Any account of historical Indian costumes runs into serious difficulties not for want of literary evidence or of archaeological and visual materials: of both of these there is a fair measure that is available. The difficulty arises when one tries to collate the information that can be culled from these sources. The descriptions in literary works, for all their great poetic beauty and elegance, are, in the nature of things, not precise and one has to guess and reconstruct.
Sometimes the descriptions are so general that they can fit more than one costume quite different from each other. All this is not to say that a broad, general idea cannot be formed of the kinds of costumes worn in the ancient, medieval or the late medieval periods in India. What one is denied is the possibility of going into the many subtleties that Indian costumes possess. Their range is remarkably wide, according to the great size of the country, and geographical differences, and the bewildering diversity of its ethnic groups is added the complex factor of the coming in, at regular intervals, of foreign peoples into India at different periods of time and in varying numbers.
The costumes that these people brought along did not stay necessarily apart from the mainstream of Indian dresses - that one could have dealt with - but, with the Indian genius for adaptation and modification, these costumes become altered, even metamorphosed, and eventually assimilated to the broad, native Indian range of dress.
One has, therefore, to sift and isolate, and then relate and bring together, the evidence available which is not the easiest of tasks in the context of Indian history where material culture does not always get the attention it does elsewhere. Salwar Kameez in India. Through sharp analysis of Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Hindi, as much as Arabic and Persian sources, they have brought within reach a rich body of material. The inherent difficulty in the matter of interpreting this material and relating it to surviving archaeological and visual evidence naturally leaves some matters obscure, and others open to controversy. But a very substantial body of information has been collected.
A question that needs to be disposed of rather early is whether, in the indigenous Indian tradition wear, stitched garments were known or used at all. From time to time statements have been made that the art of sewing was unknown to the early Indians, and that it was an import from outside. Serious and early students of Indian costumes, like Forbes Watson, have stated, mostly on the authority of other scholars, that the art of sewing came to India only with the coming of the Muslims. This statement needs no longer to be taken seriously.
As has been established, not only was the needle and its use known to Indians from the very beginning of the historic periods that we know of; the art of sewing was practiced, and one comes upon clear and early references to stitched garments that leave very little doubt about the matter.