The dupatta is mostly worn in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh while variations can be found in other Muslim countries as well. Mainly used with shalwar kameez or kurta, the dupatta is also worn with choli and gharara. It has always been a symbol of modesty in South Asian dress, and adds grace to the outfit.
The origin of the dupatta can be traced back to the Mohen-jo-daro civilisation where the use of textiles was highly prevalent. The sculpture of the Priest King of Harrapa, whose left shoulder is covered with some kind of drape, suggests the origin of dupatta.
Traditionally it was used to cover the head and either wrapped or draped across both shoulders. Now, worn with shalwar kameez, it is often casually allowed to flow down the front and back.
The dupatta has undergone several changes over time. Over the years it has essentially been treated as an accessory in urban fashion. Recalling the changing trends in dupatta from 60s till date we can see vast changes in the styling of this prominent feature of women's clothing in Pakistan. Initially georgette or chiffon dupattas were in use, but after the 70s cotton and other material began to be used.
During the 60s, the dupatta was used nominally; a not too wide dupatta was just draped round the neck or hung over the shoulders with short shirts and fitted shalwar. In 70s, the dupatta took the form of a sash which again enhanced the beauty of the attire; it was especially used by younger women.
During the early 80s, things took a U-turn and long dupattas of around 2.5 metres became the norm. However, in the late 80s the late Nazia Hasan appeared wearing broad belts which brought back the dupatta to its normal size. During this time nylon or cotton dupattas were given yet another style; crushed to decrease the volume, they was left to dangle across the shoulders. Later, the dupatta again grew in size stretching to around 3.5 to four meters with shalwar suits. This was mainly designed for formal purposes and the woman carrying it would drape it over one shoulder, pass it around the back and hold it over the forearm. This gave the entire outfit an elegant and feminine touch. This trend remained in vogue probably from the mid-90s till the end of the century.
During the 90s, when three piece suits came into fashion, the dupatta, which till now was in plain solid colours, changed to printed — floral, bordered, geometrical, et al.
Though it has always been and is still in fashion it is no longer considered a necessary part of an outfit. Some girls have abandoned it in favour of the Hijab or scarf; others, who either favour western outfits or the long loose shirts and trousers that are in vogue these days, find no need for the cumbersome duppatta.
Even when worn it is generally draped on one side rather than wrapped around the shoulders or over the head in the traditional manner. Another recent trend is the short dupatta (stole) often worn with kurtis.
However, when it comes to weddings and formal occasions the duppatta reigns in all its glory, either fully embroidered or with a fancy border. Beads, lace and sequins often add a touch of glitz and glamour to this flowing wisp of cloth that is, perhaps, the most enduring trademark of Pakistani dress the duppatta.