Correction – Our ‘Kameez’ has not evolved from a ball gown!

Book Review: The Power of Nice
May 27, 2010
A designer with Panache
May 30, 2010

Some TV talk shows leave you stumped, horrified, and plain disappointed with the whole exercise of active listening! By Fareeha Qayoom

Some TV talk shows leave you stumped, horrified, and plain disappointed with the whole exercise of active listening!

By Fareeha Qayoom

Nee Punhal

Nee Punhal - designer boutique, Fortress Stadium - 2005


hat do you do when you have an hour to kill and you are at a loose end?

Well, last week it happened to me. My sister was hogging my computer. I didn’t feel like reading. Besides, I do most of my reading on the computer – you know – there is such thing as my eBook collection (no, kindle is very expensive in Pakistan and I keep dropping regular hints to my elder siblings to gift it to me for my next birthday but what the heck, they don’t love me that much either!) and the net, what you don’t have in your hard drive can be quickly acquired online. In fact, I even watch TV (and listen to music) on the computer as well. My brother saves and collects all my favorite shows (Heroes, CSI, Criminal Minds, House etc) on DVD (no, not for me, he is a collector and does it for himself but I get to borrow his vast collection too!). When I feel like it and have time, I do a marathon run of watching the whole current season of my favorite shows in one go, one by one in a few hours flat – take it from me, it’s the best way to watch your favorite shows by far, no commercial breaks and no interruptions or a long wait between episodes. I also watch movies on my computer as well, probably because my first love is reading and I am invariably reading a book that I can’t put down while the rest of the family is watching a show or a movie. Sometimes, I even catch a local talk show on the net – sites like that make it easier for you to catch your favorite talk shows on the net the next day, however, you do need speed for a quick download and streaming. Anyway, I digress.  I was telling you about the one time when my sister took away my favorite toy for a couple of hours last week.

Shalwar Kameeze

A typical Shalwar, Kameez and Dupatta ensemble

So, I had to borrow her favorite toy to pass the time. Yes, you probably guessed it, cable TV. I wasn’t pleased. There was nothing on. I kept surfing but I couldn’t find a single program worth watching. While I was surfing, my nephew decided to join me for a bit. He wanted to watch cartoons. I thought, why not…but instead of any educational shows, the kids get to watch action figures kill and zap villains – you know, ‘Ben Ten,’ ‘Tom and Jerry’ or the ‘Power Puff Girls.’ Too much senseless violence, even if it is supposed to be a straight forward stand up fight between good and evil or good guys and the bad guys so I encouraged the kid to watch something else with me, I was aiming for a local music show (no, not Indian or western, some of the videos are equally inappropriate for the kids as well…!), while I was surfing for something innocuous, I noticed “Rizwan Beyg’s” face in passing. So I stopped for a bit. However, my nephew wanted me to move on; he was not interested in boring adults pontificating on tedious topics so to please him I did. He’s only five you know.

However, he got bored within fifteen minutes flat since we still couldn’t find something that we could both watch and enjoy. He left. I went back to Beyg’s show – the first two guests had just left and two more were coming in. It was called ‘Fashion Lounge’ and it was airing on Business Plus. Apparently, Beyg was co-hosting the show with a lady who was supposed to be another big-shot in the fashion scene; unfortunately, I wasn’t very familiar with her. The new guests were Zaheer Abbas and Adnan Pardesi. The topic under discussion was western cuts vs. local cuts, their collections at fashion week 2010 and the poor and stagnant curriculum at the fashion school.

Apparently, the kids are not taught how to cut local silhouettes in school. Pardesi was complaining that local silhouettes are totally a different ball game and he had to learn patterns all over again after he left school. The lady co-host (can’t remember her name, sorry!) remarked that during one jury, she had asked the school’s faculty precisely this question and she was told that ‘cutting is cutting’ and ‘Kameez’ had evolved from a ball gown anyway so the students should be able to cut eastern or western silhouettes with ease!

I don’t have beef with the first part of this statement however the second part was news to me. I was shocked. Possibly it might shock you too. I didn’t know that our ‘kameez’ had evolved from a ball gown! Maybe the mechanics of constructing a top or outerwear are the same the world over, be that a dress, a t-shirt, a jacket, a sherwani, an angharakha or a peshwaz, a ball gown or a kameez, (even that’s debatable as Pardesi maintained in the show) but we are not talking about construction or pattern here only, we are talking about the history and origins of a particular garment as well! Which are two different things altogether – I couldn’t believe the degree of ignorance displayed by our distinguished panel of experts! Talk about blind leading the blind. The experts, teachers and students all seem to be clueless and don’t want to make any effort to find out stuff. At least, no one seemed to be willing to challenge this particular statement on the program. So, yes, I agreed with Pardesi. Curriculum should evolve with the times and the students should be taught courses in local and international garment construction as well as the history of clothing, fashion and design. Sigh.

Listen, I may not have a degree in fashion design but even I know that the kameez and shalwar evolved from the Middle Eastern and Central Asian origins with the advent of Islam in Sub-continent, in fact, both words actually exist in Arabic originally– ‘Kamis’ or ‘Qamis’ and ‘sirwal’ – the ‘kurta’ has evolved originally from the ‘caftan’ – all you have to do is study the construction and different patterns of caftans, there are many  forms, you can distinguish one from the other by counting the number of gores or panels or ‘kalian’ to figure out which is which. Don’t they teach students history of Clothing and Fashion in school anymore? Even if they don’t, don’t the students have a responsibility to find out stuff on their own? There are books. There are fashion magazines. There is the net.

I was equally shocked to learn that no research goes into making of these TV programs. Everyone’s taking it for granted that the so called experts know what they are talking about including the producers and anchors! In this case, the anchors were supposed to be leaders of the fashion scene! It wasn’t even a live program, so they probably had time to research, rehearse and record even if it was not a scripted show – accurate facts and figures make for an interesting discussion besides; the audience might learn something new.

Instead of learning something new with this program, I ended up feeling disturbed and disappointed by the end of it. However, it did make me look up facts on my own to reconfirm what I knew before I ever watched this show. No, our ‘Kameez’ has not evolved from a ball gown even if the Arabic word Qamis is related to Latin camisia (shirt), which in its turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European kem (‘cloak’)! (Wikipedia) ■

Sidebar: History of Shalwar Kameez

Here’s a short history lesson for you on origins of our indigenous clothing and fashions in case you are wondering too! (I had to consult my eBook collection as well as the net).

greek clothing

Greek clothing usually consisted of long, flowing garments, head wreaths, and sandals

Indigenous dresses (before the advent of Islam) that drape like sarongs ‘lacha’ or ‘sari’ or ‘lungi’ or ‘dhoti’ or ‘gaagrah’ have Greek influences – Ashoka (274–237) and his grandfather Chandra Gupta Maurya (320–297 B.C.E.) forged contacts with Central Asia, China, and the Greek world (which had expanded far into Asia under Alexander the Great). Chandra Gupta married a Greek princess and had Greek women bodyguards.

The presence of Greek women at the Mauryan court possibly had significant consequences for the history of South Asian dress; the Greek women’s singlepiece draped chiton, pleated as a skirt and draped over the shoulder, may have been an ancestor of the sari. The elaborate drapings of Greco-Asian Gandhara sculpture of the northern area reflect the local costume, while stitched garments are depicted as being worn by soldiers, possibly of Central Asian origin. Stitched garments became common during the Gupta period (fourth to eighth century C.E.), for the Gupta rulers controlled territories from Central Asia to Gujarat.

However, it doesn’t mean natives didn’t wear clothes before the Gupta period! An early Harappan sculpture depicts a priest’s draped garment with an embroidered trefoil motif. Women are shown wearing elaborate headgear and a scanty wrap around the hips and pubic area, a form of dress used even today by some tribal people of Central India. The early Vedas (ca. 1200–1000 B.C.E.) mention shining raiments, indicating the use of gold thread. The Mahabharata and Ramayana describe elaborate garments, but their form is unclear. Draped garments continued to dominate in post-Vedic times and had evolved into an elaborate costume with distinctive names.

The conquest of most of Central Asia and northwestern India by Mahmud of Ghazni in the eleventh century played a major role in bringing Islam to South Asia. The Islamic influence exerted by the Ghaznavids and their successors had a notable effect on the clothing of South Asia. There was an extensive trade in textiles between India and the Middle East; records specifically mention fabrics for lining and edging, indicating a highly evolved style of stitched costumes. Mention is also made of costumes coming from Syria, Egypt, and Baghdad to be used by the Sultans and their court. Textiles were also produced locally under the patronage of Muslim rulers.

Mogul miniature paintings demonstrate that fashions in clothing were dictated by the court. Men wore long coats over pantaloons, and turbans with jeweled plumes. In Akbar’s court chakdar jama, a long coat with pointed corners was fashionable, while Jehangir introduced a fitting Nadiri coat. In the early Mogul period, the dress of men and women was similar, but during Jehangir’s reign women’s fashions changed. Miniatures show layers of fine muslin garments floating over rich brocaded tunics with gossamer tissue veils. Indigenous textiles and skills inspired a range of costumes influenced by local fashions.

The Mogul Empire’s decline shifted patronage to regional courts and led to indigenous styles. A long, trailing coat was worn at the sophisticated court of Oudh. Women’s pajamas evolved into elaborate slit skirts called farshi payjama. Only Hindu women wore skirts.


Sari by Satya Paul

The impact of European clothing on India was gradual. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many European men adopted Indian dress and married or lived with Indian women. The arrival of substantial numbers of European women in the mid- to late nineteenth century brought about a change of lifestyles. The formation of a colonial government and the evolution of a formal social life led to a more formal dress code. The Indian civil servants, soldiers, and students were expected to dress accordingly. The Indian elite adopted the Western mode of dress, while the middle class blended it with their own. The Bengali babu wore his dhoti with a shirt, a coat, and an umbrella. In southern India, men wore the coat and shirt over the sarong. Women began wearing blouses imitating the neckline, collars, and puffed sleeves of Western fashion. The tunics of North India also followed some of the European fashions.

Shalwar Kameez

Shalwar,Kameez and Dupatta - Historic Photographs/ Courtesy of CORBIS

North India and Pakistan

In North India and Pakistan, stitched costumes similar to those of Central Asia are prevalent. Men and women wear a tunic called a kamiz, together with shalwar, loose pantaloons, narrow at the ankles and tied at the waist. (The salwar is cut quite differently from the pajama.) The versions of shalwar kameez worn by men and women are similar but have a different cut and styling. In addition to the tunic and pantaloons, women wear a veil, dupatta, which is a head covering, and can envelop the body. Pakistan’s women have adopted shalwar kameez as their national dress; for outdoors, some women wear a burqa over the shalwar kameez that covers them from head to toe.

In Greater Punjab (extending into both India and Pakistan), Sindh, and the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, people wear a longer style of tunic, called a kurta, as well as shalwar. The embroidered tunic worn by women in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan areas is similar to the one worn by the Balochi women of Afghanistan and Iran.

The Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh peasants wore a long wide sarong known as lacha made of cotton, worn long at the back and knotted in the front, with the ends tucked into the side. Affluent landlords wore a silk lacha with broad borders. Men wore turbans with a crestlike fan rising from behind and a long, flowing end falling down the wearer’s back. The Jats of East Punjab and Haryana in India wear a similar dress.

The men and women of Kashmir wear a long, loose tunic, pheran, with a shalwar or a pajama; the Kashmir tunic is quite distinct from the kamiz. The women’s tunic has embroidery at the neck and is worn with a headscarf.


The term “caftan” (from Ottoman Turkish qaftan) is used to refer to a full-length, loosely-fitted garment with long or short sleeves worn by both men and women, primarily in the Levant and North Africa. The garment may be worn with a sash or belt. Some caftans open to the front or side and are tied or fastened with looped buttons running from neck to waist. Depending on use, caftans vary from hip to floor length. The caftan is similar to the more voluminous djellaba gown of the Middle East. Contemporary use of the label “caftan” broadens the term to encompass a number of similarly styled ancient and modern garment types.

The origin of the caftan is usually tied to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. Caftan-like robes are depicted in the palace reliefs of ancient Persia dating to 600 B.C.E. By the thirteenth century C.E., the style had spread into Eastern Europe and Russia, where caftan styles provided the model for a number of different basic garments well into the nineteenth century (Yarwood 1986, p. 321, 62).

The caftan tradition was particularly elaborate in the imperial wardrobes of the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire in Anatolian Turkey. Caftans of varying lengths constructed from rich Ottoman satins and velvets of silk and metallic threads were worn by courtiers to indicate status, preserved in court treasuries, used as tribute, and given as “robes of honor” to visiting ambassadors, heads of state, important government officials, and master artisans working for the court (Atil 1987, p. 177, pp. 179–180.) Men’s caftans often had gores added, causing the caftan to flare at the bottom, while women’s garments were more closely fitted. Women were more likely to add sashes or belts. A sultan and his courtiers might layer two or three caftans with varying length sleeves for ceremonial functions. An inner short-sleeved caftan (entari), was usually secured with an embroidered sash or jeweled belt, while the outer caftan could have slits at the shoulder through which the wearer’s arms were thrust to display the sleeves (sometimes with detachable expansions) of the inner caftan to show off the contrasting fabrics of the garments (1987, pp. 182–198; p. 348).

Loose pants gathered at the ankle or skirts were worn under the entari. Caftan-style robes are worn in many parts of the world where Islam has spread, particularly in North and West Africa. In parts of West Africa, the practice of layering robes to express the aesthetic principle of “bigness” in leadership dress (Perani and Wolff 1999, pp. 90–95) and the giving of “robes of honor” is shared with the Ottoman tradition (Kriger 1988).

ball dress


Ball dress is simply defined as a gown worn to a ball or formal dance. Beyond this fundamental description, there are remarkably intricate conventions related to appropriateness of ball dress. The most extravagant within the category of evening dress, a ball gown functions to dazzle the viewer and augment a woman’s femininity. Ball gowns typically incorporate a low décolletage, a constricted bodice, bared arms, and long bouffant skirts. Ball gowns are visually distinguishable from other evening gowns by their lavishly designed surfaces—with layers of swags and puffs and such trim details as artificial flowers, ribbons, rosettes, and lace.

Additionally, ball gowns permit a woman to inhabit more space, as the especially billowing and expansive skirts extend the dimensions of her body. Fabric surfaces vary from reflective to matte, textured to smooth, and soft to rigid. Through the decades, undergarments have played a vital role in reshaping the natural structure of the body into the desired silhouette, from the corsets and petticoats of the nineteenth century to the control-top panty hose and padded bras of the twenty-first century.

As the most splendid among evening dresses, ball gowns represent the romantic dreams of young women. Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are recognizable fairy tales that instill in children the magnificence and fantasy of the ball, complete with appropriate full-skirted gown and a handsome prince. These ideas are reinforced and incorporated into our cultural consciousness. The profile of the traditional ball gown is evident in gowns for such modern-day events as weddings (bride and bride’s attendants), high school proms, and the most elegant of evening occasions. Not surprisingly, designers of contemporary ball gowns continue to emphasize feminine curves while at the same time drawing from the nostalgic styles of expansive and lavishly decorated skirts, thereby establishing the wearer as a work of art.

Source: Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, volume 1: academic dress to eyeglasses, Valerie Steele, Editor in Chief, © 2005 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation ■

No votes yet.
Please wait...
Fareeha Qayoom
Fareeha Qayoom
Publisher and editor-in-chief of and former print editions of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review (tkfr), a trade newsletter for the textile and apparel industry of Pakistan. In short, Publisher, editor, and a blogger. In addition, she has served as Managing Editor of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, print and web editions (2015-16). Total of 7 editions were published under her leadership by ITU, Punjab's first public technology university under the license of MIT Technology Review (USA). She has also managed Value Mag in the same capacity, a real estate and lifestyle magazine for Value TV - 2008-9. Published freelancer for The News on Sunday 1994-96. Fareeha has over 21 years of solid management experience – of managing brands (like Harley Davidson, Munsingwear, Chaps, Chaps Ralph Lauren etc.,), Retailers (like Target, Mervyns, Kohl's, Marks and Spencer etc.,), customers (VPs, Product Managers, Unit Managers, and Buyers), and products (apparel - woven, knits, men's, women's, children's, Print and online publishing units), projects, teams, and processes, information, content, and data, staff, vendors, and time. Versatile and adaptable with international exposure, communication and language skills (oral and written), and a consistent track record of achieving company targets and objectives, plus a MA in Political Science from Punjab University, a MSc in Economics from La Salle University, Louisiana, USA, and a BA in Economics from Kinnaird College for Women.

1 Comment

  1. More reading?

    How to Make a Persian Outer Caftan

    Muslim and Middle Eastern Clothing, Jewelry, Make-up,_jewelry_ma.html

    Basic Medieval Middle Eastern Clothing

    Linda’s Kamis Pattern

    Shalwar Kameez

    Archive for category Apparel, Fashion and Textiles

    Archive for category television

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...

Leave a Reply