Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Sikhs: Dress Codes

At the core of the Sikh dress code lie the five Ks. Men and women are required to wear their hair long and never cut it (kesh), as well as have the other four Ks on their person at all times – the steel bracelet (kara), the small sword (kirpan), the wooden comb (kangha) and the long underpants (kach). Men usually cover their hair with a turban made from a long thin strip of material wound around their head, and women cover their head and shoulders with a long scarf called a chuni. At home in private, men replace their formal turban with a smaller one called a keski.

What a Sikh wears other than that can vary enormously. Traditional dress would be a pair of long loose trousers and a long-sleeved jacket for men, and a pair of long trousers and an overdress for women (salwar), but there is no actual specification for any particular style of dress. Some Sikhs wear jeans and T-shirts; others prefer to keep to the style of clothing they would traditionally have worn in Asia in the past.

However, despite the lack of a defined dress code, some Sikh communities are beginning to become concerned about how westernised their children have become. In many places, jeans, trainers and baseball caps are now banned from gurdwaras, and those who are not dressed appropriately may be requested to cover themselves with a shawl.

Whether wearing traditional clothing or not, a Sikh is very concerned about retaining the five Ks as far as possible. Police forces, for example, allow Sikhs to continue to wear a turban and so protect their kesh (long hair). Some have even designed special cloth that resembles a police cap when folded and wound into a turban.

It is important that the five Ks are never removed from a Sikh without their consent. If they do have to be removed, they must be treated with utmost respect (for example, do not place them on the floor or near to anyone's feet as these are unclean places), and kept clean and safe.

If you need to shave the head or any body part, then discuss this first with the patient, as they may need time to get used to the idea. If possible, collect together the hair and give it back to the patient so that they may dispose of it themselves. This applies to children and babies as well as to adults.

Cleanliness is an important part of the Sikh lifestyle, and so it is important to discuss with a patient whether they need any help washing and drying their hair or getting into the shower.

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