Trying to figure out what to wear in India isn’t as easy as you might think. Before I arrived in India I have to be honest, I didn’t think too much about what I should wear or even if the items I was packing would be appropriate. I just packed a few t-shirts, a warm cardigan and a few pairs of loose trousers and hoped for the best. That said I was well aware that India is a conservative country when it comes to how the ladies are expected to dress here so I didn’t exactly get off the plane in hot pants and a bikini top. But still, I wish I’d put more thought into my India wardrobe.
Traditional Indian clothing
What I didn’t know before I arrived in India was that the local women don’t actually completely cover up. The traditional Indian clothing, called saris, have a low neckline (think barely there cleavage) and short sleeves so the tops of the arms are on display but not the shoulders. Also saris leave Indian ladies midriffs uncovered so obviously stomachs aren’t considered offensive over here. What women do not show in India is their legs so keep yours covered up to avoid offending the locals, getting disapproving stares and unwanted attention. There’s loads of different types of saris out there and some are more conservative than others.
Western Fashions In Indian Cities
How the women dress in India also depends a lot on where in India they live. There’s a difference between what’s acceptable in a big city like Mumbai and what’s a normal way to dress in a rural Indian village. In Mumbai and Delhi for example a lot of the wealthier and more privileged girls will have been influenced by western fashion. Don’t be surprised to see them wearing jeans and little t-shirts just like at home. Expect to see western fashion brands like Forever 21 and Zara in the big Indian cities too. I guess dressing trends will get much more relaxed everywhere as time goes by.
India style guide for female travelers
So this India style guide is about how to dress in places like Kochi, Mysore, Varanasi, Jodhpur, Pushkar etc and not so much the big cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Goa is so westernized you’re almost free to wear what you like here too. If you’re going to Goa then this post about what to wear in India doesn’t apply to you and I suggest reading about what to wear in Goa instead.
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My advice as a blonde westerner
My advice to women who are unsure about how to dress in India is to loosely follow what the Indian women are wearing and try and do a Western version of it. Unless of course you want to buy yourself a sari and go all out Indian… which is a great idea. Honestly I absolutely love saris they are SO beautiful and I can’t think of a more elegant way to dress. That said, as a blonde westerner I would feel slightly awkward and not really myself in a full sari which is why I try to do my best western version.
What to wear in India
Let’s put together a perfectly acceptable, non-offensive but stylish outfit that you can wear in India. Think beautiful boho maxi dresses, baggy harem pants and pretty soft shawls! This outfit should be something you can dress up with jewelry and some heels for the evening and also dress down for daytime casual. This way you can pack light and leave more room in your luggage for souvenirs and other shopping (which you will want to do while out here believe me).
Perfect tops for India
Choose tops that cover the shoulders but feel free to show your entire back if you like. Most saris leave the lady’s back almost completely exposed so feel free to wear backless tops in India. I would recommend keeping it simple though by packing lightweight v-neck t-shirts. You can also wear something like this (pictured below) over a simple vest top or any t-shirt you own that shows too much (the shoulders and upper arms). This is really light weight and floaty so it will keep you cool while covering shoulders plus it’s really cute too 🙂
Cute boho dresses you can wear in India
I love my boho maxi dresses because they’re sweet, sexy and summery (is that even a word?). I actually have the two dresses above on the left side, the pale pink dress and the blue dress… love them! I get most of my clothes from Amazon… yep I’m getting predictable! This is just because you have so much choice, fair prices and loads of reviews. I like the fact that people who have bought the dresses on Amazon leave reviews with photos of them wearing it so you can really get a good idea of if it’s going to fit you.
Below are a few of my favorites maxi dresses…
Perfect trousers to wear in India
I live in leggings all year round but in India if you must wear leggings make sure you wear a long knee length top/dress that completely covers your behind. Preferably don’t wear leggings in India at all, just stick to floating or baggy pants like the ones shown above.
If you prefer skirts to trousers keep them long and flowing and make sure they come down to a little past the knee or ideally just above your ankles.
Bring a shawl for cool evenings and to cover up
Dress tops up for the evening with statement jewelry and a shawl in case it gets chilly. I wouldn’t pack jewelry or shawls if I was you though because these are sold everywhere in India so just buy them while you’re here. If you don’t want to wait until you arrive or you want a shawl to keep you warm on the flight (like me) then buy a shawl on Amazon.
P.S! Don’t forget head scarves! Most Indian women loosely cover their hair with their sari so while in India do as they do. If they’re not covering their hair then obviously you don’t need to but if they are I would suggest doing the same. Plus this also protects your hair from the sun so it’s a win win really. Feel free to show your entire belly if you like (let it all hang out) and most importantly pile on the bling… the more gold jewelry the better in India.
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Lastly, relax, if you’re still not sure what to wear in India you can buy an entire new wardrobe when you arrive. If you don’t pack everything you need or you’re still unsure about what to wear in India you can always pick up some bargains while you are there. There are so many great shops and markets where you can buy cheap but gorgeous clothes. If you dress boho chic with touch of hippie I promise you’ll be spoilt for choice! You might even be happy if you forget to pack something because it will give you the perfect excuse to go shopping.
If all else fails go to a Tailor and get clothes you’ve seen in magazines made for you but that’s a whole other blog post. Happy packing and now hopefully you don’t need to stress out about what to wear in India! Some #travelers deliberately under-pack when visiting #India. This way they have more room in their luggage for all the cute clothing and trinkets they know they’re going to buy while here. Click To Tweet
Have you been to India or are you traveling to India soon? Maybe you have your own tips and advice about how to dress when in India? Feel free to share in the comments section below…
Lonely Planet India: Check price on Amazon