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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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Brilliant post! I personally never understood how dressing could be a good measure of one's character or inner self, and even if so, why do Pakistani shows only have to employ this within the context of women and not men? In Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Ayesha Omar's character was shown to be struggling with life, simply because she was a strong, independent woman who would choose to wear whatever she wanted to. I also remember that by the second half of the drama, when the creators wanted to show character development for Ayesha's character, they suddenly restricted the wardrobe to eastern clothing only. These ideas and trends are indeed very problematic.

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It is no doubt that clothing for women in Pakistani dramas are used to reinforce its existing patriarchal system of Pakistan. Plus, clothing not only establishes the dichotomy of a good and bad woman, but also sets a standard for who would be pursued by the HERO in drama, which is very problematic in itself because it renders the ultimate goal of a woman to be attracted to a man. One of my cousins commented over “zindagi gulzar’ hai’s plot stating ‘look men like Zaroon have fun with girls like Asmara but would prefer modest girls, like Kashaf when it comes to marriage.’ I was young at that time, so could not identify the deep-rooted problem within his statement. My…



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Mahnoor Mannan
Mahnoor Mannan
Dec 10, 2022

Returning back to Stuart Hall's discussions on clothing and signs, I feel like you hit the nail on the head. A dupatta is a symbol for so much: it signifies innocence, piety, modesty and humility. These are all traits that we associate with the ideal Pakistani woman. With western culture being considered too provocative or disrespectful, I feel like western clothing has become a symbol for these traits within Pakistani dramas too. At the same time, men flip between western and desi clothing like its nothing. In fact, at times it feels as though men are dressed mostly in western wear in Pakistani dramas, seeing a man in shalwar kameez is a rare sight. Yet this has no bearing on…


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The patriarchy of "girl you take home to mom" is global. Shalwar kamiz is a piece of cloth just like jeans shirt , but we have attached certain meaning to it. the meanings attached to shalwar kamikaze is not just of a good girl but has several interpratations. some people might interpret it as backward while others as cultured. Pakistani media has played the biggest role in promoting this trope, even now how often do we see the lead actress in western attire? This is because we have associated western attire with "fashashi" and thesemeaning s are not just physical but also judge the charachter of he person . if we see a girl dressed up in jeans shirt ,…


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Coming from a family who has allowed me to dress in western attires yet having relatives who shun it has made me feel looked down upon by them on multiple occasions. I agree that a binary of a good vs bad woman is perpetuated by the idea of their clothing’s choice. And this idea further feeds into our Pakistani media products. Like you mentioned, Zindagi Gulzar hai also views Kashaf as the superior women conforming to the fact that she covers her head and is “modest”. The women wearing western face slut-shaming and the men around them feel the need to comment them or order them to “cover-up”. The association of shame attached to men in relation to how their…

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