In Afghanistan there is a basic outfit for men, women and children. It consists of trousers gathered at the waist, a loose-fitting shirt or dress and some form of head covering. This is an old combination of clothing, which dates back to the early medieval period and the introduction of Islam, if not long before. It is found all over this part of the world and is regarded as an Islamically acceptable form of clothing that covers most of the body.
Over the centuries, however, numerous variations on this theme have developed. These differences reflect the ethnic and cultural origins of the wearer. Some garments are familiar to those who watch the Western media. Some garments are ubiquitous such as a skullcap, for example, which can be found among all groups and both genders. However, the shape, size and decoration of the caps signify with which group the wearer is associated. An Uzbeki cap, for instance, worn in the north of the country, looks very different from a Pashtun cap from the southern town of Kandahar. And many Pashtuns from along the borders with Pakistan wear a straw cap.
Traditionally a wide array of footwear is worn, including pointed slippers (called Oriental, Turkish, Persian or Indian slippers), boots (especially among the Uzbeks in the north of the country), wooden sandals for in the bath house, other and sandals of various forms. Nowadays, rubber sandals are also worn, with soles made from car tyres.
Certain garments have a special social significance. The turban, for example, is an important garment for men. Among the Pashtuns and Baluch, for instance, a boy may mark his passage into manhood by being allowed to wear a turban. Similarly, a girl will move from wearing a simple head covering, such as a scarf, into a more complex and larger form once she is of a marriageable age or married.
Head coverings are prescribed for all women in Islam, and therefore most women in traditional and rural Afghan communities wear variations of a large or small rectangular headscarf/body covering, commonly called a chador. They are usually made out of fine cotton or a synthetic material.
A variation of the chador is the chadari, in the West commonly known as the Afghan burqa, which is composed of a close-fitting cap from which finely pleated, coloured silk, cotton or rayon falls, completely enveloping the body, with only an openwork embroidered grid over the eyes. Contrary to popular wisdom in the West, chadaris are not worn by all Afghan women, instead this garment is more generally related to urban life.