Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 93, Tuesday, November 24, 2009


anatomy of a panjabi

No matter how casually chic that t-shirt and jeans combo is, or how suave that suit is, come Eid and the outfit the Bangladeshi male will be rocking in is definitely the panjabi. With so many different styles and cuts to choose from, picking the right one, or even knowing how to look good in one, can become something of a challenge, particularly if you're more used to Western and fusion wear. That's why bespoke couture designer Samuel H joins us this week as we deconstruct that traditional garment that we know as the Panjabi.

Panjabi 101 (fire your tailor if he gets these wrong)
A panjabi is a traditional piece of clothing worn in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Traditionally, the panjabi is composed of rectangular fabric pieces with a few gusset (triangular pieces of cloth stitched into seams of garments that lend contour to the outfit) inserts. It is cut in a manner as to leave no wasted fabric.

The cut is usually simple, although decorative treatments can be elaborate. Consider the asymmetrical angrakha, and other cuts. The sleeves of a traditional panjabi fall straight to the wrist; they do not narrow as do many Western-cut sleeves. Sleeves are not cuffed, just hemmed and decorated. The front and back pieces of a simple panjabi are also rectangular. The side seams are left open for 6-12 inches above the hem to allow for ease of movement. The garment usually opens in the front; some styles, however, button at the shoulder seam. The front opening is often a hemmed slit in the fabric, tied or buttoned at the top; some however have plackets (fabric surrounding fasteners) rather than slits. The opening may be centred on the chest, or positioned off-centre.

While the traditional panjabi does not have a collar, modern variants feature stand-up "Mandarin" collars, which are the same kind sported by achkans, sherwanis and Nehru jackets. Even more recently, some fashion houses (such as Aarong) are playing with the idea of hooded panjabis, an idea, which while intriguing, has yet to really catch on.

”I've never looked better, and you can't stand it!”
Panjabis were fashionable in the 1960's and 70's, and after a brief fall from favour, has in the recent years managed to come back stronger than ever. The length and the fit vary depending on the wearer's choice. While of old, the preferred length was below the knee, modern fashions dictate a hemline above or just bisecting the knee. While the traditional loose fit is still preferred by some, the current rage is for the tailored fit.

Thin silk and cotton fabrics are the textiles of choice for summer panjabis, while in winter, one can opt for heavier fabrics such as wool, or hand woven silks that may be mixed with other fibres.

Designers and fashion houses today experiment with various types of fabric to give this ages-old garment a contemporary twist. Local fabrics such as khadi and jute cotton are seeing a revival in interest.

Typical fasteners for this garment include tasselled ties, cloth balls or loops or buttons, which may be wood or plastic on ordinary panjabis, and anything from sterling silver to diamonds in the fancy ones.

Many light summer panjabis feature chikan embroidery, around the hems and front opening. This embroidery is typically executed on light, semi-transparent fabric in a matching thread. The effect is ornate but subtle.

Others may follow the "more is more" philosophy, heaping on multi-thread pattern designs and even cutwork and beading. Many designers and fashion houses (Maheen Khan, Samuel H) are experimenting with variations on the cut and silhouette of the panjabi to create a style statement, while others are playing with layering, with the art (Kuhu), graphics (Aneela Haque) and even cartoons (Aarong)!

The introduction of casual Thursdays in corporate Dhaka, has led to an upsurge of men sporting the traditional panjabi with an updated twist in the workplace. Designers and fashion houses have risen to the occasion with various options for the fashion-conscious modern man.

Sam's Pick: Five ways to wear a Basic White Panjabi
With the morning Eid prayer in mind, most men will invariably be making a beeline for the crisp, white panjabi. While this classic outfit remains unbeatably chic, you still want to stand out in a crowd. Here's how you can put a fun twist to your basic white, and turn it into something party-ready.

1. Toss it on over a pair of jeans or tapered pants for a look that's casual and effortless
2. Layer over a bright-coloured crewneck muscle t-shirt
3. Wrap a funky scarf for an evening look
4. Pair it with a red-bordered off-white dhoti and chunky sandals for that zamindar chic
5. Wear it with a vibrantly coloured shalwar and timeless kolapuri sandals

Jazz it up!
You can take even the most boring, basic panjabi and still make a style statement with the right accessories. Sam recommends:

Funky buttons. If you want to really go the distance, go for the diamond ones, otherwise any colourful, eye-catching buttons will do.

Wide strap sandals in tan, or multi-coloured thong sandals.
A really good watch in metal or leather.
Single-hued uttorio.
Off-white Kashmiri shawl.
Hanky scarves.

NB: - It is a good idea to stick one or two of the above-mentioned items at a time. Too many of these together will only create clutter.

What to avoid
Anything with sequins. It looks costumy.

Too much cologne. It spreads faster on loose cotton and can be overwhelming if applied with a heavy hand.

Avoid carrying anything subtler than a handkerchief and car keys in the panjabi pockets. The bulges spoil the silhouette

By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photos: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Shaon, Ruslan
Wardrobe and Styling of Shaon and Ruslan: Samuel H


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