The “shalwar kameez” — the knee-length tunic shirt with loose-fitting trousers underneath — is the national dress of Pakistan. It is worn by both sexes in Pakistan. Sometimes the men’s version is spelled shalwar kameez; while the woman’s version is spelled salwar kameez. The outfit make sense in a place with hot climate and customs that require one to keep one’s body covered,

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,”Pakistani Muslims dress modestly in accordance with Islamic values, although their particular mode of dress is distinctive to Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. In general, Pakistani men and women wear the traditional shalwar-kameez, a loose shirt that extends down to the knees and that is worn over loose baggy pants. Many men wear vests and coats over their shalwar-kameez. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Turbans, qaraquli hats, and patti caps are worn by men as well. Women's attire consists of the shalwar-kameez and dupatta, or scarf, for the head. In some areas, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), women wear the all-enveloping burka, or veil; however, in cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad they generally put on only a headscarf and go unveiled. Women in the Punjab and Sindh regions often wear the Indian sari. Students, some government officials, and members of the educated elite often wear western style clothing.”

Men’s Clothes in Pakistan

The traditional clothing for a Pakistani man is a shalwar kameez, a long tunic and baggy trousers, usually pale blue, pale green white or light brown, brown or gray. The long, loose shirt is known as a kurta. It is amazing how well the shalwar kameez has stood up against the test of time as many men continue to wear them rather than shifting to Western clothes.

A “sherwani” is a traditional long coat for men. Many men walk around wrapped in blankets for praying, sleeping and warmth. In the Punjab men traditionally wear turbans, sarong-like “lungis” and “khusas” (kid-skin slippers that are so soft you can squeeze them into the palm of your hand).

Many men wear turbans or pill-pox skull caps which often indicate a individual's religious sect, ethnic group, and status. Chitral hats are like those worn by the Northen Alliance and mujahadeen in Afghanistan. In the Sindh men wear pill box hats with pieces of mirrors. Huge turbans that appear to topple over are worn by old-timers in Balochistan.

Moustaches and Beards in Pakistan

Many Pakistani men sport mustaches and/or beards. The length of beard is sometimes regarded as symbol of Islamic piety. Some older men dye their white hair and beards with rusty red or orange henna.

According to AFP: “For centuries, a luxuriant moustache has been a sign of virility and authority on the Indian sub-continent. The Khyber administration pays anything from US$10 to US$60 a month to men with particularly eye-catching moustaches as a symbolic gesture of appreciation for the bravery and virility traditionally associated with such facial hair.Both tribesmen and members of the security forces can qualify for the sum, which is handed out at the discretion of the chief administrator. [Source: AFP, August 8 2013]

“An opinion piece published in Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper last year drew parallels between power and a luxuriant moustache, although current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the only man in the country to win a third term in office, is clean shaven. It also had a word of advice for elected leaders, who three times in the past have been deposed by military coups... led by the only three generals in the country with moustaches. “Never appoint a moustachioed chief of the army staff or a chief justice if you wish to govern in peace,” it warned.

Richard McCallum, the author of “Hair India — A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan,” says moustaches are also popular in the Indian military and the police. “Men with moustaches seem to be considered to command more respect, are considered more virile, more manly and a little bit older,” he told AFP. “When you get away from metro areas, India is still a patriarchal place. Men are men and the men like to show off and preen.”“

Pakistani Man with a Big Moustache

AFP reported: “Impeccably trimmed to 30 inches (76 centimeters), Pakistani businessman Malik Amir Mohammad Khan Afridi spends 30 minutes a day washing, combing, oiling and twirling his facial hair into two arches that reach to his forehead, defying gravity. “People give me a lot of respect. It’s my identity,” said the 48-year-old grandfather in the northwestern city of Peshawar, when asked why he was prepared to risk everything for his whiskers. “I feel happy. When it’s ordinary, no one gives me any attention. I got used to all the attention and I like it a lot,” he said. [Source: AFP, August 8 2013]

It costs US$150 a month to maintain — more than a Pakistani teacher can earn — although he gets a moustache bursary of US$50 from the home district in the lawless tribal belt he was forced to flee. His only concession is the holy Muslim fasting month, when a free-standing moustache interferes with his daily ablutions and he keeps it smoothed across his face and tucked behind his ears.

“Afridi has a hair dryer, bars of soap, shampoo, an alleged German oil from Dubai whose label he has ripped off so no one knows its alchemy, a mirror and an old bottle of homemade coconut oil. Then there are towels and a hair brush. He massages the secret oil into his whiskers, twiddles and twirls them in front of the mirror and dries them to stand on end, before striding around a shopping mall, quickly attracting a crowd.

But Afridi’s wife and 10 children are less keen. “Sometimes my family tell me ‘cut it, it would be better if you lived with us.’ I can leave my family, I can leave Pakistan, but I can never cut my moustache again,” he said. So his dream is to find political asylum or represent Pakistan at an international competition, if only he can get a visa. “I don’t like smoking. I’m not fond of snuff, or drinking. This is the only choice in my life. I’d even sacrifice food, but not the moustache. It’s my life. It’s not part of my life. It is my life.”

Pakistani Man with a Big Moustache Targeted by Militants

AFP reported: Afridi “has been kidnapped, threatened with death, forcibly displaced and lives apart from his family: all because of his enormous moustache. In Pakistan, Islamist militants try to enforce religious doctrine that a moustache must be trimmed, if not shaved off. [Source: AFP, August 8 2013]

“So Afridi went from celebrity to prisoner of Lashkar-e-Islam, then a rival and now an ally of the Taliban in the tribal district of Khyber on the Afghan border. First the group demanded protection money of US$500 a month. When he refused, four gunmen turned up at his house in 2009. He says they held him prisoner for a month in a cave and only released him when he cut it off. “I was scared they would kill me, so that’s why I sacrificed my moustache,” he said.

“He fled to relative safety in Peshawar. But he grew his facial hair back and in 2012 the threats started again: telephone calls from people threatening to slit his throat. So he left the Taliban-hit northwest altogether, moving to the Punjabi city of Faisalabad and returning to Peshawar to visit his family only once or twice a month. “I’m still scared,” he says. “I’m in Peshawar to spend Ramadan with my family but most of the time I stay at home and tell people I’m in Faisalabad if they want to meet me,” he says. “I’m trying to move my family abroad. To America, Canada, Britain or even to Dubai but I need asylum,” Afridi told AFP.

Outdoor Barber in Pakistan

Reporting from Islamabad, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: The barber's mirror hangs on tree limbs lashed together to make a vanity. His customers wait their turns sitting on cinder blocks. His floor is not black-and-white checkerboard linoleum, but a patch of dirt. A tarp suspended by branches keeps his clients from getting drenched during the monsoons. Call it a shave and a haircut, two bits — Pakistani style. In this country, the barber, the masseuse, the moneychanger and the shoemaker often ply their trades wherever their bare, calloused feet take them. That can be a boulevard median, a knoll overlooking a highway, a thicket of trees in a city park. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2010]

“Ali has been cutting hair in his little corner of the forest for about a year. Across the street, a camp of paramilitary troops was attacked by a suicide bomber four months before Ali arrived. The camp could get hit again, he says, and that bothers him. City officials came to his barber chair last year and suggested he move to a safer location. "They didn't force me to leave, but they said, 'Take care, watch your surroundings, and don't take unknown people as customers,' " Ali says. "Yes, there's always that fear of working in areas that could be a potential target for terrorism." But there's also the fear of not knowing where your next rupee will be coming from. So Ali stayed.

“Ali's father and grandfather were barbers. His two brothers are barbers — one has a shop and the other prefers the open spaces, as Ali does. Ali, 28, works from 9 a.m. until dusk, seven days a week for a pittance that's just enough to feed his family. I ask how he copes with the contrasts of Pakistani weather — late summer monsoon downpours that pound the city with sheets of rain, 110-degree heat that bakes the capital in midsummer. Ali shrugs. The only time he shuts down is if a squall is fierce enough to topple his set-up. "If the storm is very big, I close. Otherwise, no problems."

“Before I leave, I ask whether the city ever gives him guff for working outdoors like this. Technically, Ali and the other Pakistanis who conduct their businesses in open spaces, outside of commercial districts, are breaking the law, he says. But it's a law local authorities almost never enforce. "City authorities don't take action against people like me," he says, "because they figure we are poor people. They say, 'Let them do their business, and make a little money.' "

Getting a Haircut from an Outdoor Barber in Pakistan

Reporting from Islamabad, Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times:For Nasir Ali, a grove of trees wedged between a playground and a tony neighborhood of balconied, marble-floor homes makes the perfect spot for his tattered vinyl barber chair. His customers aren't the Pakistani elite or khaki-clad Western diplomats who live in those homes, but their gardeners, guards, cooks and servants. They can afford Ali's price: 30 Pakistani rupees, about 35 cents. It fits my budget too, so I stride down a dirt path to Ali's alfresco salon, where armies of ants scurry through the clumps of black hair encircling the barber chair. "Collar length in the back, short on the sides, a bit longer on top," I tell him. "Rough cut?" "Okay," I say, "rough cut." Whatever that means. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2010]

“For the sake of speed, he keeps chitchat to a minimum and forsakes the "Please sir, move your head forward" coddling you get at a salon. Stiff finger jabs to the sides and back of the head get immediate results. When asked why he works so fast, Ali thrusts his comb toward a long row of laborers in dirty tunics waiting their turn. "That's why," he says. Nearly finished, Ali picks up a yellow-handled straight razor, puts in a new blade from an old car wax container and shaves the back of my neck.... Ali's done. There's no blow-dry, no gel, not even a hand mirror to check the back of my head. But that's all right. I hand him 30 rupees...I glance in the mirror and like what I see. But the true test comes at home, when my wife sizes up the new look. "Wow," she says with a grin. "You look just like a Pakistani!"

Hair Implants in Pakistan

Jeremy Paige wrote in The Times: “Midway through a society dinner party in the Pakistani capital, conversation turned to the recent deportation of Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister, to Saudi Arabia. “I couldn’t believe it, yah,” a young Pakistani woman said in an exaggerated English accent, as a servant refilled her glass of wine. “I mean, did you see those hair implants? They were so obvious.” Ever since Mr Sharif reemerged into the political spotlight, Pakistanis have been gossiping about the appearance of a thin covering of black hair on his previously bald scalp. Most were amused. Some were appalled. But hardly anyone was surprised. [Source: Jeremy Paige, The Times of London, November 2007]

Hair implants have become commonplace here in the past few years as wealthier urban males embrace cosmetic treatments that were once regarded as effeminate and even unIslamic. From facials to manicures, back waxes to eyebrow threading, a host of services are now on offer at a growing number of spas, salons and clinics catering to the male market. “I never bothered with this before,” Humayun, 28, said after a facial at the Islamabad branch of Depilex Men, part of the biggest chain of beauty parlours in Pakistan. “I guess there’s just more pressure on men to look good these days.”

“The trend may be confined to the upper and middle classes, estimated at 20-30 million people, but it illustrates how Western-style media, marketing and celebrity culture are changing Pakistani society. Five years ago most Pakistani men wore only the traditional salwar kameez — a loose-fitting cotton pyjama suit. The standard hairstyle was a short back and sides. Deodorant was considered unmanly. Moisturiser? Forget it. The same is still largely the case in rural Pakistan. The country’s population of 165 million is 97 per cent Muslim and tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have become even more conservative as the Taleban force men to grow beards and reject Western fashions.

Metrosexuality and Male Plastic Surgery in Pakistan

Jeremy Paige wrote in The Times: “n the big cities of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, where dozens of television channels are now available, men are becoming ever more conscious about their clothes, coiffures and complexions — so much so that a recent talk show on Dawn News, a new English-language television channel, asked whether Pakistan was going through a “metro-sexual” revolution. “It has definitely come up in the past five years — and not just in the upper classes,” Tahir Mohammed, a leading cosmetic surgeon, said. “Society is much more competitive because of the media and other things, so executives, politicians and professionals want to look smart.” [Source: Jeremy Paige, The Times of London, November 2007]

“He said that 25 per cent of his clients were now men and a growing number asked for surgeries such as nose jobs or liposuction on their bellies. The greatest demand is for hair implants — especially among public figures. Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned politician, has had one. So has the husband of Benazir Bhutto, another exiled former Prime Minister. President Musharraf is thought to still have his original head of hair, although it is dyed dark brown. Sales of men’s grooming products rose 15 per cent last year to 3.4 billion rupees (£28 million), according to a recent report by Euromonitor, a market research company. Among the bestselling products is a skin-whitening cream called Fair and Lovely. Depilex, which has run women’s beauty parlours for 25 years, now has four branches for men only

1) Eight varieties of facial treatment — including skin whitening — are offered in Pakistan’s latest, exclusively male beauty parlours 2) A survey of 25,000 Pakistanis found that just over half the country’s women preferred men with “a metrosexual appearance similar to David Beckham” to those with “a rugged appearance” 3) Only one in fifty men in the survey admitted to metrosexual traits such as the regular use of beauty products and trimming eyebrow and chest hair.

Women’s Clothes in Pakistan

Women in Pakistan wear salwar kameez, long tunics with pants that are often longer, have a more feminine fit and are more decorated than the men’s version. The garment was invented in the 18th century by Sikhs who wanted women to fight against Muslims on horseback but felt the sari was unfit for combat. Punjabi women later adopted the shalwar kameez, which was worn with a “dupatta” (head scarf) by Muslims. Other Pakistanis began wearing it. The salwar is the pants. Kameez refers to the long tunic.

After the revolution in neighboring Iran in 1970, Pakistani women were discouraged from wearing jeans, short skirts and other Western clothing. The salwar kameez became the required dress for Pakistani women. Many Indian women also wear it because it more practical and comfortable than the sari and doesn’t require constant shifting to keep it in place as is true with a sari. Some women in Pakistan wear saris.

When Queen Elizabeth II visited Pakistan she donned a head scarf and wore sock when visiting temples. Punjab and Sindh women generally wear a “chunni” or dupatta (a scarf drapped around the head and shoulders). Many nomadic women have traditionally not covered their heads and regarded the practice of doing so as an urban custom.

Pakistani men reportedly like women with the classic Central Asian look: fair skin, jet black hair, large eyes and a prominent nose. They don't go much for the Uzbek and Mongol look: of almond eyes and small noses.


The dupattā is a simple piece of clothing that can draped loosely over the shoulder, head or upper part of a woman’s body. It is worn throughout the Indian subcontinent and can used as as a veil, head scarf, belt, scarf or sash. In Pakistan, the dupatta is part of the women's shalwar kameez outfit, and worn over the kurta and the gharara.

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The South Asian dupatta, which lies somewhere between its religious cousins — the shorter head scarf popular in Turkey and Indonesia and the take-no-prisoners niqab and abaya worn in Saudi Arabia — is such a fixture of Pakistani culture that many women here say they feel naked without one. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2012]

“And while it may grow longer or shorter, wider or narrower, plainer or more extravagant with fashion’s whims, it’s a long-standing fixture in this conservative Islamic country, with a role in bolstering izzat, or modesty and respect. Nearly all Pakistani women wear a dupatta, at least occasionally. “It has a multitude of uses,” said designer Rizwan Beyg, who outfitted the late Princess Diana — she declined to wear a dupatta with his ensemble — on one of her visits to Pakistan. “While its main use is to cover the boobs, butt and head, it can also be a sash, even a belt.”

“The dupatta and its traditional partner, the two-piece tunic and pants ensemble called a shalwar kameez, saw a renaissance under dictator Zia ul-Haq in the mid-1970s. He discouraged Western clothing, all but banned the sari as “too Indian” and launched a campaign to “look Pakistani.” Women on state-run television were ordered to cover their heads as part of Zia’s religious-nationalist vision. News readers who refused were fired, leading others in defiance to pin the fabric’s edge to their hair, a look some likened to the landing of a tiny UFO.”

Dupatta Fashions

Reporting from Karachi, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Seeking a competitive edge, fabric designer Vaneeza Ahmad spent hours on the phone to China but couldn’t find anyone to make her new line of dupattas...China may be the world’s factory floor, but its scarf makers aren’t equipped for something that can be more than 8 feet long. Ahmad fretted, until, after much wrangling, she found a solution. “I’ve located a curtain maker who could do it,” she said triumphantly. “They’ve got the only machines big enough to handle our dupattas.” [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2012]

“Essence of femininity, grist for film and literature, political statement, cultural icon, albatross, these few ounces of cotton or silk fabric have woven their way across Pakistan’s shoulders, history and fashion runways, morphing from protest symbol to political must-have to sometimes-burdensome accessory demanded by Islamic fundamentalists.

“The key to the dupatta’s staying power is its versatility, its champions say. In the course of a day, an urban Pakistani woman may switch roles from entrepreneur to ingenue to pious daughter, in keeping with this country’s nuanced and often-contradictory sense of self. The dupatta, which can be wrapped tightly around the head, left on the shoulders, hung from the side or dropped altogether, helps in navigating these social shoals.

“The river of fabric is also forgiving, easily masking pregnancy, obesity and aging, as the bonbons build up, necks sag, hairlines recede. “You can cover up a lot with your dupatta,” Sohail said. Ornate dupattas are de rigueur at weddings and funerals, and some women have as many as 25 of varying materials and patterns.

“Pakistani women who travel abroad say they generally leave their dupattas at home. “You wouldn’t wear a bikini in Pakistan and you don’t wear a dupatta in Miami Beach,” said fabric designer Ahmad. “It’s all about context.”

Dupattas as Political Statements and Reflections of Change

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The dupatta played a cameo role in the 1947 founding of Pakistan, but its first appearance, some claim, dates back 4,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization, evidenced by sculpture from the period showing high priests apparently wearing dupattas. “As Britain’s grip weakened in the 1940s, young Muslim women campaigning for the creation of Pakistan used their dupattas to make a statement. Caught without a green-and-white Muslim League flag, writer Mumtaz Shahnawaz famously whipped off her green dupatta on the roof of the Lahore jail to vent her discontent. Weeks later, 14-year-old Fatima Sughra used hers to replace the Union Jack atop a Punjab government building. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2012]

“More than anything, the scarf’s bit role in history may reflect its being in the right place at the right time. “The dupatta was a stand-in,” said Mohsin Sayeed, a Karachi-based fashion writer. “They weren’t going to take off their bras and wave those around.” The early 1960s, a relatively wild period by Pakistani standards, saw the dupatta become shorter and less important. But religious conservatism and nationalism reasserted themselves toward the end of the decade. In 1966, Pakistan International Airways’ new uniforms for flight attendants, designed by Pierre Cardin, replaced pert pillbox hats with what describes as an “imaginatively molded dupatta that not only covered heads but also turned heads.”

“The Pakistani perhaps most associated with the dupatta was the first woman to head a Muslim state, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007. Educated overseas, Bhutto embraced the dupatta as a way to downplay her Western lifestyle and boost her voter appeal as a pious Muslim woman. “It’s sort of like a nun in the West, that men shouldn’t think of her as sexy,” said Kamiar Rokni, a fashion designer. Maheen Khan, who designed Bhutto’s inauguration outfit, said her original dupatta kept slipping off, so she suggested using white chiffon, which hung better and looked patriotic when matched with a green shalwar kameez — the colors of Pakistan’s flag. Bhutto loved the idea and made it a fixture.

“More recently, some women have complained of harassment and lewd comments in bazaars and other public places if they don’t wear a dupatta, or don’t drape it on their head, as Taliban-inspired fear spreads and society grows increasingly conservative. “Without one, you’re seen as wanton,” said Shaheen Khan, 59, a homemaker in Karachi. Lahore Arts Council curator Tanya Sohail, who sometimes leaves home without hers, said her response to men who make rude comments is that the Quran also tells men to not look inappropriately at women and to keep their eyes downcast. “They’re taken aback,” she said. “They don’t expect a woman to talk back and question their morals.”

Conservative Women's Outfits ine Pakistan

In conservative area of Pakistan, women wear several types of clothing that covers their bodies and all or part of the faces. The most well known are the burqa, which looks like a a tent or ghost costume and has cloth screen to look through, and the chaddar (chador), sheet worn over the body and head that barely reveals the eyes.

In many town in the northwest you rarely see women out and about and when you do they are either wearing a burqa or chaddar. Even when they peek out the windows of their homes they wrap a shawl around their head. Women sometimes carry belongings in shawls wrapped on top of their heads while wearing a burqa.

Kohat is a conservative area in the Frontier Regions of northwest Pakistan. Women there wear burqas that cover them from head to toe and you can’t even make out their eyes. Their head is completely covered with a hood that looks like something a beekeeper would wear. There is a small screen of cloth for them to look through and even their hands can't be exposed. There are white, red, tan and black ones.


"Burqas" are garments that cover every part of a woman’s body, scraping across the ground. Worn primarily in conservative tribal areas in the northwest but seen throughout Pakistan, they like a big sheet with a passport-size mesh area around the eyes to see through. They are held in place by an internal headband in a cloth cap and are not unlike ghost costumes that small children wear on Halloween, except they are made of a heavier material.

Burqas come a variety of colors, including tan, white, red and black. The wearer’s are just barely visible; hidden behind a cloth screen that look a fencing mask covered with a curtain. The hands aren't allowed to be exposed either. A burqa is made from a seven meters of fabric. The rear panel often contains carefully-ironed pleats sewn into a small cap which sits on the head. The front outer panel is often decorated with floral designs. It falls past the eyes and stops above the knee.

Many women who wear burqas hate them.. They are incredibly hot in the summer. Some complain the weight carried on their heads gives them a headache. Others say the lack of ventilation makes them nauseous. Others say you have to watch carefully where you are going, or else you might trip and fall over. Some women believe they will be condemned to damnation if they remove their burqas. To count money sometimes women shift the screen so they can see. In the eyes of some men this is an offense and women have been beaten for it.

Some women like the burqa because it makes them feel safe and secure and keeps men from staring at them. One women wrote to a newspaper, “I wear the burqa, and would want my daughters to because this frees us from the horrible looks and wants of men outside the family and also makes us happy to be what we are. I don’t need to diet, or to color my lips. My husbands likes me how I am and always will.”

In th old days burqas were made mostly of cotton. These days the cheapest ones are made from Pakistani polyester. They cost around US$5. More expensive ones made of Korean polyester cost around US$30. They are often made in small shops, with one person cutting and ironing the rear panel, a second inserting the scree and stitching the decorations on the front panel and a third person sewing the pieces together.

Wearing a Burqa

A burqa is awkward to wear. The covered hands are often at chin level, trying the pull the screen close enough to the eyes to see out of. Women walk with a distinctive bob as they look down towards their feet and try to see them below the folds as they skirt obstacles such as gutters, litter and puddles. [Source: Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2001]

Women move under the burqas like ghostly amebas. It is difficult to walk, difficult to see and difficult to hear with a burqa. One woman told the Los Angeles Times, “I can’t see where I’m going, and I feel like I might fall over.” Wearing a burqa has been equated with Chinese foot binding. Women in burqas often only recognize one another by their shoes.

Describing what it like inside a burqa, Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post, “The first thing that strikes you is that the world suddenly looks like peas soup. Faces are indistinguishable and distances are hard to calculate. Stepping off a broken curb onto a rubble-strewn street, for example, takes great skill, Navigating through chaotic traffic, with motor scooters careening past donkey carts on all sides, becomes a nightmare.

“The second thing you notice is that it is stifling hot, You can breath, but you feel claustrophobic almost immediately. Within minutes, you are seized with a compulsion to tear at the choking folds of cloth swathing your face and body...I felt an odd combination of humiliation and security...I could understand the appeal of being anonymous in public. At the same time, I could easily imagine the rage that builds up when one’s identity is literally smothered.”

You can’t clearly see a woman’s eyes through a burqa or tell if she is smiling or angry. It is hard but possible to wave from underneath the clothes. Women put on fingernail polish and use mirrors to apply make up under their burqas. Sometimes girls sit together and form tents with their burqas, which allows them to talk face to face. Burqas are ideal for hiding things and smuggling. During the American-Afghanistan War, male foreign journalist tried to sneak into the country wearing burqas and spies smuggled messages out under burqas. Male terrorists have set off suicide bombs under burqas.

Burqa-Wearing Customs

Girls traditionally have donned burqas formally for the first time around the age of 12 or 13, when they reached puberty and were regarded as old enough to get married. They are not Islamic in origin but rather were introduced from India — by Hindus as well as Muslims — around mid 18th century and was traditionally worn by wives of upwardly mobile husbands.

Burqas are mostly blue in color. Women like them because they hide the dirt. Young women often wear white ones. Yellow, red, brown and black ones can also be seen. Certain styles and colors are popular in certain regions. The ones from Herat are regarded as the best made ones. They have fancy pleating that takes hours to iron properly. In Kabul, burqas sometimes have lace trim.

In rural areas, women working are allowed to work in the fields without wearing burqas but they cover themselves in the presence of strangers. These days many working women wear their burqas during their commute and remove them when they are in their offices.

Pashtun Clothes and Appearance

The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. Pashtun tribesmen dress in drab colored turbans, shlawar kameez tunics, “partog” (baggy trousers), and bandoliers. Their guns however are often decorated with all kinds of bright colors. They sometimes dye their beards orange with henna and wear elaborately embroidered waistcoats. Pashtun men, particularly Kandaharis, pay great attention to the way they look. Some men color their toenails and fingernails with henna and dye their hair bright orange with henna. Some wear kohl eyeliner. Members of the Taliban religious police wore it it because they thought it made them look more fierce.

Different Pasthun tribes wear different head gear. The Afridis have traditionally worn bulbous red cloth hats with a bow wrapped around them. The Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan wear small, dark turbans and those from northern Afghanistan wear flat woolen caps called “pakols”. By contrast, the Baloch wear large and white turbans that are often heaped so high they appear as if they will topple over. In 1986, during a visit to Pakistan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter donned a Pashtun turban.

In South Waziristan, many women wear white or canary yellow burqa. In Kandahar and other places in southern Afghanistan, Pashtun are fond of wearing chaplis, high-heeled sandles, that are a size too small and makes one mince their steps when walking.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Traditional Pashtun dress is a somber-colored, loose-fitting shirt worn to the knees (qmis) and full trousers tied at the waist with a string (shalwar). Over the shirt there is usually a vest, and for footwear there are thick leather shoes (chaplay). Most Pashtun farmers and almost all adult males in tribal areas wear turbans (pagray), long lengths of cotton cloth wound around the head and fastened so that one end dangles. They also usually wear a wide, long piece of cloth called a chadar on their shoulders. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Country women wear baggy black or colored trousers, a long shirt belted with a sash, and a length of cotton over the head. City women wear the same type of trousers and long shirt (qmis) and cotton over the head. They also usually wear a veil, a loose garment that covers a woman from the head to below the knees (burqa). Women wear colored clothes printed with flowers and other designs. For footwear, they use sandals, shoes, or embroidered slippers.” *\

“Pashtun clothes differ from province to province, but they are often highly decorated. The people of Kandahar sew characteristic designs on their clothes and wear small hats made of thread or silk. In Paktia, people generally wear large hats with turbans. Vests are very common among Pashtun, but styles differ from location to location. For example, the people of Nangahar wear vests with bright designs. *\

Sindhi Clothes

Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. Both men and women wear turbans and dress in loose tunic and baggy trousers Women are skilled embroiderers and decorate their tunics and the skull caps of men with patterns made from pieces of mirror. "Ajrak" a traditionally made shawl. Women wear garments with hand-blocked red resist dyes, In urban areas, people dress in modern-styles. Some women wear saris, or salwar-kurta.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The original dress of the Sindhi male is the dhoti, a type of coat (jama), and a turban. A round, embroidered cap, cut away in the front, is commonly worn by Sindhi men. As with many societies in South Asia, different communities within Sindh have developed their own distinctive style of dress. Th us, Amils have adopted flowing pyjamas, high-topped caps, and leather slippers with their toes curled up. They follow the custom of tying a kamarband (i.e., cummerbund) around the waist. Muslim influence can be seen in the salwar (loose baggy trousers) and serwani (a long, tunic-like coat). Hindu communities have their own styles of dress. Traders and businessmen, for example, favor the Marwari-style turban of Rajasthan. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

The Shawl of the male Shalwar-Kurta is called a lungi and is used as a garment of honor or on special occasions. Sindhi men wear embroidered decorative Caps cut-away in the front as an essential part of their dressing. Traditionally embroidered decorative skull caps and ajrak on the shoulders with shalwar kameez are worn by men in Sindh. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Sindhi Women’s Clothes

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Traditional dress for older Sindhi women consists of a white cotton tunic and a thick white or red skirt that reaches the ground. The head is covered with a thin muslin scarf that is larger than the modern dupatta. Slippers complete the ensemble. Sometimes, a white sheet (chaddar) is worn covering the entire body, with only a small peep hole (akhiri) left open so that the wearer can see. Younger women wear the salwarkurta, or the suthan, a pyjama-type outfit, along with slippers and the scarf. Mirrorwork on the kurta is typical of Sindh. Ornaments include ivory bracelets and bangles, silver anklets, and gold earrings and nose rings. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

In Sindh, for their clothes women turn to the basic colors, red, yellow and black, to counteract the monotony of the desert. They embellish with skill and care each of the three items of their dress, the rawa or veil, the chola or shirt, and the voluminous trousers called suthan. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

The Sindhi woman's method of brightening her shirts is perhaps unique in the world. Tiny mirrors are tacked on to the material with the aid of closely worked embroidery. The effect is enchanting for the brilliant sun transforms the mirrors into a thousand sparkling gems, and lamplight turns the dress starry at night The chaddar is of bright color block printed cotton cloth with thick embroidery and sprinkling of mirrors. Women use shredded mica mixed in starch to add sparkle to fine cotton saris and dupattas. For the suthan, a special striped material that drapes well is woven. The sussi is traditionally used only for making the trousers. With this ensemble, slippers are worn. The tops are made of a woolly carpet weave that just covers the feet, sewn onto leather soles.

Eastern Sindh has its share of migratory people and among the most colorful are the Koli, Bheel and Mengwart. Women wear ankle-length skirts with yards of fabric which accentuate their graceful movements, the blouse or Kanjiri is short sleeved and backless. The head is covered with a chunjji, tie-dyed. Tight knots are tied all over the material done up in liberal colors.

Across the ends of the Sindh border region camel train has moved for centuries carrying goods and people on their journey across the subcontinent. Under the blistering sun head covering becomes essential. The headgear combines utility with decoration. The mirror work is typical of Sindh, as is the printed cotton Ajrak or Gharara. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Jewelry is simple with a primitive flavor about it. Round ear-rings are worn right round the edge of the ear, making it look like a chandelier. Necklaces of several strands of coins and gold beads with a large pendant, called durri, symbolize the wealth of the weaver. The rich women of Sindh wear a lot of gold jewelry to show the grandeur and dignity. Sindh have preserved the old technique of enameling blue and white glazed minakari of silver and gold metal base. The women of Tharparkar wear white bangles that covers the whole arm and bold golden or silver nose pin.

Baloch Clothes and Appearance

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Baloch men have traditionally had long hair and long bears and have worn turbans. Having an egg-shaped head used to be regarded as ugly so in the old days after birth the heads of infants were sometimes bound and wrapped with cloth strips and ropes so the head had a rounder shape. The turbans worn by Balochs are large and white and often appears as if they will topple over. The cloth used to make their turban can be up to 20 meters long. By contrast, the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan wear small, dark turbans and those in northern Afghanistan wear flat woolen caps called “pakols”.

Baloch used to wear only white but that is not the case any more. The traditional white clothes of the Baloch suit their environment and help reflect heat. Their long robes can be made cloth up to 40 meters long. Constantly shifting and wrapping the cloth is a Baloch past time. Women in traditional clothes wear a lose tunic with colored braids hat extend from the high round neck to the hem and trousers. The wearing of trousers under the shift was restricted to high status women, whose clothes have traditionally been made from silk and were elaborately embroidered. Some Balochistan women wear really heavy necklaces and bracelets half the length of their forearms.. Baluchi men have traditionally worn rings in the ears and on their fingers, but avoided other kinds of jewelry.

According to the Government of Balochistan: The mode of dress among the Balochi, Pashtunn and Brahvi tribes is very similar having a few minor dissimilarities. Turban is the common headwear of the men. Wide loose shalwar (a bit similar to loose trouser) and knee-long shirts are worn by all. The dress of the woman consists of the typical shirt having a big pocket in front. The shirt normally has embroidery work with embedded small round mirror pieces. Big ‘Dopatta’ or ‘Chaddar’, a long rectangular piece of cloth cascading down the shoulders and used to cover head, are used by the women. [Source: Government Of Balochistan,]

According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Traditional clothing for the Baloch man is a long, loose shirt (jamag or kurta) that reaches below the knees, worn with baggy trousers (salwar), and a turban (pag). The turban is a long cloth wound around a turban cap on the head. Leather shoes or palm-leaf sandals are worn. A shawl or wrap (chaddar) provides extra warmth in winter but can also be used as a towel, sash, or headcloth; it can be used to carry things.” An embroidered waistcoat or vest is sometimes worn over the shirt [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]

“Women wear a long shift (pashk) reaching to the ankles, with a wrap used to cover the head, shoulders, and upper body. The wearing of trousers under the shift has been restricted to women of high status. Bright colors are usually avoided, but scarlet is popular among girls of marriageable age. Widows wear black. Women wear an assortment of jewelry, including rings (nose rings, earrings, rings on fingers and toes), necklaces, bracelets, and hair ornaments. Jewelry is made of gold or silver, depending on what a person can afford.

The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh. “A young boy is given his first trousers at about three years of age, and thereafter wears clothes similar to those of adult males — the kurti (long shirt), worn over the salwar, the loose, baggy trousers found throughout the area. For men, a turban (pag) completes the outfit. Women wear a long shift over trousers, although among Brahui nomads women wear skirts rather than trousers. Among the Brahui of the Jhalawan region, women's shifts are typically black in color. Women's clothes are embroidered with various patterns and designs in colored thread. Women's ornaments include finger rings (challav), nose rings (vat), and earrings (panara). Brahui settled in the Sindh region tend to dress like the Sindhi population. /=\

Clothes Worn by Groups in Northern Pakistan

The Bursusho, also known as Hunzakuts, are dominant ethnic group of the Hunza valley in far northern Pakistan. Burusho men dress like other Pakistani men. Women dressed a traditional style sport bright pillbox hats, adorned with traditionally needlework and crowned by a white scarf. Men in the Hunza and other parts of Pakistan dye their hair or beards orange with henna, but rarely both. A common sight is an old man with short snow white hair and an orange Hemingway style beard.*

Burusho are known for their woolen outer robes known as “chogas.” After wool is woven into material Burushos pound it with mallets. The imperial court in pre-revolutionary France wore shawls made by Hunza wool which at time was more fashionable than cashmere.

Burusho prefer the wool of yaks because it is the most durable. These beasts also provide shoes, water containers from their hide, tools and musical instruments from their bones, fly whisks and brooms from their tails, and fuel from the dung. [Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1975]

Kalash Clothes, Beauty and Adornments

The Kalash (Kalasha) is a tiny group of animists living in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chitral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. The Kalash women are known for their ornate costumes and headdresses. The wear black robes with girdles embroidered with cowry shells and have piles of red-bead necklaces hanging from their neck. Cowrie shells were once a form of currency in northern India and possessing a lot of them was a sign of wealth.

Kalash women twist their hair into long braids and wear a carpet of cowrie shells and wool that hangs over the back of the head as if it were part of their hair. Tassels on the front of the headdress are made of everything from feathers to wool scraps. The women garner a spooky look when they apply burned millet paste on their face which gives them a raccoon-like mask. [Source: Debra Denker, National Geographic, October 1981]

Kalash women used to wear lots of necklaces made with coral, beads of ivory, and fresh and saltwater pearls. But these are not as visible as they once were and probably were sold off to earn money. Some are for sale in tourist shops. Jewels symbolize the sun, stars and gods. In addition to being measure of husband's wealth, cowries are thought to bring happiness and protection. The best kupas (headdresses) have fourteen rows of cowries.

Men mostly wear shalwar kameez, the national Pakistani costume . As a sign of growing Kalash poverty many Kalash who used to wear shoes now go barefoot ot wear sandals. The dresses of the women also look tattered. Some of the nicer ones are for sale in tourist shops.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.