A Shalwar-Kameez is a type of clothing which is most popular in South Asia, typically Pakistan
, as well as Afghanistan
. It's popular among, but not exclusive to, Muslims
. If you've ever seen photos of people in Pakistan or Afghanistan, you'll see many people wearing a shalwar kameez; it looks like a longsleeve shirt that goes down to the knees. It's the National Dress of Pakistan
The name literally means "pants-shirt." The word "shalwar" is of Turkish origin, signifying loose-flowing pants. The shalwar really are loose pants, baggy but tapered at the ankles. They're usually made of cotton. The waist is very big, you could probably fit 2 people in a waist that large. it looks like 200cm in circumference or a size 80 (US), but all the ones I've seen are in metric. The shalwar have some sort of drawstring to tighten the really wide waist, called a "nahla" (I've also seen "Nara" and "Izaar band"). You pull on both sides to cinch up the waist, and tie it in a knot in front, then tuck the knot under the waistband.
The kameez, which really is more of a tunic than a shirt, goes on after the pants. It's a loose-fitting garment that is a pull-over. The whole thing goes on over the head, and you then button up the collar, and the two or three buttons on the front. The kameez is long, it goes down close to the knees, with two cuts on the sides from waist to knees to provide mobility. (Recently some American T-shirts that are cut long and go past the waist have been dubbed by the uncultured as "Taliban Tees." The Taliban, as well as almost all Afghans, wear Kameezes.)
They come in all sizes, for men as well as women. A similiar woman's outfit is either a Salwar-kameez, with the loose pants, or a Churidar-kameez, where a Churidar is fitted pants with a stack of folds at the ankles. A woman often wears a matching Dupatta (scarf) or Hijab. Many men wear a kufi as well, but there are different kinds, depending on where you are, I guess. (perhaps a Dehsi can help me out here?)
The shalwar kameez came to the South-Asian Subcontinent with the Central Asian invaders who introduced stitched clothing to this region. One amusing legend is that the invaders' success was partly due to the fact that the people of the Subcontinent had to hold on to their un-stitched garb with one hand, thus having to defend their land single-handedly. Before then, everyone wore Dhotis, which are still popular today.
Shalwar Kameezes come in all sizes, colors, and qualities. People wear them informally around town, or jogging, and even soldiers wear it fighting. It's such a versatile garment, and makes a great nightgown too. People also have formal ones for things like weddings, though formal wear sometimes includes wearing a vest that compliments the style. Women who wear it say it looks graceful as well as non-revealing.
Bangladeshis call the Shalwar-kameez a "Punjabi" because it was worn by Punjabis when Bangladesh was still "East Pakistan." In India it is called a Pathani Suit or Khan Suit when donned by men, while it is known as a Shalwar-kameez when women wear it. "Shalwar" is often pronounced as "Salwar", though. It is sometimes called a "Pathani Suit" on account of the Shalwar-Kameez-wearing Kaabli Pathans (aka Pashtuns) of Kabul who introduced this dress. They were historically known for two things: as a travelling businessmen, bringing in goods from Central Asia, and as money lenders.
In Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf, the Pakistanis (and some Indians) are conspicuously visible in their National Dress; they wear the same extensively both at work places and at home. It is said that the Pakistanis have the passion for Shalwar-Kameez like the Malabaris have for their Lungis.
Why do people wear them?
Comfort- Shalwar Kameezes are loose-fitting, and just plain comfortable. They keep you cool in the hot weather, as it doesn't cling to the body, and thicker fabric ones keep you warm in cooler weather.
Religion- Muslims believe that they get rewards for wearing one, it is considered a "sunnah." Apparently the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) wore clothes similar to that of a kameez, with a shalwar underneath. Another source says a man came from South Asia wearing a shalwar kameez, and the Prophet (pbuh) approved of it. Many people wear them to the mosque especially on Fridays and holidays.
Culture- Perhaps this is tied in with the religion category. The outfits are common in the Indian Punjab region, as well as North India, and throughout Pakistan. Some Hindus wear them too, so one really could classify it as more of a cultural garment than a religious one.
You can find a Shalwar-Kameez online, there are various stores and various prices depending on the quality and if you want formal or informal wear. I'd suggest you befriend an Afghan/Indian/Pakistani/Bengali and see if he or she can get you one for a better price and quality.