A kurta is an ancient collarless shirt cut to knee length or below with straight, uncuffed sleeves and side slits at the bottom hem. A version of the kurta/kurti, called kamiz is still extremely popular in Pakistan and India. Many modern Western clothing styles are based off this comfortable pattern such as tunics, t-shirts, and midi and maxi dresses. Several Latin based languages carry versions of kamiz such as the French “chemise”, and Spanish “camisa”. Kurta is a word originating from the Persian language meaning “collarless shirt” and describes the male garment, with kurti describing the female equivalent. This timeless, classic style is perfect for all occasions.
A Vibrant History
Various versions of kurtas have been in fashion since ancient times. In many parts of South and Central Asia, traditional clothing was made from full lengths of woven cloth. Garments were fashioned through different draping, tying, and wrapping techniques. Cut and sewn garments came into fashion later. While in many parts of the world wrapped fashion is still preferred, the cut and sewn kurta has achieved great prominence. This versatile garment has been particularly popular in the regions of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and other countries in South and Central Asia. According to Roshen Alkazi, the author of “Ancient Indian Costume” which was published in 2003, the kurta originated from the “simple Central Asian nomadic costume” of the Kushan and Turk Mongol peoples. In the 12th century, this style of clothing (which at the time was exclusively male) came into prominence in Northern India, Pakistan and other areas of South Asia following the Muslim conquests of those regions.
Wearing the Kurta
Today both men and women enjoy wearing this comfortable garment. The kurta is part of the modern national dress of Pakistan. Northern India and Pakistan are the regions of the world in which the traditional kurta maintains the most prevalence in the 21st century, however different spins on the style can be found in every corner of the globe. In both Pakistan and India the outfit combination of Shalwar with Kamiz is so often paired together that it can be described as one entity, Shalwar kameez in Pakistan, or Salwar kameez in India.
Traditionally the kurta is constructed without a collar, but modern styles may incorporate a collar in the mandarin style. The neck and sides of a traditional kurta are slit to provide ease of wearing. The side slits allow greater ease of movement. The v-shaped slit at the neck enlarges the garment opening for the head. This slit may simply be hemmed and closed with buttons, or the insertion of a placket may be used. Beautiful embroidery, called chikan, is popularly used to adorn the sides of the neck opening and to decorate the kurta at the shoulder seams. The sleeves of kurtas are traditionally straight. They differ in this style of sleeve from Western authentic dress, which is generally cuffed and tapered toward the wearer’s wrist.
The kurta is a global classic. Stylish versions of the traditional kurta are found everywhere in the world and on the internet. A new trend shaping the modern kurta is that of Indo-western attire. This trend seeks to merge the traditional styles of East and West. Offering patterns in geometric, floral, and striped designs, this modern kurta is generally constructed with untraditional, cuffed sleeves. Traditionally kurtas have no class distinction. They are comfortably worn by people of all walks of life. Depending on the fabric and extent of embroidery and embellishment, kurtas seamlessly blend from the workplace to a wedding. This comfortable, versatile garment is available in fabrics ranging from beautiful, formal silk, to warm, durable wool or cotton. No matter the time, season, or region, make the kurta your go-to garment.