• William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Getty Images)
Today I love everything shalwar kameez represents: Comfort, beauty, glamour, bling and home.
Sarah Malik

17 Oct 2019 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2019 - 11:09 AM

There's something about South Asia that gets visiting dignitaries excited.

All the bright colours. The saris and shalwar kameez, the luscious fabrics reminiscent of a royal South Asian court. 

The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, just like Princess Diana before her, is repping the traditional ensemble on her recent visit with Prince WIlliam to Pakistan, first appearing in a long-sleeved aqua ombre number and then a darker-blue shalwar kameez. 

Aside from the modesty wars that occur around women's clothing, there's something wonderful about seeing something I grew up with sashayed with such elegance on the world stage. Foreign dignitaries don't always pull of the traditional dress. But it's a testament to the versatility of the ever-flattering shalwar kameez, that it rarely goes wrong.   

The long loose tunic and drawstring pants with a dupatta was the outfit of my childhood. It's what we wore to dawats . Aunties and girls would sport their carefully selected dazzling fashions dropped right out of Pakistan for competitive appraisal at these weekend parties. Matched with gold, heels and jewels adorning all visible skin, these women looked as bright and beautiful as fireflies. 

There was the flapper era, with the pants flaring at the knee into wide leg. There was the short kameez era, where the kurta ended just over the hips. The basic cotton of the home shalwar kameez and the sparkling party shalwar kameez - festooned with enough bling to make a drag queen blush. 

Even now my wardrobe, perhaps a metaphor for my life, is split into two - western and desi. The desi side beckons with long swirling feminine fabrics and insanely bright colours, diamantes, lace, sash and ribbons  reminiscent of Austen-era gowns. The other side is my sober-coloured work wardrobe and jeans, practical clothes with straight lines and strict zips and buttons that pinch at the waistline. Witchery just does not do fuschia pink or aquamarine with tassels in the same way. 

I grew up slightly ashamed of sporting desi wear in public, cheeks red if I needed to rush into Woolies before an event, getting side-eye for what I imagined was being a fresh of the boat immigrant with my daggy, baggy outfit. I couldn't wait to get away from shalwar kameez and slide into the taboo slinky, sexy western outfits that represented to me modernity and freedom.  

Today I embrace the comfort and culture of the shalwar kameez. It's the ultimate feminist wear, as comfortable as pajamas and one that allows women to breathe through pregnancy and body changes, alarmingly malleable to a few kilos weight change. 

I've made it my own. Tunics worn with jeans and san dupattas. A cotton drawstring shalwar worn with oversize shirt as the perfect sleeping outfit. A breezy kameez converted to a great beach top. I look forward to Eid and desi special events, carefully matching my heels, five layers of make up and diamante bell jhumka earring to teeter out in my layers of tulle and tassel and silk that make me feel less like a worker and more like a Mughal Queen. 

I love everything shalwar kameez represents: Comfort, beauty, glamour, bling and home. And it doesn't need the royal treatment for me to appreciate it. 

Sarah Malik is Deputy Editor of SBS Voices. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahbmalik.

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