What to wear in India? What do women wear in India? I’m sure I’m not the first woman to Google those questions preparing for a trip to India.
When Incredible India invited me to take the iconic Maharajas Express train trip I was thrilled. But the biggest question was: now what do I wear?
I spent more time planning my wardrobe for India than any other country. I don’t have saris or traditional Indian clothing and I wanted to be respectful. And I also wanted to avoid unnecessary attention. Can I wear jeans in India? What body parts should I cover.
I only travel carry-on so there was no room for error. I approached it much like I did while exploring local food in Jordan. My general rule was to cover my shoulders and my knees and to try to find breathable fabric. This wasn’t the easiest thing to do in the dead of winter in Canada. So I pulled out summer dresses, a pair of yoga pants and some scarves.
One of the most important aspects for me was being comfortable while also being respectful. In certain cases like the Bara Imambara in Lucknow it’s not mandatory to cover your head. However, it is a sign of respect. In mosques you will need to cover your head. A light scarf is the way to go. The textiles in India are so beautiful it’s hard not to buy all the scarves.
You’ll also need to take your shoes off in mosques and some other locations. Our hosts with the Maharajas Express gave us foot coverings but I was comfortable going barefoot. If you’re not you may want to pack a pair of socks.
Oh and can you wear jeans in India? Absolutely…kind of… In Delhi I saw lots of women wearing a variety of clothing from saris to tunics with leggings to jeans. I heard the same was true for Mumbai – the clothing ranges from conservative to very modern. In more rural areas it was a bit more traditional.
I never saw shorts on local women. A few times I saw tourists wearing shorts, accompanied by lots of local staring so I wouldn’t recommend it.
For my first (and not my last) trip to India, I was happy with what I chose. I always felt comfortable traveling. It was easy to pack and I never felt like I may have been offending someone more conservative.
I also asked eight other female bloggers to share their best tips on what to wear in India:
What to Wear in India – Female Travel Blogger Tips
How to Dress in India – Advice from an Expert
When I was planning my first trip to India in 2005, I did a lot of research. After all, I was going for six months and wanted to be as prepared as possible. On the Journeywoman website, I came across a nugget of advice. A reader suggested wearing Indian clothes while travelling in India.
This small but significant suggestion changed everything for me and in some ways set the tone for my trip — and perhaps for so much else that’s happened since then. One of the first things I did on landing was make a beeline to FabIndia, where I bought a wardrobe of salwar kameez suits in both silk and cotton. I wore Indian clothes almost exclusively for the entire six-month.
The Indian clothes I wore suited the climate and the modesty requirement, and it did so much more. I found it helped me bond with the people and the culture. I sensed I was given more respect, and a friendlier reception, than some of the backpackers I saw travelling in typical hippie wear. Wearing Indian clothes seemed to be a bit like a talisman that helped open the culture to me.
I mostly wore three-piece salwar kameez suits (aka Punjabi suits), but also sometimes wore a sari, if the occasion required it — usually weddings. It’s one piece of advice I am so glad I took!
More from Mariellen on What to Wear in India: How to Dress for Success in India
What Clothes to Wear in India? Think Accessories
Scarves will be your best friend for so many reasons. They’re easy to pack, work well as a cover up or if you end up needing to cover your head, and look fabulous in photos. My trick was to wear one and have another tucked in my bag so I could swap between them throughout the day. That way, I wasn’t wearing the exact same outfit in all of my pictures.
More from Tamara: Globe Guide Palace on Wheels Review
How to Dress in India and Beat the Heat
When traveling in India or any other country with a conservative dress code for women but still comes with scorching temperatures, I like to go for natural fibers. Cotton, silk, and linen are my best friends. Anything synthetic makes me more sweaty (and stinky I should add!) and just doesn’t feel nice on my skin.
Natural fibers allow you and your skin to breathe even if you are wearing long sleeves and bottoms.
While I am usually a skinny jeans and t-shirt kind of girl I love wearing long cotton dresses in India. They are breezy and extremely comfortable in hot temperatures while still modest enough to visit temples and mosques and to not attract too much unwanted attention.
Don’t be afraid to show some color. I once wore a long black dress to a religious dance ceremony and stuck out like a sore thumb.
More from Annika on What to Wear in India: Travel Fashion – What to wear in conservative countries
What Women Wear in India – Know Where to Shop
Pop into FabIndia as soon as you arrive to pick up well made, western style kurta and kaftan tops to fit in while traveling throughout India
Wear leggings with kurta tops or long shirts to cover your bottom for a loose, comfortable look that conforms to India’s dress standards.
Avoid clothes that show your cleavage, shoulders (bikini strap tank tops) or knees. India is a conservative country and even though a sari will show your midriff, this does not mean it’s acceptable to wear short shirts that show your belly!
Wear sandals that are easy to take on/off as you will need to slip your shoes off and on often while visiting temples and even some shops. Choose sandals with footbeds that absorb moisture and are comfortable. Avoid heels and hiking boots for regular day to day wear.
Choose light, loose clothing that breathes well in the hot and humid weather. Always carry a shawl or scarf to cover your head or shoulders when necessary or to warm up in cold air conditioned hotels or restaurants.
More from Karilyn at No Back Home
What to Wear When Traveling to India – Check Your Closet First
On my very first visit to India, I found that I didn’t have to buy new clothes to visit India. I just needed to choose wisely the clothes that I would be bringing with me to wear. Since I was going to be on a luxury train, I knew I would need to bring a few elegant pieces for night time dinners. But I also knew that I wanted to be comfortable.
I chose to bring loose-fitting and shoulder covering tops that I had bought in Italy. They were made from a free-flowing silky material and allowed for movement. Yet they were comfortable cotton underneath that touched my skin.
I also packed lightweight scarfs to wear around my neck for extra modesty and to cover my head when visiting temples and mosque. Also, it got cold at night from sitting outside for a dinner and show. so I was so glad I had brought my scarves.
More from Cacinda: What Is It Really Like To Visit Taj Mahal City in India?
I’m totally obsessed with wearing jumpsuits in India! I brought several for my trip and they are super comfortable and fashionable. The photo attached here shows shoulders which is a no-no but I was wearing a shawl the entire time, just took it off for photos! I also love using India fabrics as head wraps, which also keeps my hair out of my face (it was hot when we were visiting!)
More from Kaila and Her Journey on the Golden Chariot
What to Wear When Traveling to India – It Depends on the City!
I love matching clothes with destinations and packing my suitcase for India was a real delight. India is a burst of colors and architecture styles. Of course, there are cultural differences that need to be taken into account when you choose what to wear on your trip.
In Rajasthan, where I traveled, it is inappropriate to show your knees or cleavage, so better opt for long dresses or pants. I especially recommend a more bohemian style that will really stand out in the pictures.
And if you still don’t know what to pack, then buy clothes at the spot. There are so many beautiful fabrics to choose from!
More from Marta at Where Life is Great
The One Must-Have Item to Wear in India
Looking for one item women should certainly pack for India! Look no further than a then scarf/pashmina!
Even if you don’t wear or use scarves at home, you will suddenly find plenty of uses for them in india! If you plan to visit one of the many Mosques, you will be required to cover your head out of a sign of respect.
Having your own scarf you can just pull up to cover your hair will be convenient and will save you from having to not visit a place of worship or from having to wear a headscarf someone else wore.
They are also perfect to protect your skin from the hot Indian sun and then provide a little warmth when it cools down at night! Scarves pack light and if you forget one, you can always buy one in an Indian market for a few Indian rupees!
More on what to wear in India from Victoria at Follow Me Away
It’s All About the Accessories in India
India is a very colorful country and the fashion is so unique that shopping is just amazing. I would say that my best tips on what to wear in India would be to be comfortable, wear bohemian/tribal style clothing (I packed long skirts, pants that were flowy, along with versatile tops in different colors to mix and match) and, of course, sarongs/scarfs to cover for temples and sacred places. Don’t be afraid of your bright colored clothing because you will fit right in.
My most important advice is to avoid overpacking because you need the space for your shopping. You will find a variety of amazing clothing and accessories for cheap, so just bring basic pieces that you can combine, and, of course, wear colors to dress with Indian style and flare!
In India, it’s all about the accessories! I truly enjoyed just finding accessorizing items to enhance my outfits. Like I always say, “I find style and beauty in every culture.” And that inspires me!
Just always remember to be mindful of the culture, respect it (India is still very conservative depending the area) and embrace it. No regrets.
Check out what Olga wore in India on Dreams in Heels Instagram
Take a Cue From Locals on What to Wear in India
Shop locally for kurtas and leggings, the standard, safe and pretty Indian combo most women wear in the cities.
Both in Lahore and in India, which I have visited dozens of times, I bought my outfits locally. That means that you get something beautiful without compromising on quality and at a fraction of the price you would pay back home.
My colleagues in India took me shopping once to this local store called W for Women, which also sells online and has outlets in the major cities. They carry beautiful kurtas with modern designs and in light fabrics so you do not boil inside when coming in and out of air conditioned areas and onto the hot sun.
The problem with the traditional Lucknowi kurtas with embroidery is that they can be made of really thick fabric so they get very hot in India’s weather.
This is the outfit I wore in my Golden Chariot luxury train trip in India.
Disclosure: All of these bloggers (including myself) were part of the India Blog Train program. It was hosted by Incredible India although none of us were paid. 60 bloggers travelled on four luxury trains over the course of one month. Beforehand there was a discussion about what to wear in India which is why I wanted to share this post.
I really believe it’s important to respect a culture when traveling as we are a guest in the country. I love how each of these participants approached what to wear in India. If you want to see more from the trip you can check out #IndiaBlogTrain on social media.