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Clothes as identifiers of good and bad women in Pakistani dramas

It is no secret that the Pakistani society views women’s western clothing as immoral and deviant. Too often we have heard Islamic preachers and authoritative figures say that women wearing jeans are the root cause of the calamities and misfortunes that have befallen on our nation over the years. For society, it doesn’t matter how good a woman is if she wears jeans and t-shirts. For example, my parents have always been overly critical and judgmental of my neighbor friend who wears this attire, placing little to no value on the fact that she is the most empathetic, kind, considerate, appreciative and supportive friend in their daughter’s life. They truly think that I am better than her because they do not allow me to wear western clothes.

I see the same binary of good vs. bad women, based on their respective clothing choices, being portrayed in a lot of Pakistani dramas. In Humsafar we see that the innocent girl Khirad wears shalwar and kameez, while the jealous other woman Sara dresses up in western attire. In Zindagi Gulzar Hai, the rich and spoiled women all wear western clothing, while the sharif middle-class girl Kashaf, who was always at the receiving end of bullying in university, has a dupatta on her head at most times. Similarly, in Sabaat we see that the hard-working girl Anaya is always donned in a shalwar kameez and dupatta, while the bad woman Miraal (who even sets fire to her brother’s room on his wedding night) is always dressed in western clothes, even when it does not make sense to do so (e.g., wearing western winter wear when everyone else was in summer clothing). These are just a few examples from a list of many dramas that show the good women in eastern and the bad women, who need to be controlled and monitored, in western clothing. At this point, we cannot reasonably argue that this occurrence is purely coincidental.

The dramas are not only portraying our societal norms but are also perpetuating them. The art is imitating life and life is also imitating art. Because what message are dramas really delivering to their audience, time and time again? That we can predict if a woman is good or bad woman based on what she is wearing? That it is very probable that the girl who wears western clothing turns out to be self-centered, cunning and aggressive?

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