The Ultimate South Asian Style Guide: Men's Sherwanis
The word "Sherwani" is derived from the Shirvan region near the eastern Caucacus, in modern day Azerbaijan, where the Mughal imperial courts once reigned.
The sherwani was the attire of royal Mughal men and nobles from the mid-1500s to the late 1800s. By the late 1800s, the garment became more common outside the aristocracy.
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Initially, the sherwani was worn only by men of noble birth or royal status in the Mughal Empire. However, it evolved into traditional, formal attire for respectable men such as professors or academics. In fact, the Aligarh sherwani drew its name from the design worn by university students at the prestigious public university, Aligarh Muslim University.
In Pakistan, the sherwani became a symbol of Muslim nobility. Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, popularized the sherwani as attire for politicians and leaders. He famously wore a Karakul cap with his sherwani, which became known as the "Jinnah cap." Future Pakistani politicians, such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, continued the sherwani uniform, and General Muhammad Zia-al-Haq later made it a uniform for Pakistani military officials for state and national holidays.
The sherwani is still the most commonly worn male garment at Muslim weddings today. Many Indian weddings also note the groom dressed in a sherwani for formal ceremonies such as the reception. Because sherwanis are always embroidered in silver or gold thread and decorated with elaborate designs, they are most appropriate for wedding ceremonies.
Pakistani sherwanis can be characterized by being worn over salwars, whereas Indian sherwanis are often worn with churidar pajamas for a looser fit.
The sherwani has become associated with timeless elegance and regality - designers such as Rohit Bal have even created sherwanis for British Airways stewards and crew to wear.
Most sherwanis are cut to fall above the knee and are styled with a Mandarin collar (often with buttons at the top of the garment.) Wedding sherwanis tend to be light in color, as to appear more regal. However, modern sherwanis can be flexible in length, collar design, and colors.
A churidar pant is worn under the sherwani, loose at the hips and tight around the ankles. A dupatta, or scarf, may be worn around the shoulders as an embellishment to the outfit.
A dupatta adds contrast to the cream outfit, from Katie & Vish's Wedding
The traditional Hyderabadi sherwani was first worn by the Hyderabadi nobles before it became part of popular culture. It is notable for being longer than the average sherwani, falling below the knees.
India's first prime minister, Jawarhlal Nehru, popularized this sherwani-jacket during his tenure in 1947 to 1964. It is not technically a sherwani, being considered a men's jacket, but it was modeled after the original Mughal sherwanis. The jacket is a military-style jerkin and falls below the waist, unlike the sherwani, which is longer and closer to the knees. Like the sherwani, however, the Nehru jacket also has a buttoned Mandarin collar.
Sherwanis are never plain and are always made of nice fabrics, such as silk, satin, or expensive linen. They are generally decorated much like women's clothing - heavily embroidered, beaded, or embellished with motif patterns such as peacocks or paisleys.
Wedding sherwanis are notable for having decorated collars, often embroidered or beaded. Comparatively, a formal sherwani worn to a business event might be more plain and monochrome with little to no embroidery.
Because sherwanis are usually only worn to formal events such as dinner parties, awards receptions, or weddings, they are expected to be extravagant. A sherwani would not be worn to a casual event - as this attire, while similar to a sherwani, would fall under the category of a men's jacket or kurta instead.
From political leaders to celebrities to BFIW grooms, sherwanis can be seen at many receptions and red carpet events.
A groom displays his traditional wedding sherwani, from Khushbu & Paras's Gujarati Wedding
A classic Pakistani wedding sherwani, from Ailah & Sami's Muslim Wedding
An Indian wedding sherwani, with turban, from Puja & Nicholas's Wedding
Riteish Deshmukh models a Raghavendra Rathore sherwani at Lakme Fashion Week 2015
The timeless regality of the sherwani simply can't be beat, and that's why it's the go-to outfit for South Asian weddings. Other menswear includes the more casual men's jackets.
Read more in the Ultimate South Asian Style Guide series: traditional South Asian saree, mekhela chador, Indian men’s pants, shararas and ghararas,Indian men’s hats, lenghas and half-saris, Indian men’s jackets, sherwanis, women’s salwar kameez, nauvari (nine yard) saris