One of the foremost questions that come to mind after booking your trip to India is ‘What to wear?’ The question becomes pertinent for a country like India where culture, climate, and safety play an important role in deciding your attire. As such, there are no restrictions in India and you are free to dress as you like. But India is a conservative country and people still judge you by the way you dress up.
However, things are not as bad as they look. Indian women in big cities and metros are much more liberal and relaxed in their choices. You can see them wearing short dresses, crop tops, halters, shorts, tight t-shirts, etc. But, villages and small towns are still conservative in their dressing and most women can be seen in Indian outfits. Wearing modest and appropriate clothes in India has its merits – It is safer, it shows respect to the local culture and it helps you to mingle with the local crowd.
Confused? Let us list down some thumb rules that will help you decide your dress-code while travelling to different parts of this stunning country.
Wear natural fabrics – Most parts of India can be very hot and humid, especially in summers. Go for natural and breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk (winters). They will keep you cool and comfortable. You should never wear synthetic fabrics in India as it will make you sweatier.
Wear loose-fitting clothes – India is not the country to wear tight-fitting clothes showing off your figure. It reveals your shape and brings unwanted attention. Plus, it is too hot to wear clinging outfits. Go for long and flowy dresses, willowy skirts, loose cotton tops, harem pants, light jumpsuits, cotton leggings, lightweight cotton pants, capris, baggy jeans, etc.
Go local – Indian clothing is beautiful, modest, affordable, and perfect for the weather. It also keeps you away from unsolicited attention. So why not use the opportunity to go on a shopping spree?
Kurtis (tunics), Salwar (sort of pyjamas), leggings, maxi dresses, sarees, salwar-kameez (Punjabi suit) are the traditional Indian dresses that are preferred by the tourists. They are easily available everywhere. If you are looking for quality stuff – Fabindia, Anokhi, Kilol, Cottons, and Global Desi are some of the popular shops where you can buy colourful and comfortable Indian attire.
Word of caution – wrapping a saree is quite tricky and you need to wear a blouse and petticoat with a saree. These two items of clothing can be bought ready-made or you have to get them stitched.
Dress Modestly – In India, it can be a bit risky to wear revealing clothes, especially if you are traveling solo. Indian men are not used to skin exposure and you would be the cynosure of all eyes wherever you go.
Wear clothing that covers your cleavage and shoulders. Very short and see-through outfits should be avoided. Even in big towns, lots of skin on show is not advisable. The hot and humid weather might tempt you to wear spaghetti tops and skimpy shorts, but long-sleeved tops and full-length bottoms are not a bad option. They protect you from the hot sun during the daytime and the persistent mosquitoes in the evenings.
Carry a Scarf / Shawl – This is one piece of clothing that is going to come in handy in many situations. You can drape it over your shoulders/legs to protect yourself from intrusive eyes, or use it to cover your head when you enter a temple/mosque.
Scarves and shawls shield you from the harsh Indian sun and keep you warm when it cools down at night. The versatile scarf is also perfect to add color and zing to your pictures. In India, you can buy scarves and Pashmina shawls of every conceivable design and color, so shop to your heart’s content.
Dress for the weather – India is massive and well spread-out and the weather changes in different regions. In summer (April-August) you should wear cotton and breathable fabrics. In the mountain areas, you will need some light woolens. During winters (November-February), North India will be really cold and you would need all your woolens. Southern India will still be warm and summer clothing would be the best option. A light jacket should be packed as it may get a bit chilly at night.
Accessories – The scorching sun and brutal Indian heat make it mandatory for you to carry scarves, sunglasses, sun hat, sun-block cream, and an umbrella whenever you step out during the daytime.
Footwear – Pack sturdy walking shoes for sightseeing trips and a couple of comfortable ballets for the evenings. You don’t need the heels in India unless you are going to dine in some fancy restaurants. Don’t forget to pack some sandals that are comfortable and easy to slip off/on. They would be a lifesaver when you are visiting temples and it is mandatory to take off shoes and enter bare-footed. Your feet and shoes will inevitably get dirty and dusty in India, so keep that in mind while deciding on your footwear. If you are planning to do some trekking, you will need hiking boots.
Beachwear – The weather in India may tempt you to wear bikinis, but don’t give in to the temptation unless you are staying in an upscale resort with a private beach. For public beaches, a conservative one-piece swimsuit would be a safer option. Sarongs and cover-ups are recommended. It is difficult to find good swimwear in India, so bring them along from home.
Be colorful – India is one country that loves colors and prints. White, black, and monochromes are not for Indians. You would be out of place if you arrive in a black dress at a wedding or a temple. Don’t be afraid to wear vibrant shades and bold prints in India. The shops are spilling with colourful and vivid clothes and you will be spoiled for choice.
Handbags – Choose handbags that are big and can be fully zipped up. The size would help you to stuff your scarf, hat, umbrella, etc. in your bag when not needed. A fully closed up bag is a must, as it protects your valuables from the pick-pockets. Additionally, it prevents your stuff from slipping out when your bags are scanned in baggage scanner machines that are installed everywhere you go.
Everyone has the right to wear what they want. However, when you are travelling, it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of the country’s culture and blend in with the local population. As a westerner, you are going to receive attention wherever you travel in India. But if your clothing makes you stand out, you could be made uncomfortable by staring men, groping hands, and disapproving conservative older women. In such a scenario, it is better to be safe than sorry.