What is a Dupatta?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A dupatta is a long headscarf popular in traditional clothing of many Asian cultures. Also called a chunni, the scarf is commonly seen throughout India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The scarf can be draped over the head and shoulders in many different ways, and can be worn with everything from pantsuits to evening gowns.

Dupattas are commonly seen throughout India.
Dupattas are commonly seen throughout India.

Veils and scarves have been in use throughout India and South Asia for hundreds of years, according to historical evidence. They were often traditional garments for religious ceremonies and special occasions such as weddings. Today, the dupatta is still worn by brides, but has become an everyday accessory with a history stretching back to ancient times. In the expansion of global culture, many Western fashion trends have been inspired by or include use of the dupatta.

The scarf can be made from many kinds of fabric. It is often heavily embroidered or made with a contrasting border. Linen, cotton, silk, and chiffon are all common materials used. Dupattas come in a rainbow of colors, and can be chosen to match or complement your outfit.

As the dupatta is basically just a long and wide piece of cloth, it can be worn in several different ways. Traditionally, the scarf is draped over the head and either wrapped over the shoulders or allowed to hang straight down the chest. More modern styles do not use it to cover the head, instead draped over the shoulders in many different ways. It can be worn like a backward scarf, covering the throat and having both ends fall down the back of the body. It may also be folded and pinned over one shoulder only.

Making your own dupatta can be as easy as buying a wide piece of fabric and hemming the edges, but it can also be much more elaborate. You will need about 6-9 ft (2-3 yd or 1.8-2.7 m) of your primary fabric, approximately 45 in (1.1 m) in width. For easy and flowing draping, choose a lightweight fabric such as chiffon or georgette. To make a contrast border, purchase a secondary fabric or enough wide ribbon to cover the edges of your scarf. If you can embroider or would like to learn, embroidering dupattas is an excellent way to try out your skills.

If you would prefer to purchase a dupatta, check online stores for available supplies. They range in price greatly depending on material, intended use, and the merchant’s preference. If you plan a trip to India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, and wish to buy an authentic dupatta while there, remember to bargain with the merchants. Most markets in these countries encourage bargaining, so never pay the first price you are offered. For reference in bargaining, most dupattas seem to cost around $40 US Dollars (USD.) This price may increase for more elaborate versions of the scarf.

Dupattas are worn over many everyday outfits throughout the countries it is associated with. Whether with a tunic over wide-legged pants, a sari and midriff-baring choli top, or even atop a Western style pantsuit, the dupatta is a striking fashion statement. In areas where the sun is a constant presence, it can also offer protection from harmful rays. The style of the scarf has existed nearly untouched for hundreds of years, and looks to continue spreading its beauty and usefulness throughout a global culture.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


They say "dupatta" is a Sanskrit word, and was used to drape over the shoulder for both men and women. However when did it become only a female's kind of garment and to cover the head and face or both? Did this style start with the Hindus?


Dupatta, Chuni, Orhni. These are different words for scarf or stole basically meant for hijab, purdah. Also women, of any ethnic part, wear it to enhance her beauty and for stylish look, even if it is worn as a beach wrap too.

Sitara Home and Fashion has developed beautiful dupattas in chiffon georgette, silk and cotton mulmul in traditional tie dye (chunri/bandhni) patterns are good for every day wear as well as evening parties and functions.


Dupatta is a long scarf that once was worn on Indian outfits to enhance the beauty of that outfit. But in today's world it is become a fashion to wear a Dupatta over any indo-western to make a style statement.

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