wardrobe was stuffed with long shirts, capris and trousers as well…but since I am here and on all the occasions that i have had to travel abroad i realised that there is nothing symbolic about Pakistani culture.. except the typical shalwar body knows anything about the culture, there is such a blur esp being so closed to the indian culture.. so i definitely agree that we should stick to the shalwar i mean there is no harm in trying and fusing new things but we should keep room for traditions always..Recommend

  • http://Multan ILLIDAN

    Its all about making a choice. Of course one cannot choose to wear a shalwar just because one has taken upon himself to save the shalwar culture. Its are about comfort, so doesnt really matter if you find it in capris, mini skirts or even a kimono. Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    @Saad Durrani:
    Many consider shalwar to be dowdy, calling it dowdy is literally pointless because when it comes to culture there is nothing as ‘sexy,fashionable, or dowdy’, culture is culture and needs to be protected at a certain level!
    @Natasha Tarique:
    I agree with you as there is nothing symbolic about Pakistan culture, it needs to be symbolic and must not be underestimated!
    To be honest Illidan, when it comes to comfort, shalwar is much more comfortable as compared to capris and other wear outs, it is trendy and casual too. P.S I am not defending here the comfort factor.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    That is my point. Why it is only for us to adapt? Why cannot a Westerner wear Shalwar?Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    @Saad Durrani:
    because shalwar our national trouser, not theirs!Recommend

  • NFI

    Erm.. I think there are more serious cases of cultural identity crisis than just the disappearance of shalwars.

    Chooridaars are as cultural for us as shalwars. Your so-called”East meets West-designer-propaganda” actually breaks down. Nowadays, Chooridars are everywhere, and there is nothing “Westernised” about them.

    If you’re so deprived of your cultural identity, then shed light on major cultural fronts. Art, literature, media – how we are forgetting who we are because we are confused about our culture. Balochi? Pashtun? punjabi? Sindhi? Siraiki? Who are we? What should the media portray? THAT, in my opinion, is a bigger question of cultural identity crisis than SHALWARS.Recommend

  • NFI

    This also falls under the aspect of freedom. In the west, you CANNOT dictate anyone on what to wear and what not to wear.

    And for everyone’s information – in the west, harem pants are the in thing. Thats what you call a Westernised Shalwar if you must. When people in Pakistan start wearing an altered version of shalwar, then yes – you can raise the question. When the people have totally left the shalwar behind and moved onto something different, then too bad.Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    Such a least considered issue tells us about the most unbothered and long forgotten aspects to which you are pointing as ‘culturally deprived’. Raising such a small issue on the cultural conflict gives a true picture of how much we are culturally modernized and least bothered. There are mammoth cultural fronts too, but the point is who is going to think over them if such basic and “minor” issues are ignored for good? Recommend

  • Pakistani

    SO much fuss over nothing at all!

    Shalwars will be back so chill out, please! Recommend

  • FHB

    You mentioned in your blog and i quote” Saris remain popular in India, even though people wear skirts, jeans and trousers there too.”
    i wanted to say that:
    Usually the older ladies their in India wear saris casually where as the younger generation wears western dresses
    same is here in our country our grandmothers, mothers still wear shalwar kameez (except the few fashionable ones) whereas younger generation is following the fashion

    I think its doing no harm to our traditional dress….shalwar will come back soon some day

    every dress is fine for our culture as long as it is covering our body parts appropriately and not providing an oppurtunity for the males to enjoy.Recommend

  • Henbees

    Shalwars will be back. Meanwhile – i’m glad they’re gone! I always found them unaesthetic, and the “paoncha” always got stuck on my calfRecommend

  • NFI

    These minor issues will only be considered if the major cultural crisis is solved.
    What should we be more concerned after? That 4 year olds tell other 4 year olds that “you’re expecting my child” or the so-called elite class has no idea where the country is going, they’re too immersed in Gossip Girl and 90210?
    Compared to what? Shalwars replaced by culods (however you spell them) and chooridars? Capris are still arguable, but the entire fem. population does not wear capris.
    Its time we aimed at the more glaring issue and then deal with it effectively. I’m more concerned for the foreign norms and values the younger generation seems to be adopting culturally, rather than ponder upon the cultural significance of shalwar.Recommend

  • FarzeelaFee

    no place on earth is free from cultural rifts, and it is these minor issues for which our patience can be tested against. If you talk about the foreign norms and values, or let me make it clear if you talk about talking on an intellect sense, let me know where are they? Our generation likes to talk about mobile phones, ipads, land-cruisers, or by using few words of English we believe we have educate them? You can yourself figure out how much we are deprive of patience that we are unable to digest our culture, reflected somehow in such a minor issue as shalwar, let alone the bigger ones! Recommend

  • Sumera

    Thats the nature of fashion, it evolves. Recommend

  • Humanity

    It is all in the mind. One has the choice to not be boxed in by what others consider in or out. Be an independent person and choose to wear what ever fancies your imagination. If it is a traditional shalwar-qameeze/duppatta then so be it .. It is much more fun to walk against the Lemmings overcrowded lanes of compliance :)

    lem-ming : any of various small short-tailed furry-footed rodents (as genera Lemmus and Dicrostonyx) of circumpolar distribution that are notable for population fluctuations and recurrent mass migrations Recommend

  • misbah

    im writing my dissertation on the shalwar being lost and how people have accepted the change id really like it i could get comments on the topicRecommend