A Pakistani fashion question — reading story from the 1960s

I’m reading a short story by a Pakistani author (“Grandma’s Tale” by Amtul Rahman Khatun) and have hit a sentence I need help with. I know all of the words, but I’m having trouble building a picture in my head. For context, the story was written in the early 1960s and she’s describing a wealthy woman who moved to Pakistan at the Partition.

“Black Lady Hamilton burqa, white crepe shalwar, sprigged blue and white chiffon scarf, gold tops in her ears, heavy gold locket around her neck, eight sparkling bangles around each wrist.”

My google-fu is failing me because I can’t tell it context. Part of what I’m struggling with is that I thought a burqa was floor length. So how would the shalwar be visible? And is the scarf a head scarf in this context or likely to be decorative like with a salwar chemise?

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9 thoughts on “A Pakistani fashion question — reading story from the 1960s”

  1. A burqa, as worn by upper or middle class urban women in Pakistan, at least until the 90s, was typically not like the full covering you see in Afghanistan etc which is usually called a shuttlecock burqa, for obvious reasons, or the full-length Middle Eastern type. It was a black robe which ended around the knee with separate headwear and an optional (not usually worn) face covering. They don’t seem to exist any more on the internet but I’ll see if I can spot one in the wild and take a (respectful) photo. No one in my family ever wore one, so I can’t comment on further details.

  2. Oh, and the headscarf is decorative, but the dupatta with a shalwar kameez is wider than that used in western attire so can double as a loose headcovering. The chiffon type was and remains very common and is of course translucent. The headcovering was typically worn in a style closer to the loose Iranian one than the very tightly wound modern one.

  3. I lived in Pakistan during the 80’s (not the 60’s), and don’t remember something called the Lady Hamilton burqa in particular. However, many things worn and called a burqa during the time I was there would in reality be more a shoulders down cloak with (or sometimes without) a hijab than the full total covering (including head) generally thought of as a burqa. This would fit the rest of the description.

    It was not uncommon for these to end above the ground, as high as mid shin, or have a low split or front v gap, either of which would allow the shalwar to be seen enough while walking to describe the material.

    The scarf could be either a hijab, or a decorative one, could be either. Many people I knew would actually wear the same scarf both ways – as a hijab while travelling, then refold it and use more as a decorative one once inside at the destination – depending on who else would be there, of course.

    As an aside, one thing that I found fascinating while in Pakistan was that formal ladies wear – at government functions in a 98%+ muslim country that split off from India – was often a sari.

  4. I am certain I’ve seen that exact outfit (minus burqa) on the well-to-do Indian ladies in my town! With the scarf as decorative. I see Muslim women all the time in this shorter-length burqa too, which to my eye looks much easier to walk in while still being completely covered.

    I love even the every day shalwar kameez and they look so comfy, but haven’t bought one in all these years b/c hello, cultural appropriation.

    The Wikipedia page for “chador” has a picture of some Iranian ladies with a few inches of trouser showing beneath their robes.

    I had a Yemeni friend whose outfits were like this, minus decorative scarf and scads of jewelry.

  5. Hi there, First up Nicholas thanks for providing a link to my blog.

    I think the clip of the song “Mere Mehboob tujhe meri” from the 1963 film Mere Mehboob (My Beloved) will give you some idea of the attire described in the short story. The salwar is indeed seen as at the 4.31 mark and as you can see the scarf or dupatta arrangement around 6.54. Like FR said the subcontinental burqa is a little different and in fact was a late 19th century innovation worn by college students and working women, basically a cloak with a head covering and the option of covering the face.

  6. I saw a lady in this outfit (casual version, not fancy) walking down the street with her husband today. He was in the men’s version, also plain. Dark colors and heavier fabric, since it’s winter and all, and they were late middle aged.

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