It took me quite a while to figure out what to wear in India. Whenever I travel to a new country, I do research on appropriate ways to dress for the destination. I always want to make sure that my clothing is respectful towards the local culture, comfortable for the climate, and let’s be honest, somewhat cute for the gram. A blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do, aimirite? 😛
Prior to my first ever visit to India, I had a lot of questions. Do women have to cover up a lot? If so, how will I stay cool in hot weather? Can I wear jewelry? If I do, will I be drawing too much attention to myself?
After copious research online and fumbling through my closet, I finally came up with an India travel wardrobe that I was confident with. Most pieces I wore in India were stuff I already owned, but I did buy a couple more items online like this cute jumpsuit.
Once I started posting my India journey on Instagram, I received many comments and DMs complimenting the outfits. Oh shucks you guys really know how to make a blogger feel validated. Thanks for appreciating my efforts. 😀
Since you guys asked me a lot, I decided to write this post that sums up my best advice on what to wear in India as a female tourist. I included a couple of my exact outfits for your idea inspiration. Make sure to grab the Ultimate India packing list at the end of the post.
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What to Wear in India – Questions and Answers
How modest do I have to dress in India?
India is, for the most part, a conservative country. When visiting temples, you need to cover up the shoulders and knees. In some cases, hair needs to be covered as well. For daily functioning, it’s not a stiff rule to hide those body parts, but you will find it very rare to see any Indian ladies showing them. “Shoulder to knee” is a good guideline to abide by.
While I am a feminist and all for girls wearing whatever they like, the truth is, you as a traveler, will probably be more comfortable if you make effort to fit in with the local dress customs. Take social cues from the women around you in India.
As a foreigner, you already attract plenty of attention. Trust me, you don’t want any extra. One of the culture shocks in India I encountered was that people like to stare A LOT. On my first day in Delhi, I stepped into a subway cart and sensed eyes on me during the whole ride. I admit I felt a bit exposed and vulnerable. However, at least I knew that the staring had nothing to do with me dressing in a way that offended anyone (I had carefully chosen to wear a maxi skirt and loose blouse) but everything to do with my exotic Asian face. 😛
(Later on, I got used to the attention and was happy to comply with the selfie requests from locals. Know that staring is just a part of the culture in India. It stems from a place of curiosity, not bad intentions.)
How can I stay cool in India’s weather?
Besides cultural reasons why you should avoid tight clothing, there are also practical reasons. India can be really really hot. Mumbai was a sweltering 32 degrees the day I arrived in mid-March, a “typical spring day”. 😉 While at home, I always handle the heat by rocking my summer short shorts and tank tops, in India, I kept cool by wearing dresses, loose fitting blouses, and harem pants. I loved how comfortable these pieces were. Not only did they keep me looking modest, prevent me from overheating, they also offered sun protection for my skin.
When you look for dresses and skirts, once again, they should be knee length or longer. Which means classy maxis are the way to go. The material of your clothes is also important. I suggest looking for breathable and quick drying fabrics like silk and cotton. Because really, you will be sweaty. There is no avoiding it.
For pants, I suggest saying no to jeans. Although I had seen other Indian city ladies wear jeans, I simply could not bear the thought of it. Like girl, aren’t you burning up in those?! Leggings are also not a good idea. Not only will the typical black leggings bake your legs under the sun, the thin bottom wear is not considered to be very modest. Instead, opt for harem pants or genie pants. These stable South East Asia backpacker pieces will keep your life easy breezy beautiful.
What is a must have piece of clothing for India?
A scarf will be your best friend in India. It is truly so multifunctional. You can wear it to cover up your shoulders or hair when visiting religious sites, use it as a blanket when it gets cold, or simply as a colorful fashion accessory.
Scarfs are sold everywhere in the street markets, so it’s not difficult to purchase one when you arrive in the country. I brought a couple of my own scarfs with me to India, most of them the lightweight, sarong type.
What I regret not having then is my current obsession: The travel scarf by Waypoint Goods. This beautiful infinity scarf is genius because it has a hidden pocket in which you can stash your valuables like passport, phone, and cash. The design is meant to give travelers maximum freedom and security. Isn’t it such a simple yet clever idea?
*Psst I am currently running a giveaway on Instagram for 2 lucky winners to get their own Waypoint Goods travel scarf! Head my post here for the contest rules. Winner will be announced on July 19, 2019. Good luck!
What are some suitable shoe wears for traveling in India?
Unless you are doing hiking, you probably won’t want to wear sneakers in India. They are just too stuffy and sweat-inducing. Besides, you often have to take off your shoes when you enter temples and religious sites, which makes fumbling with laced shoes a pain in the butt. Sandals or flats that are easy to slip on and slip off are great. Another thing to know is that your feet will inevitably get dirty and dusty in India. That is just a part of the experience. Don’t wear shoes that are hard to clean or you’ll hate yourself. I highly recommend my all-time favorite travel sandals brand, Ipanema. These sandals are comfortable and super chic. The best part is, they clean very easily with just a little bit of rinsing under water.
What kind of Bags should I bring to India?
For security reasons, I recommend bringing bags that can be fully closed with zippers. Crossbody purses are great because you can keep an eye on your belongings, without worries about pickpockets. Fanny packs are also very practical, not to mention coming back in style in the fashion world. 😉
The travel scarf with hidden pockets I mentioned earlier is also amazing for preventing theft, as well as freeing up your limbs for doing other fun things, like browsing through a market and frolicking in a palace.
Is it ok to Wear Accessories in India?
Absolutely. Don’t be afraid to accessorize. India is all about being bold and colorful. Statement pieces of jewelry are a thing here. On the streets, you can see ladies sporting all dazzling and sparkly pieces. I would say gold is probably the MVP of the accessories game.
I recommend shopping local when it comes to jewelry and leaving your real valuables at home. Besides being safer, it’s more fun. The markets are wonderlands for finding all sorts of accessories for cheap. I was able to find some lovely earrings for myself and my friends back home. Haggling was a game that I quickly got into. 😛
If you are pondering whether the big necklace is drawing too much attention to you, don’t even worry. It’s not the necklace they are staring at. Again, people just like to stare at foreigners. So you will get unwanted attention whether you bedazzle yourself or not. So why not look fabulous? 😉
Western Clothes or Traditional Indian Clothes?
I love that on the streets in India, you see a mix of western and traditional Indian clothing. If you want to purchase a beautiful saree or salwar kameez suits, you sure can. The markets all have tons of women wear shops waiting for you with open arms. The prices can vary a lot depending on the quality and design. I recommend hiring a shopping guide. It can be tremendously helpful to have someone who knows the best places to go and is familiar with the negotiation process. Some items that may interests you are:
Saree – This beloved Indian attire barely needs an introduction. Saree, also known as sari, is a long piece of cloth varying in length from 4.5 to 8 meters that one drapes across the body. It is worn with a blouse and drawstring skirt. Sarees can be complicated to wrap, but you can find“sarees” that are created with the illusion that it’s already been wrapped. You just got to slip the pieces on like a normal dress and nobody would be the wiser.
Salwar kameez suits– It is a long loose tunic, paired with matching scarf and tapered pants. There are versions for men as well as ladies. The salwar kameez suit is very comfortable to wear. To get a perfect fit, take the set you bought to a tailor who can adjust it to your measurements.
How to dress for the beach in India?
You may wonder how the “cover up” rule applies if you are going to a beach destination like Goa. Don’t worry, you can swim in your bikinis without a problem. The locals are so used to tourists that the expectations are different here. However, it is still a good idea to cover up somewhat with a sarong or light dress when you are not in the water. Also, do not wear your swim attire once you leave the beach. That is a big no-no.
How to dress for Holi in India?
Holi is one of the most epic festivals in India and in the world. If you plan to travel to India for Holi, which I hope you do, you got to know some important tips. I will be writing my guide to Holi soon, but for now, I want to share quickly what you should wear to this amazing colorful celebration. In short, do not wear anything that you are not willing to get ruined. The color powders will NOT come out. Our travel squad in India bought ourselves cheap pajamas for 500 rupees each. Wearing white fabric is great because you can see all the fun colors that get splashed on it. If you want, you can keep the shirt afterward as a memory of the good times.
What else should I know about India in terms of packing?
While the above advice work for many of the popular destinations in India, keep in mind that India is a big country. You may experience some regional differences both in terms of culture and climate. For example, areas like northern India can actually be quite cold. Hiking in the Himalayas would require warm clothing such as jackets and thick gloves. Always do research about where exactly you are going. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast for your travel dates and pack accordingly.
The best way to know what to wear anywhere is really observing cues from others and learning as you go. There will always be tons of shopping options locally so you will never be too far from a solution. 🙂
What to Wear in India Outfit Ideas
I traveled through India for two weeks with G Adventures in March. Our trip took us through western India by Rail from Delhi to Goa (I highly recommend this classic itinerary if you are visiting India for the first time). The weather was hot throughout our travel. Here are a couple of outfits that I wore in India to give you some ideas.
1. Pink Jumpsuit + Rainbow Scarf
Where I wore this: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Details: Jumpsuit: Forever XXI | Headband: Forever XXI | Bag: H & M | Scarf: somewhere from Egypt | Earrings: Gift from my guide in Delhi | Sandals: Ipanema
Jaipur is also known as the pink city, so I decided to go with the theme and be all pink myself. 😉 Because my jumpsuit is a strapless top, I covered up my shoulders with a scarf. I accessorized with a pink headband and big earrings, the latter being a gift from my guide in Delhi. The outfit photographed great against the colourful palaces and doorways in Jaipur.
2. Red Long Sleeve Maxi Dress
Where I wore this: Taj Mahal/Agra
Details: Dress: boutique shop in China
This dress is admittedly quite dramatic, but I wanted something that will suit the grandeur of Taj Mahal. (Call me Queen of being Extra) I was happy about my choice. The long sleeves and skirt gave me full coverage, but the silky material of the dress was very light and flowy. It kept me cool as we shuffled through the huge crowd at the Taj. I highly recommend wearing a bright color like red, yellow, or pink when visiting the Taj Mahal, so you will pop as the subject in front of the white marble of this wondrous architecture.
3. Polkadot Mid-Sleeve Jump Suit
Where I wore this: Delhi
I love jumpsuits. This one is particularly comfortable. I really like its sleeves details and the fact that it has pockets! The one downside is that it’s quite low cut. I layered a cami underneath and problem solved. You can find the exact jumpsuit on Amazon here.
4. Bell Sleeve Crop Top + Maxi Skirt
Where I wore this: Delhi
Details: Top: Boutique shop in Japan | Maxi Skirt: somewhere in China
Remixing pieces is a lot of fun. I usually wear this top off the shoulder, but I simply pulled up the sleeves to change the style. (see some different looks I created with this top here and here.) As well, the skirt is actually a dress that I illusion-ed as a skirt. (see how it looks as a dress here) Similar to the first outfit on the list, I accessorized with a cute headband and hoop earrings.
One of my goals this year is to shop less for clothes, unless it’s necessary or meaningful. I really like the KonMarie idea of tidying up and decluttering, and the concept of curating a capsule wardrobe. I’m still getting there 😛 Being a blogger with fashion as part of the brand is definitely a challenge, but I get creative with it.
5. Black Breezy Midi Dress
Where I wore this: Train rides + Udaipur
Details: Dress: Uniqlo
This became my go-to train ride outfit in India. The skirt is long enough to cover my legs, (the AC carriages can get quite chilly, so bring a scarf too) but won’t drag on the floor if I need to go to the bathroom. Without giving too much details, the toilets on the trains are Indian squat style and not exactly the cleanest. A midi dress is perfect as I can just lift it up. I would not recommend a jumpsuit for train journeys as it would be a pain to take off while you are wobbling around in the tiny toilet stall. You get the picture.
Functionality aside, this dress is also just super classy for all occasions.
Where I wore this: Bundi + Mumbai
Details: Top: Forever XXI | Pants: Uniqlo
The key is always balance. Since this is a crop top, I paired it with a pair of high waist pants. The long sleeve top from Forever XXI is a silky material, so it feels really nice against the skin. It also gave me some extra protection from the scorching sun in Mumbai.
Speaking of crop top, it is interesting to note that why it is important to cover your shoulders and knees in Hindu culture, showing the belly is no big deal and in fact very normal. Walking around the street in India, I saw tons of bellies everyday. Women of all ages and sizes bared their midriffs. Apparently, in ancient Indian tradition, the belly button is seen as sacred, rather than sexual. Isn’t it interesting how ideas of beauty and modesty is different from culture to culture?
Where to Look for Clothes for India
The secret is out! I always get asked on Instagram where I shop for my outfits. Here is a summary of my top places to look for travel clothes. I got my clothes for India from many of these brands.
One of my favourite brands ever. Pieces by Uniqlo always have an understated classiness. It’s a great place to look for basics to mix and match. I also recommend their AIRism line, which is the opposite of their popular Heatech clothing. AIRism pieces help “release moisture and hot air, and has excellent breathability and quick drying of sweat”, so you will never be sticky in India.
I am fan of prAna not only because their products are good quality and comfortable, but also because this company takes environmental and social responsibility seriously. All the pieces are made in Fair Trade Certified Factories with sustainable material that respects the planet and its people.
What can’t you find on Amazon? I only recently started shopping for clothes because of prepping for India. I love being a Prime member that allows super fast delivery and easy return if something didn’t turn out to be how I wanted. AmazonSmile is also a great program that donates 0.5% of the price of your purchases to the charitable organization of your choice.
In India (duh)
Lastly, save some room in your suitcase and be prepared to shop in India! The textile industry is huge in this country. You will be swooned by all sorts of fabrics in all sorts of designs. Simple, extravagant, embroidered, bejeweled….With good bargaining skills, the price can be quite cheap as well. Read this post for more reasons why you’d want to consider shopping local wherever you go.
If you worry about not knowing where and how to shop in India, there are guides/tours that you can hire. I recommend Umesh in Delhi, who was a lovely guide for me.
What to Wear in India for Female Travellers Summary
I know that navigating the dress code in a foreign country can be quite intimidating. I hope this post was helpful. I would like to thank Rachel from Hippie in Heels, an angel in the blogging community who recently passed away, for being a great source of knowledge about India, and a long time inspiration for me. I hope you are resting in a peaceful place Rachel. Your legacy will continue to live on.
I would love to see the outfits you end up wearing in India. If you feel like sharing, please send me a photo on my Instagram. 🙂
Going to India soon? Plan your trip in 4 easy steps
- Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine.
- Find A Hotel: Score affordable accommodation on Booking.com. Receive $16 off your first booking with my link here.
- Buy insurance: You never know what may happen on the road. Protect your trip & gear with World Nomad, the best travel insurance company ever. Get a quote here.
- Read up on the best advice: Lonely Planet: India Travel Guide
For more India travel inspiration, make sure to check out my India Instagram Story Highlights.
Ultimate India Packing List PDF Printable
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