Bazaar Bargains: Shalwar Qamiz

Shopping Essentials

What’s in store: Exotic clothing, textile and crafts like embroidered cloth, wool blankets or wood carvings and jewellery
Best Buy: A tailored Shalwar Qamiz, pyjama style two piece suit, stylish and practical at a mere $15

Shopping in Pakistan

There are many places in Pakistan to shop to your heart’s desire – roadside stalls selling cheap tack, expensive tourist shops, but the best place is one of the main city bazaars like those in Peshawar, Lahore and the Empress Market in Karachi.

Buying a Shalwar Qamiz

One essential action when travelling in Pakistan is to get yourself kitted out in a Shalwar Qamiz, the traditional long shirt and baggy trousers worn by Pakistani men and women throughout the world, and vital to keep cool in the beating sun. It was originally from Punjab, but is now worn throughout India and Pakistan and is a fashionable and comfortable alternative to the more complex dresses like saris. The Qamiz is a loose pyjama style trouser. For women, the shalwar qamiz has been re-interepreted by modern, liberal Indian women as not concealing and demure but rather seductive and, increasingly, casual but sexy. A variant on the form is the churidar - a tight fitting trouser gathered at the ankle which look like bangles.

It can be bought ‘pret a porter’ or tailored within a few days or even hours for you, the fabrics stall holders are likely to be more than willing to offer their services. What a charming and unique item for your wardrobe, perhaps made from silk (resham) which is a great bargain readily available in the northern areas. You need to buy about 20ft of cloth to make one, and it’s worn big and baggy. It will only set you back around $15 when tailored, cheaper off the peg ones may be just a few dollars.

Other types of dress you could buy in the markets include the ghagra choli - waist length bare back blouses with ankle length skirts or the traditional sari - a long cloth wrapped intricately around the body to form a close fitting dress.

Other Great Buys

Wool blankets (chador) – double as shawls, blankets or a pillow when you’re on the road

Camel skin lamps - popular in Baluchistan and Sind where the transcluscent camel leather is streatched over a clay mould and painted in dazzling bright colours, making your lamp scatter kaleiodoscopic colours around your room.

Slippers - good ones are made of real leather and are pointed with slight curls at the toe and decorated with a mosaic of rich shimmery embroidery.

Textiles and embroidered clothes - glamorous and practical buys, those of Gujarat are much like those found in India with tiny mirrors sewn into the dyed clothes. Sindh is famous for patchwork cloth known as rilliEmbroidered caps are a speciality and a practical way to fend off heat stroke, as you will have undoubtedly lost your western cap by the time you reach Pakistan! Some fabrics are literally green – many wools are unpicked from those clothes you unloaded in a charity dumper and weaved into something new and special.

Jewellery - Richly decorated jewellery of Moghul origin with jewels like rubies, emeralds and pearl inset in the gold or silver.

Wood crafts - The Swat Valley is know for Buddhist symbols in wood carvings, with Hellenistic and Greek influences mixed in.

Carpets - Kilims, flat woven tribal carpets, are omnipresent in Pakistan, made locally as well as imports from Iran, Afghanistan and China. Remember that more coarse wool will be more durable than the kind of soft wools you would find in a jumper. These tribal rugs are not merely decorative or practical, they are also symbolic, showing scenes of hunting, animals, flowers and telling cultural stories, for example, rugs from Afghanistan may have an image of an Islamic tree of life mixed with images of war like guns, tanks and helicopters.

More Information

Interview with Vandana Roy – Fashion Designer
Creator of the fashionable but affordableSeasons fashion range of Salwar Kameez.

Passage to India – Tradition Style and Splendour 
A brief history of India’s female dress, with origins in the mystical and erotic, not the practical.

By Susi O’Neill

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