Changing Trends in the Lifestyle of Pakistani Urban Youth: Glimpses from Lahore

January 8, 2013

Research Article

Hajra Zafar

Youth comprise approximately 32°/o (aged 15-29)1 of Pakistan’s population and there are varying interpretations about their orientation, outlook and worldview. This study focuses on the changing lifestyles of urban youth in Pakistani society. It seeks to explore how life-styles are changing despite rise in religiosity, religious radicalism, acts of terror, violence, personal insecurity and vigilante justice? To have deeper understanding of changing life styles, this study focuses on three areas; fashion design, electronic media advertisements and the emerging cafe/restaurant culture. Are these changes confined to elite classes or cut across class lines? The focus of the study is urban Pakistan and particularly Lahore.

Fashion Design:

Fashion design, fashion shows and trendy clothes are gaining popularity with the youth. Is that an indicator of changing life style? Youth’s predilection for fashion reveals significant change in the perception of morality and religiosity as well as hints towards a penchant for consumerism, extravagance to even ostentatiousness.

The fashion and apparel industry in Pakistan is experiencing accelerated growth and youth appear to be the guiding force behind it. Talented designers with innovative ideas and internationally competitive designs are projecting the cultural heritage of Pakistan. They are targeting the youth and catering to their demands. Fashion products and apparel industry is showing dynamism and diversity.
In a relatively short span of ten years, a large number of international and local brands have sprung up all over Lahore. In an extremely competitive market, these brands endeavor to come up with the most creative designs that are edgy yet wearable.

Among the most thriving segments of the apparel industry is the lawn business. Lawn campaign advertisements have swept over the city. Pret wear brands for women have gained immense popularity. While western-wear, pret- wear and branded lawn are popular among the elite and upper-middle class youth, there is a matching demand for similar items among the middle and lower middle class.

The textile industry may be languishing because of energy shortages and inadequate investment in modernization of plants, yet cloth manufacturers are aggressively targeting the emerging middle class and the youth2. Various fabrics are producing more innovative designs inspired by elite designer-wear. Cloth bazaars have loose cloth available in many varieties and in various price ranges. Buyers with low and high budgets can both find something to suite their pocket.3

Pakistan is passing through a phase of cultural and social change and this phenomenon is most visible in the urban areas. On the one side, we are witnessing increased religiosity and on the other fashion industry is re-shaping life styles. Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and to lesser degree Faisalabad have hosted several fashion shows.4

“… various factors like growth in local and global media, a booming fashion industry, rising number of fashion weeks, all have created a major influence on the mindset of youth.”

Does this imply that society’s perceptions on modeling and fashion design are changing and there is greater acceptance and tolerance for Western fashion designs? It is a complex and contradictory situation where acceptance and resistance are running in parallel. Flowever, Vaneeza Ahmed, a popular model, clearly thinks it is changing.
Ms. Ahmed says when she started her career 15 years ago, modeling had little cultural acceptance and “there were bored housewives with nothing to do”. Now, fashion designing and modeling have grown and cultural attitudes towards them have wider acceptance in society. Tariq Amin, stylist and photographer, endorses Vaneeza Ahmed’s observations. Fie says that some years ago it was difficult to find female models, however, now it’s a popular profession among young and aspiring women and men.5

While the proponents of fashion design are enthused and seemingly thriving as seen through bill boards and fashion advertisements, the opponents are furious and assert that fashion industry is promoting immorality and vulgarity among the youth.

Religious parties like Tanzeem-e-lslami and Jamaat-i-lsl- ami, and a women’s organization called Working Women Society (WWS) have launched a resistance campaign in Lahore and Karachi, putting out banners that say; “Stop promoting nudity for selling your fabrics”, “Sell dresses, not modesty” and “vulgarity spoils, modesty beautifies”. Jamaat-i-lslami also observed an “Anti-Vulgarity day”.6

Responding to this smear campaign, Sehar Khan, the creative director of Circuit, a famous advertising agency, claims that “90°/o of our advertisements wouldn’t offend anyone. Of course, different groups and individuals have different standards of acceptability -some people feel that showing pictures or faces is immoral. But we cater to the mainstream”. Sehar Khan could be right because the urban centers of Pakistan have not witnessed any public protests against fashion shows or billboards.

Thus various factors like growth in local and global media, a booming fashion industry, rising number of fashion weeks, all have created a major influence on the mindset of youth. Youth is now more fashion conscious and more consumerist. Their spending patterns, social behavior and lifestyle have been impacted by a raised interest and consciousness of fashion design.

Electronic Media and Changing Advertisement Styles

Electronic media as a whole but specifically television plays, morning and cooking shows, fashion channels and the dynamic styles of advertisements have impacted youth life styles. The glamour that television plays and advertisements produce in some ways is also contributed by the youth and cuts across class lines.

Television has played an important role in changing the mindsets of the youth. Television viewership has gone up as have the number of television channels. The top ten channels of Pakistan have a total/cumulative viewership of 127 million, and PTV Elome is the most viewed channel with 53 million viewers7. Morning shows and cooking shows have gained wide viewership among young women belonging to the middle and lower middle class. These shows are live and interactive as viewers make calls and can have direct telephonic interaction with TV anchors and hosts. Most are hosted by women dressed in branded clothes who also share on TV, which label or designer’s clothes they are wearing. The shows also have quiz questions which viewers can answer to win prizes and often the prize involves branded clothes by elite Pakistani designers. Very often elite designers are called as guests in morning shows where they discuss and showcase their work. Television advertisements are now evermore innovative, modern with catchy taglines and more appealing to the youth.

“On the one side, we are witnessing increased religiosity and on the other fashion industry is re-shaping life styles,”

With the widespread reach of fashion channels, now a middle and lower class families and in some cases even the marginalized groups can also easily watch fashion shows and stay updated with latest trends and styles.8 Elence through television’s various programs, people from all economic backgrounds are surrounded and influenced by fashion images and showcased trends.

Pakistani drama industry has witnessed immense growth and popularity in the past few years. Due to the staggering increase in popularity of these dramas, they have had a tremendous impact on their young viewers. In terms of trends, the male and female actors in many of the plays are attired in high fashion ensembles as well as western wear, as considered appropriate for their role. As the youth admire and look up to the actors in their favorite plays, they also endeavor to look trendy and up to date like them. The visuals and content is ever more innovative, catchy and appealing to the youth.

Television and billboard advertisements are two of the most effective visual marketing tools currently being used by corporations to market their products. Many of the products are targeting the youth market and advertisements are especially designed to grasp the youth’s attention and influence their buying choices.9 These include mobile phones and network providers, juices and fizzy drinks, junk food (ice-cream and chocolates etc.) and clothing brands etc which showcase youngsters in trendy clothes. Additionally, aggressive advertising through TV and billboards is not only changing the norms and mindset of society through the images portrayed but is also encouraging a consumerist lifestyle among youth.

Overall, this has led to a rise in fashion consciousness.
Thus youth belonging to various income classes are now increasingly inclined to follow ongoing fashion trends and more willing to spend on fashion products according to their respective incomes. Though their budget and taste in fashion may vary, the rich and middle classes alike are part of the fashion race. Tracing the factors behind this emerging trend shows the pivotal role played by growth in media and its expanded outreach.

Here it is equally important to understand the role of the marketing industry, which has grown exponentially over the past few years and has increased its influence on society in general and youth in particular. Increased competition among brands has changed the dynamics and led to growth of this sector. Adil Khalid, Creative Director at Interflow for the last 15 years, argued that the swelling consumer market and rising consumerism in society is the primary reason for growth in advertising. Hassaan Ahmad, Ogilvy Et Mather, asserts that the opening up of multinational corporations (MNC) in Pakistan has stimulated this growth as MNCs employ more developed and sophisticated marketing techniques. Elaborating, he said that it provides an opportunity for Pakistani employees to acquaint themselves with international systems and procedures. Thus the local industry has been significantly influenced by international marketing methods and strategies which have raised the benchmark and standard of advertising in Pakistan.

Further, the younger lot/crowd with immense creative talent are engaged and involved in concept and content development of advertisements. Younger persons compose the majority employees of marketing and advertising departments and agencies. “Younger people are leading big organizations and creative departments” says Hassan10. Suggesting that it is ironic that many talented young persons do not have a degree in the field, he contends that “Creativity comes from within”. Hassan feels that Pakistani society and culture has become more globalized, modern and provides space for creative thinking, which has resulted in more innovative and creatively inclined youth to come forward. He seems less inclined to accept that extremist and fundamentalism trends are burgeoning and spreading among the youth. Instead, he points out that globalization, media and advertisements are helping youth embrace liberal trends and values, and this acceptability of more liberal content on television and outdoor media is indicative of changing mindsets and transforming societal values. Adil Khalid seems to have greater faith in the resilience of youth. He states that Pakistani youth has always been accepting of modern and liberal advertisements and that it is a very small segment that is extremist and targets liberalism. Similarly, advertising has always managed to retain and sustain a liberal posture as “Fanaticism and extremism hold no place in advertising”, but “the role of youth in advertising has been enigmatic. It has added freshness and vitality to the industry, as reflected in its outcome and product.”11

“…the local industry has been significantly influenced by international marketing methods and strategies.”

Images on billboards depicting women in liberal attire, and of men and women posing together comfortably in eastern as well as western clothing, are now widely popular among the youth. Similarly “Youth Packages” by mobile service providers with cheap overnight call rates are demanded by the youth. Marketing experts believe that such images are reflective and representative of the demands of today’s youth and society. “Pakistani youth is now more literate and more exposed to influences of globalization through media”, Hassan argues. Youth from both rural and urban areas are exposed to current trends through television, internet and outdoor media. The youth is attracted by modern and innovative advertisements. Popularity of such advertisements depicts what the current Pakistani youth and society are demanding and appreciating. The success of these advertising campaigns is evident as brands are gaining more popularity and business. Youngsters are rushing to purchase the advertised products charmed by the advertisements is stimulating their consumerist instincts.

Expansion of television networks, growth in the advertising industry and marketing has had a threefold impact. First, it has perpetuated and promoted lifestyle liberal values and trends among the youth. These trends have been accepted and embraced by the youth population, evidenced by the success of the advertising campaigns. Second, the aggressive advertising has resulted in rising consumerist behavior among the youth. Third, the boom in advertising industry has provided opportunities for the innovative and creatively inclined youth to utilize their creative talents and invest their energies in building a dynamic and internationally compatible/ recognized marketing industry.

Lahore: Changing Styles of Restaurants and Eateries

To have a better understanding of changing youth styles, the author selectively made survey of eateries in Lahore.
Observational evidence and interviews with the youth reveal a growing trend in café culture and its popularity particularly among the youth. Selected visits to diverse socioeconomic areas in the city indicate that the eating out culture is popular in the high, middle as well as low income areas and classes. A large number of cafes, restaurants, fast-food outlets, dhabas and informal eateries have mushroomed all over the city targeting customers from various socioeconomic backgrounds. These are largely frequented by the youth and it is becoming more common for young men and women to spend time in cafes and restaurants with groups of friends. This trend has impacted the youth’s eating habits and preferences, social interactions, gender relations, public exposure, and lifestyle.

Over the years there has been a cultural shift from traditional eating habits of eating in towards dining out. In the Punjabi culture, families would prefer to eat home cooked meals and would rarely dine out together. It was more common for single males to eat out and the traditional dhabas would cater mostly to male bachelors. Females would rarely eat out independently. In the late 70’s many new restaurants offering Desi food, Chinese cuisine and fast food opened up. Young married couples started dining
out in these restaurants.12

In the late 90’s eating out culture underwent a rapid transformation as fast-food chains came to Pakistan.
While Pizza Hut opened its first branch in 1993, KFC started in 1997 and McDonalds in 1998. With a comfortable and refreshing ambiance, these outlets provided an attractive place for families to dine out. School and college students began going out and spending time in these places independently. One could also spot groups of young girls enjoying a meal in McDonald or Pizza Hut. In the initial years, these places catered mostly to the elite class
but today the scenario has completely changed. Upon a visit to McDonalds, one find customers from diverse economic backgrounds, families as well as college students and surprisingly a very large number of young couples.

“…the aggressive advertising has resulted in rising consumerist behavior among the youth”

The opening up of Masooms Café (2003), Coffee Tea and Company (CTC) and the likes in Lahore brought with it a wave of coffeehouse culture. The cafés offered various flavors of coffee, hot beverages, shakes, pastries, deserts and other bakery items as well as a sophisticated yet informal ambiance, quickly established a good reputation and became the preferred hangout spot for the elite. They were visited by families, students and the working professionals mostly from the upper class due to the high prices. It targeted those who had international exposure and taste to appreciate quality coffee and snacks along as with ambience. Jammin Java and Dunkin Donuts were also among the pioneers in the coffeehouse business, and their growing business lead to emergence of many more cafes. Gloria Jean’s also opened up in 2007 to capture the pre-existing market for coffee drinkers. In the following years, the trend caught on like wildfire and cafes started mushrooming in the city. Due to the process of globalization and increased exposure and awareness among people, they welcomed this cultural change. The Lahorites gradually, developed a taste for coffee along with the traditional liking for tea.

Globally, coffee shops have been a favorite spot for writers where they can sip on their coffee and work uninterrupted for hours. Students looking for a quiet place to study also chose to do so in coffee shops where they can study as well as take snack and coffee breaks. However, though Pakistan has also caught up with cafe culture, the primary purpose of cafes in Pakistan is socializing, hanging out  with friends and family and eating together. It is not an inviting place to work as usually very loud music is played. It is meant for groups of people rather than individuals wanting to enjoy some alone time. Thus the atmosphere of cafes in Pakistan is vastly different from the West even though they have become very popular hangout places in Pakistan.

There are numerous cafes now in Defence and Gulberg with the greatest variety on M M Alam road.13 It is evident from visits to the cafes that they have a large clientele and a flourishing business. A large number of fast food chains as well as restaurants offering continental food have also opened up14. These cafes and restaurants are frequented by families and working professionals, however a large majority of clients comprises of the younger generation.

Another trend which has become common, is for a working young professional to dine out during their lunch break. With the increase in the number of working women, one finds groups of office going young men and women enjoy a quick lunch at their favorite restaurant or café. Those who cannot afford to eat frequently at high profile restaurants on M M Alam (costing on average Rs.1000/per head), can chose from cheaper options like biryani and burger places. Dhabas offering a large variety of Desi snacks like samosas, chaney chaat etc, are also ,widespread in the city and cater to the middle and lower-middle

While most cafes and restaurants are located in Gulberg and Defence, the dining out culture has also spread to middle income areas like Johar Town and Wapda Town. The main boulevard in Johar Town boasts of a diverse range of restaurants with various price ranges. There are cafés serving coffee, beverages, pastries and continental food and also some of Lahore’s oldest and most well known traditional food restaurants15. Though price range here is high, the eateries attract many customers. Driving down the road, one finds shawerma places, BRBQ food as well as fast-food chains, offering food at more affordable prices targeting the middle-class customers16. Popular pizza places like Gino’s and Pizza Hut can be spotted. At the end of the Johar town main boulevard, one finds a corner that is a hub of Desi food dhabas serving a wide variety of food ranging from Nihari to fish. It has the famous Muhammadi Nihari, Rahoo Machli, Sardar Machli and Nihari House. These eateries mainly cater to the lower and lower middle class. The ambiance is different with outdoor seating arrangement and mostly young males
eating there. Thus Johar Town’s numerous restaurants cater to varying income classes. In the visit, about 40 restaurants were counted in addition to numerous dhabas catering to various income classes.

“…the primary purpose of cafes in Pakistan is socializing, hanging out with friends and family, and eating together.”


“The evolving face of fashion, advertising and restaurant/ cafe industry, and youth’s rising inclination and interest towards them has led to emergence of new lifestyle trends and patterns among Pakistani youth. Their consumerist tendencies are being brought out through effective advertising, and spending priorities are tilted towards dining out and on consuming fashion savvy products. There is a huge demand for entertainment by youth belonging to varying socioeconomic backgrounds. The restaurant industry and fashion industry are responding to this demand by providing wide range of products and services to select from. Thus youth values, habits and ways of living are being metamorphosed into a more liberal and at the same time consumerist outlook. Is it a small minority’s life style”


End Notes

1 Labor Force Survey 2012-2013 Quarterly Reports, Pakistan Bureau of Statistic

2 Sitara fabrics, Classic and Firdous are cloth manufacturers catering to middle-class

3 Karim Block at Iqbal Town has factory outlets of western-wear brands like Levis, Leisure Club, Crossroads, along with shops and vendors selling unbranded clothes at affordable prices. Street garment vendors at various bazars (Liberty market, Barkat market) are also providing cheaper clothing options for the masses.

4 Recent fashion weeks include Showcase 2012, Fashion Pakistan Week3, and Bridal Couture Week all of which were held in Karachi. PFDC Sun silk Fashion Week (PSFW) was held in Lahore and Islamabad Fashion Week LFW was the first fashion week to be held in Islamabad.

3 Kiran Klialid. “Pakistan’s fashionistas: We aren’t revolutionaries” CNN, 23 February 2010

6 Hamna Zubair. “Anti-Skin or Anti-Women” NEWSLINE, July 2012

7 Gallup Pakistan. “Gallup Pakistan Media Cyberletter”, October 2012, (1st August 2013)

8 Fashion channel style 360 is a cable channel which airs only fashion and beauty content. It airs fashion shows and interviews of designers, stylists, beauticians and other fashion celebrities

9 Products targeting the youth include mobile phones sets and service providers (U-fone, Jazz), clothing brands, fizzy drinks and juices, food products etc

10 Hassaan Ahmad, Accounts Manager, Ogilvy ft Mather, Interview by the author, 2nd February, 2013

11 Adil Kahlid, Creative director, Interflow, Interview by the author, 3rd February 2013

12 Some popular restaurants like Kababeesh, Kabanna and Tikana offered desi food while Salt and Pepper offered fast food. Bar-bq food was also very popular for dining out.

13 Famous cafes in Lahore include Gloria Jeans, Masooms, Coffee tea and company(CTC), Hotspot, the Cafe Upstairs, and Espresso

14 Some famous restaurants are Zouk, Freddy’s, Aylanto while Fast food chains like Hardees and Subway are also very popular

15 Jammin Java cafe and Bundu Khan restaurant with price range of 700-900 Rs. per person

16 Cock n Bull, KFC , AFC, JFC , Gino’s, Pizza Hut


Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. “Labor Force Survey 2012- 2013 3rd Quarter (Jan-March 2013)”, (2nd August 2013)

Gallup Pakistan. “Gallup Pakistan Media Cyberletter”, October 2012, (1st August 2013)

Kiran Khalid. “Pakistan’s fashionistas: We aren’t revolutionaries” CNN, 23 February 2010

Nosheen Abbas. “Models have fun as Pakistan fashion grows up” BBC NEWS, 14 April 2012

Ayesha Tammy Haq. “Nargis.iet there be light” Outlook India, 23 November, 2009

Elamna Zubair. “Anti-Skin or Anti-Women” NEWSLINE, July 2012

Momina Sibtain “Coffee Culture: What’s brewing?” The Express Tribune, 20 March 2012

Amna Haider Isani “Everything you wanted to know about Pakistan’s fashion weeks., but didn’t know who to ask” Herald, May 2012

Elassaan Ahmad, Accounts Manager, Ogilvy Et Mather, Interview by the author, 2nd February, 2013

Adil Kahlid, Creative director, Interflow, Interview by the author, 3rd February 2013