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If tea or chai is the unofficial national beverage of our country, the salwar-kameez can be easily labelled as the unofficial national dress for women all over the Indian subcontinent. The salwar kameez is popular all over India and there exists subtle variations in design depending on the region one is based. For example, if one were to observe in metros, the salwar in the salwar-kameez tends to be replaced by leggings and jeans. Gold printed polka dots or Gold borders are favoured in South India, whereas the Northern half of the country favours plain printed kameez with sequin work and embroidery. The amount of sequin work and embroidery depends on which occasion the salwaar suits have to be worn. Salwar suits reserved for parties and marriages tend to be flashier and eye catching due to the bright colour schemes and amount of sequin and embroidery work done on them. Salwaar suits reserved for everyday and office use tends to be simpler for obvious reasons. The salwar suit is traditionally worn with a “dupatta”. The dupatta can be used to drape oneself and also to cover one's head during religious functions, and in some households in the presence of elders. For others, the dupatta is simply a stylish accessory that can be worn over one shoulder or draped around the chest andover both shoulders.

It is a pleasant surprise to discover that the humble salwar kameez has its origins in royalty. The salwaar suit was the popular dress of choice in the North Western parts of India. The credit for popularising the salwar suit goes to the Mughals. After the Mughals conquered India, they brought a lot of their traditions and culture to India. The outfit is believed to originate with the Turkic-Iranian horse riding steppe tribes of Central Asia from whom the Mughals have descended. A number of these tribes converted to Islam. Since it was the dress of the courts, the garment slowly caught on the fancy of people as the Mughal Empire expanded its grasp all over the subcontinent.

The trousers, or salwar, are known as salwar in Punjabi: salwaar or shalwaar in Gujarati, and shalwar in Urdu. The word comes from the Persian, meaning pants. The shirts, kameez or qamiz, takes its name from the Arabic ’qamis’. There are two main hypotheses regarding the origin of the word, namely:-

1. The Arabic qamis is derived from the Latin word for shirt-camisia , which in its turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European kem meaning cloak.
2. The mediaeval Latin camisia is a borrowing from the Late Classical Greek kamision from the Central Semitic root “qmṣ”, represented by Ugaritic qmṣ meaning garment and Arabic “qamiṣ” which translates to shirt. Both of these are related to the Hebrew verb “qmṣ” meaning grip or to enclose with one’s hand.

What makes a “salwar-kameez”or “salwar-suit”? The salwar kameez gained widespread popularity with women in India as an alternative to the cumbersome saree. And the “salwaar suit”, which was seen as a suitable outfit that met their modesty requirements, and also allowed freedom of movement, emerged as a popular choice.

A salwar kameez or a Salwar-suit consists of three pieces of fabrics. They are the Salwaar, Kameez and a dupatta. The Salwar is equivalent to a sleeved tunic or a shirt. The length of the Salwaar can reach anywhere from the upper thighs or all the way down to the ankles. It can either have a loose fit or a body hugging one. Traditionally, the kurta doesn’t have pockets but the modern variants these days do. You can also request the tailor to stitch a pocket into your salwar suit.

The width of the trouser cuffs on the salwar ranges from as wide as 30 cm for the “pantaloon” look to as narrow as 10 cm for “harem” pants. They can be longer than the legs, which when worn, crease around the ankles giving the look as if the person is wearing bangles and hence the name “churidaar”.

Churidars 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 (churidar-bangle 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 recently. Earlier, tight-fitting churidar-like pants worn in in India were referred to by the British as long-drawers or mosquito drawers.

The churidar is usually worn with a kameez (a form-fitted over shirt) by women or they can form part of a bodice and skirt ensemble. Churidar Salwar-Kameez isn’t like its traditional counterpart. A churidar is similar to the salwar but is tighter fitting at the hips, thighs and ankles, more like leggings.

Churidar kurta sets are stitched in different types of fabric: silk, cotton, chiffon, georgette and so on. There are a variety of designs in churidar suits. Traditionally, the kurta is a long one that goes below the knee. With changing times, the style and shape of the kurta has undergone considerable change — from a simple one to a more stylish look. There are different neck shapes, neck depth and kameez lengths available in the modern kameez. Some of them are simple and plain with a multi-coloured dupatta. One can mix and match combinations of the kurta and the churidar. Some of them come with heavy embroidery and rich designs which are usually worn on special occasions.

A patiala salwar (pattian walee salwar) is a type of female trousers which has its roots in Patiala City in Punjab. In the earlier times, the Patiala Salwar was the King of Patiala’s royal dress. The “Patiala Salwar” has a close resemblance to the “Pathani” Suit which has similar loose lowers as “Salwar’s” and long knee length top known as “Kameez”. Over the decade, the dress now is not worn by men but has classically transformed itself with new cuts and styling into women’s “Patiala Salwar.” Its distinguishing characteristic is folds of cloth stitched together that meet at the bottom. “Patiala-salwars” require double the length of material to get stitched. The fall of the pleats of the “Patiala-Salwar” is such that it gives a beautiful draping effect.

One of the most worn ethnic wear, salwar suits are available in a wide range of variety and design. From chikankari salwar suits, to phulkari salwar suits, silk salwar suits, cotton salwar suits and much more, online portals like Craftsvilla have a marvellous collection from designers all over the country. Designer salwar suits come in embroidered, sequined and many other varieties that will definitely catch your eye. Log on to the site now and buy the latest designs in salwar suits.