The Versatile Dupatta


A dupatta is a long scarf-like cloth usually worn by women in Southern Asia. Other names used are chunri, scarf, odhni, ghoonghat, and chunni. Culturally, a dupatta is considered a symbol of modesty and compliments the overall look of a salwar kameez or lengha choli (also of Bollywood movies where actresses swing them around like lassos) although these days it is slowly evolving out of the daily wear in Pakistan.

A dupatta is an extremely versatile piece of clothing. It can be worn in a number of ways, with a number of different garments, in a number of styles. The myriad designs, patterns, colors and decorations are overwhelming with respect to the dupatta. Each region of Pakistan has its own way of presenting the dupatta with unique embellishments, embroideries, fabrics & weaves. The most common fabrics for dupatta are cotton, silk, chiffon and georgette.

Origin and History

The traditional dupatta has been worn in innumerable parts of South Asia since centuries.
The people of Vedic India wore three garments – nivil, vasas, and adhivasa. The adhivasa was a garment similar to the dupatta of present times. During the vedic times, the dupatta was worn both by men and women, unlike the present day scenario. The dupatta with time gradually evolved and went on from being a fabric for practical purposes to something that complimented the overall dressing of a woman such as coordinating suits.


It wasn’t extremely long ago that the dupatta was a significant aspect of the tradition and value system of every Pre-Partition Indian and Pakistani family. With time it made its appearance in the arena of fashion and was showcased on the big screen. An assorted range slowly bloomed to showcase the unimaginable magic of the dupatta. The variety in Dupatta comes from a number of things that go into creating one – from the basic materials to the texture of the dupatta to its design – everything adds to the final look of the garment.

Some varieties of the dupatta are mentioned as follows:

Khara Dupatta: One of the most majestic and elegant types of dupattas is the khara variety, a six-yard-long dupatta that is a part of the traditional Hyderabadi (in India) attire since the 1800s. The brides from Hyderabad wear this dupatta on their marriage.

Bandhej Dupatta: Of Rajasthani origin, the bandhej dupatta is one of the most elegant varieties of the garment. Adorned with dazzling embellishments that are embroidered on to it using the traditional mirror work technique, the Bandhej dupatta showcases the intriguing part of the state of sand dunes and camels.

Chiffon/Silk/Lawn Dupatta: These dupattas are at the heart of the fashion industry today. The demand of dupattas made out of these fabrics is extremely high because of the comfort of the fabric and its natural flow.


The rule of the thumb when it comes to wearing a dupatta is that if it is heavily decorated then it should be worn with a simple salwar suit and vice versa. An extremely decorated lengha, for instance, will be adorned with a dupatta with light work or just a decorative border (That is however not the case with bridal wear).

Dupattas have been beautified with weaving and coloring methods and elements like mirrors, beads, zari, sequins, gold or silver threads, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls (both real and faux), bandhni, chikankari and kantha or Taipchi stitching, block printing, kalamkari and tie and dye.
Dupatta has become an important part of the subcontinent’s culture. For example, it is an integral part of the classical dance kathak, where the dupatta made of a sheer material is looped around one shoulder going across the body and knotted at the waist.
Dupattas are a favorite with designers as they enhance the look of a bridal outfit (or formals). They are also used as a belt around the waist to accentuate it or worn as a turban, as bandanas while traveling or on the beach, morphed as a scarf around the neck to resemble a cowl and the list goes on.

The many states and regions of Pakistan have skilled artisans and rich history of handicraft. Hence, these countries have the most widest and exquisite collection of dupatta styles. From the ‘Lehariya’ dupatta of Rajasthan to the ‘Phulkari’ dupatta of Punjab, most of the regions have their own unique style to showcase.

Wearing Dupatta

The dupatta can become a style statement simply by the way it is draped. There are numerous ways existing from region to region in which the dupatta is worn with a lengha/choli- the Rajasthani way, the Bengali style, the Muslim Sikh half-saree style, looped elegantly around the wrist and then some more. In Pakistan too women add further dimension and interest to the garment by wearing them in exciting and unique ways to the region they belong to. Since the dupatta is worn along with a salwar suit or lengha or churidar generally, it can be accessorized according to the occasion. A dupatta can on its own add glamour and exquisiteness to an outfit without the need of too many accessories.

There is a wide global appeal when it comes to wearing a dupatta. The dupatta can be fused with western wear as well as ethnic apparel. It is trendy to team a bright dupatta of a single color to match a kurta with a pair of fitted denim jeans. In contrast, a printed dupatta in darker shades can offset a white chikankari kurta worn either with a churidar or tights that has become popular. In the west, the dupatta is placed in the same genre as that of a scarf. I wear colorful fabrics as scarves with my t-shirt and jeans. So cute!


The dupatta can be washed with a mild detergent at home in cold water. For multi-colored ones that are part of heavily embroidered ensembles, dry cleaning is advised. Ironing is to be done indirectly.

Well, I hope my post has prompted you to run to a store and get your hands on a scarf or a dupatta to accessorize your outfit. If not, get going already. Happy Shopping!


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