Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Staff writer Upneet Aujla discusses the nexus of cultural fabrics and Punjabi fashion over the centuries.
Emulating the vibrant culture filled with frolic and hues, Punjabi fashion over the past few centuries has evolved with its own distinctions. From patterns and textures for turbans and suits alike, the streets of Patiala and Ludhiana are filled with shops of the latest fabric and chatting with cha on ways to get things sewn. For Sundays at gurdwara, to soirees on weekends (and some weekdays), to simple get-togethers, over time the culture and fabric of Punjab have, in conjunction, evolved.
Originating in a region where the cotton industry flourished, pieces such as lungi, khes, datahi, chadders, coasting, shirting, curtains, susi, tehmats, durris, towels, dusters, patkas, etc. grew in variance and styling across region by region over time. Customary outfits for women have become a salwar suit paired with a chunni (a scarf). The Patiala Salwar suit comes with a rich history of often being associated with royalty in past centuries. A trouser with multiple pleats had its start with the Maharani (queen), who had two personal tailors, Santak Singh and Pritam Singh, who stitched every salwar as per the commands of the Maharani. Spreading the tradition beyond the town of Patiala in Punjab, it has fostered generations of weavers from all across the state to preserve the tradition of royalty and comfort.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive parts of the Punjabi culture is derived from the roots of the Sikh identity. Seen through different styles of tying, a large contributor to the diversity is due to regional location in terms of colonial and post-colonial India. Today, a variation in style can be seen within the Sikh diaspora from the U.K. to the U.S. and abroad. The additional introduction of prints, embellishments, fabrics, and hues allows for personalization and allocation of certain colors for different events.
Amongst the colorful hues, the generational lineage passed down in traditional culture includes the embroidery done by hand on phulkaris. Translating to ‘a field of flowers,’ phulkaris are filled with floral handwork to underscore the persistence of a vibrant culture. From start to finish, everything is homemade. It begins with handspun khaddar (cotton) to serve as the duppata or material it is spun on to. Then, on the charkha (spinning wheel), yarn is spun and then dyed to create a color scheme. To end the process, using a jullaha (weaver), embroidery is done without pattern books and stencils to maintain the culture of handmade items.
As banarsi, chikan, khadi silk, cotton, chenille, georgette, chiffon, crepe line the fields of villages and the streets of cities, Punjab’s culture built upon distinction and vibrance ensues. While keeping integral proponents of fashion entact, new concepts and embellishments are introduced to the industry built at home and small boutiques. Passing down the culture from one generation to another, I hope I have passed down some knowledge to you as well.
Upneet Aujla is a 17-year-old writer from Houston, TX and likes to discuss unconventional truths, culture, religion, politics, and perspectives.