A stitched lower garment, the salwar (also known as salvaar or shalwar) forms part of the popular pan-Indian attire, the salwar-kameez. Its name is of Persian origin and translates to “pants,” referring to the salwar’s baggy, bifurcated structure. The top of the salwar is wide at the waist and held in place using a drawstring, while its lower ends are tapered to form vertical pleats at the ankle. The salwar is traditionally paired with an upper garment such as a kurta or a kameez and, in the case of women, it is often also paired with a dupatta.
A Punjabi garment known as the suthan, which itself is a derivative of an ancient Indian garment known as the svasthan, is believed to be the precursor of the modern-day salwar. With the arrival of the Mughals in the thirteenth century, the suthan evolved into the salwar, which closely resembled – both in its name and its construction – a popular Persian lower garment known as the shalwar.
There are several variants of the salwar, including the Peshawari salwar, the Balochi salwar and the Punjabi salwar and the gharara to name a few. The Punjabi salwar remains one of the most prevalently worn styles in India. Another variation of the Punjabi salwar, known as the Patiala salwar, uses excess fabric to create a more voluminous silhouette while retaining the tapering at the ankles.
Though the salwar is worn by both men and women, it is more favoured among women for the convenience and mobility it affords as compared to other traditional attire such as the saree. The salwar also gained popularity as a garment of everyday use after it was made part of the school uniform for girls in India in the 1980s.
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Mohapatra, Ramesh Prasad. Fashion Styles of Ancient India. New Delhi: BR Publishing Corporation, 1992.
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