8 Ways To Upcycle And Restyle Traditional Pakistani Clothes


Ushah Kazi

Married to books, in a relationship with food, playing dress up since 1993. An unabashed pop-culture junkie. Come talk movies and lifestyle with me!



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Okay, so this is technically part two of my ‘ethical Pakistani wedding season’ post. To accompany my deluge about having a mindful matrimonial, these are my ideas about how to upcycle desi clothes. Personally, I have been quite accustomed to upcycling. I’ve grown up wearing shirts made out of old dupattas and the like. Thus, I want to assure you guys that traditional Pakistani clothes lend themselves surprisingly well to upcycling. 

Upcycle: The Buzzword With A Backstory 

So, why is upcycling an ethical fashion favourite? 

In a nutshell, when you upcycle a garment, you turn it into something new. The idea is to create something valuable using something that you already own. This has two positive outcomes. Firstly, upcycling something you own, rather than tossing it out, keeps clothes out of landfill sites. Globally, ‘disposable’ fashion has been a major contributor with respect to landfill sites. And in the context of Pakistan, landfill sites are a growing concern especially for urban centres like Karachi. Secondly, opting to restyle or upcycle pre-existing pieces is a great way to shop less. And personally, I think that buying less, and doing more with what you own is intrinsic to ethical consumption.  

The Dilemma Of Traditional Pakistani Clothes 

Like I mentioned, I’ve been upcycling clothes pretty regularly all my life. In fact, I’d argue that most Pakistani households could claim the same. The problem is that with the advent of ‘more is more’ trends, these practices have been dying down. According to Noorjehan Bilgrami, who started Koel, this is down to the influx of western trends. Not just as it pertains to the style of clothing, but also in terms of production practices. 

 And so, we’ve seen a move away from quality pieces, and towards more flimsy fashions which disintegrate more easily. The wedding season madness is a great example of this. It has become too common for Pakistani customers to purchase clothes that they don’t plan to repeat. This doesn’t mean that there are no exceptions to the norm. Having spoken to many Pakistani designers, I’ve learned that they often upcycle garments for their clients. 

But of course, most of us cannot afford the services of a high-end designer (speaking from experiences). What we can do, however, is work with what we have. With that said, here are my ideas for how you can upcycle your pre-loved traditional Pakistani clothes. 

But First… A Note About Tailoring 

Like I mentioned in my wedding season post, many of us may already have a family tailor. That is, someone who has been working with various members of our family for generations. Despite the ‘fast fashion’ influx, tailoring continues to be commonplace in Pakistan. So, if you can, I’d encourage you to support tailors that you already know. 

Or, if you’re looking for someone to tailor clothes for you, please look at Andaaz Tailor. It’s a really interesting collective, which gives a percentage of its revenue to the women who tailor for them. 

1, Turn A Lehenga And Blouse Suit Into A Peshwas 

This will change significantly based on what you start with. But, if you have an old lehanga and blouse outfit, you could restructure it into a peshwas. 

This admittedly iconic silhouette goes in and out of style. But, by virtue of its timeless quality, it never really seems dated. 

2, Turn A Lehenga Into Trousers 

Gorgeous jamawar trousers can dress up any outfit. So, if you have an ornate lehenga, why not just turn that into a trouser? Plus, there are so many trouser styles. So you can pick which one works best for the garment you have.


3, Turn Printed Fabric Into A Waistcoat 

So, the most obvious candidate for this is the ajrak; as we’ve seen many brands already dabble in such styles. But, really, any unstitched fabric (or old dupatta for that matter) can be restyled into a waistcoat.

4, Use An Embroidered Outfit To Create Clutches 

If you have old party outfits that no longer pass muster, upcycle them! Use embellished material to amplify existing wallets or envelope clutches. Or, if you’re really adventurous then create a box clutch using fabric. If you have a trusted family tailor then you could also ask them to do this for you. 

Alternatively, you could turn this into a DIY project (personally, I’d never be so brave). Here’s a video that could help you! 

5, Restyle Ornate Dupattas

Never, ever, ever get rid of striking dupattas! Paired with neutral toned, all white or all black outfits, embellished dupattas will always help you stand out.

6, Repurpose Jewellery Into Brooches

My mom actually did this with old costume jewellery of mine. It’s a simple way to utilise something that might be broken, or losing its lustre.

an ornate brooch can dress up an outfit

7, Stitch Printed Fabric Onto A Plain Pallu 

Another one inspired by my mother. If you have small pieces of printed fabric, consider stitching it onto the pallu of a saree. Just make sure that the base colour of the fabric and pallu match. Also, here’s a tip; use sequins to cover up the stitches and give it a finished look. 

8, Treat An Outfit As Separates

Just because one piece of an entire outfit is no longer wearable, doesn’t mean that you have to throw it all out. You can always mix and match pieces with other outfits. A plain shalwar with an ornate suit makes it less festive. Conversely, a more striking shalwar with a plain kameez dresses it up. 

And Finally…What To Do When You Can’t Upcycle Something 

If you have clothes that you will not be using, and cannot upcycle, donating is always an option. Please look at Akhuwat Clothes Bank for your donations. They distribute clothes to those in need, and their operations employ members of the trans community. A very necessary initiative which I hope we can all support. 

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