Let it be Eid or a wedding, family dinner or a day out with friends, a girl will never question if a pair of Khussa go with her dress or not? Khussay go with everything, be it a traditional dress or western attire. A khussa is a very versatile shoe. Khussay (plural) portray the rich culture of Pakistan. They are made from the finest quality of leather, stitched by hand, and come in various colors, with embroidery or with bead work and much more. Khussay are surely Pakistan’s favorite pair of shoes. The importance of the craft of khussay may have lessened a bit because of modernization, but still, they are widespread and well-praised across the country. This traditional Pakistani shoe adds a distinctive style to Pakistanis’ attire.
Khussay have been worn by the people of the subcontinent for centuries. The Pakistani while talking to Abdullah Rehan Shami the owner of ‘Khussa center’ a prominent Khussa shop in F-10 Islamabad got interesting insight on the history of the khussa. Interestingly , Saleem, the Mughal Emperor, son of Akbar, was very fond of wearing fancy footwear, particularly the khussa. It was due to his preference for the khussa that it gained the name of Saleem Shahi (Saleem’s magnificent) shoe. The ones particularly finished with a pointed end gained fame as Saleem Shahi as those were the ones he preferred to wear.
The art of crafting khussay evolved and gained particular affiliation to the rich due to the incorporation of “Tilly Ka Kaam” (embroidered with Tilla). Tilla is the Persian word for gold, with Persian being among the main administrative tongues of the Mughal Empire. Henceforth, as royalty began to like their shoes stitched with gold or sometimes silver thread, the khussay finessed with tillay ka kaam gained a distinct fame in the era’s fashion wear. The gold thread was made by stretching gold wires to form a fine and flexible thread. The Khussay were specifically made with buffalo leather used for the sole due to it being tough and rigid whilst the upper part meant to cover the foot was made from cow leather as that is usually easier to mold and reshape. The unique style that is employed during the designing of khussay makes these shoes interchangeable between either foot. Therefore, you can wear what you would consider to be your right khussa on your left foot and vice versa.
According to Abdullah, khussay originated in the subcontinent through catalytic growth in the Punjab, more specifically south Punjab for Pakistan and central Punjab in India. Punjabis call the ones without a pointed end a “Jutti” (shoe) and the other with a pointed end or nok, the Khussa. Urdu speakers continue calling the one with a nok the Saleem Shahi, keeping the Mughal tradition alive, whilst calling the ones without a nok the “Naagra”. Historically the khussay were made in standard leather colours which are red, brow, black, and grey. Among these, pale red was once fancied among men whilst bright and vibrant red shades among women. Nowadays, many different colors are available and are delightfully worn by Pakistani women; nevertheless, the classic colors maintain their elegance and are still more popular among men. Khussay for women now often have different colored threads lining and shaping patterns on their khussay as per the latest fashion trends.
During the time of the Mughals, the khussa was adorned with expensive leather, embroidered with gold and silver threads and embedded with real gems and stones were made for the Mughal kings and the royalty at large. As a result the khussay gained affinity with Nawabs and Rajas and became a trademark of nobility. Years later, as industrialization picked pace, khussay were being made by synthetic thread and became more affordable. The Lahore Museum has a display of few specimens of khussay since then. Back in pre-industrial times, five shoes per month were made by craftsman and thus landlords would place an order for their entire family and pay the craftsmen through wheat, rice or cash.
Other than the Saleem Shahi, khussay made from black colored leather are termed as Shikaarpuri. There were many other types such as Chakwali, Bahawalpuri, Qasoori etc, all having gained affinity with the places where their particular style took birth. The Multani Khussas have always been considered to be the best when it comes to designing and workmanship. The old city of Multan is still famous for its skilled craftsmen.
For many years, Pakistan has exported Khussay around the globe. It’s not just the vendors selling in the street or markets, or old shops in the city, many well-known Pakistani brands have added khussay to their shoe section. Nowadays, you can also get custom made khussay and specify your own design. Cotton, silk, velvet or jaamawaar etc. are also being used as a fabric. They have definitely evolved to be more trendy and modern.
The men’s khussa have a sharp extended tip curved upwards and the back covers the ankle. They are mostly worn on occasions. They have always been simple and subtle in the past as well. Whereas women’s khussa is narrower and it has a higher upper curve and are flat. It is said that until the early 1990s, the khussay for men and women were the same. It was Khussa Mehal, a popular khussa shop in Liberty Market in lahore, which introduced a concept of separate khussay for women
Shoe wear represents a person’s personal taste and forms an identity. Khussay form a rich tradition of Pakistan and have always been and will remain a classic. These khussay are a part of our identity and will remain so. Khussay are now an undiscriminating part of our attire and are something that are been worn from the Parliament house to the common household. It’s been a long and tough road for inhabitants of the subcontinent, especially for Pakistanis, uptill now and these khussay are the loyal footwear that have carried us through.