What to wear while Travelling in India?

India is one of the rapidly growing and changing countries. With a rich culture and historical background, most of us wear modest, yet modern clothing. Since our clothes are colour and come in various forms, you will be delighted wearing Indian clothes and still feel comfortable as a foreign traveller. Trust me, doing this makes your trip to India easier and more pleasant. Plus, we appreciate and adore it when you embrace our culture.

Here is your complete guide to what to wear while travelling in India, where should foreigner buy Indian clothes and how to pack for an Indian voyage.

Index

What kind of clothes do they wear in India?

Indian woman in saree, young girl in denim and men in Trousers at Madurai

This pic sums it up all – Girl in Denim, a woman in saree, a man in trousers and another with Veshti.

Unlike you see in Indian soap operas where artists wear grand clothes every day, we wear simple yet colourful clothing in everyday life and go grand only on festive days.

What do ladies wear in India?

For ages, Indian women have worn sarees, and long skirts paired with blouse+dupatta & salwar kameez. The draping style, fabric and design varies with different state and communities. It is common in south India to see women wearing Jasmine flowers on their hair. Like any other part of the world, younger generation women stick to denim pants, shorts, and sleeveless tops in cities. Whether it is Saree or modern ones, it is usually modest fashion.

Indian family

La Familia – You mostly see Indian families in this attire.

In rural areas, you may find ladies wearing long loose cotton gowns called “Nighties” with a shawl on top of it. This is actually our nightwear and many use it as daywear because it is comfortable.

With around 15% Muslim population, you do see women in Burqa or women with Hijab on their heads. It doesn’t mean you must cover head to toe – Capris and T-shirts are absolutely fine.

Indian girl at the hilltop after trekking wearing capris and T shirts

This is my usual hiking/trekking attire wherever I go in India.

As part of Hindu tradition, many married women wear a toe ring, nuptial chain ( Mangal-Sutra: Black beads with gold chain), and finger rings. Many Christian and Muslim married women wear it too. Earrings, nose pins and bangles are common for married-unmarried women both.
Northeastern women’s outfits are similar to Tibetan outfits called “Chupa” – A long gown made of silk/cotton without sleeves and worn with a collared shirt inside. With different communities like Lambani, Siddhi and Kutchi women, the work on dresses and dupattas go exquisite and are most colourful.

Left Pic – Gujarathi women in Madurai. The right one – Me, wearing Kalmpong’s Chupa in Dharamshala

How do Indian men dress up?

Indian men wear boring clothing compared to women. Those regular trousers and shirts are everyday outfits. Traditional attires are Veshti (white cotton fabric wrapped around the waist) in southern states and kurtha Paijama in India.

Painting of ancient Mysore ministers wearing black coat with white silk waist belt and Silk mysore Peta as turban

Painting of Mysore Maharaja’s officials with Mysore Peta on the head – You see men dressed like this only at palaces during festive times.

Sikhs and few communities cover their head with Turban most of the time. Ashrith says that if you can manage Veshti, that airy, loose outfit is the best for the tropical sun. Though many consider it a festive dress, you see college-going students wearing patterned Veshti in hotter states like Kerala & Tamilnadu.

Indian man in dhoti and Khadi shirt and an Indian woman in saree standing in front of a heavily carved beautiful wooden door

Do Indians wear lots of jewellery?

Heavily detailed white metal necklaces on displat by the streetside in Ahmedabad

At Ahmedabad- How can you say no to those neck pieces?

Yes! We love jewellery and we have zillions of varieties.

Fashion accessories are famous in most parts of the world. But you get them at the lowest price in India. Metals, clay, and glass jewels are eye-catchy, and we have different styles/designs to complement every dressing style on a budget. Daily wear usually involves artificial (non-gold) accessories. A nice pair of artificial beads Jhumka earrings (the most famous type of earrings) cost 30-200Rs.

Traditional Indian bride in saree, jewellery and long plait with flowers standing next to bride maids

Many Indians (incl me) love accessorising with gold+diamonds too, especially at weddings. Monkeying around few minutes before the ceremony with my cousins

Hair Clipper, waist belt, dozens of bangles, chokers, long chains, necklaces, forehead jewellery, armlets – Ah, Indian brides are a walking jewellery store. So if you love decking up with accessories, India is the best place for it.  

Indian women in saree sitting by the riverside while  a goat is eating jasmine flower from lady's hair

Women enjoying a peaceful morning, unaware of a sheep eating flowers on her head at Sri Ranaga Patna.

Is putting make-up common in India

Traditional Rajasthani woman in red Gaghra choli, blue scarf on head standing in front of Udaipur lake

Common dress in Rajasthan – PC: Murali

Most Indians are obsessed with the “white skin tone,” as many other places worldwide. It is common among Indians to measure someone’s beauty based on how fair their skin is. So there is always a rat race among many to look “Fair and Lovely” using cosmetics. South Indians keep the make-up light and subtle. The lipstick colours are neutral to mildly bright. The eye make-up is kept to a minimum with kajal and eyeliner. Other parts of India, in contrast, like brighter colours that pop. Mumbai, Delhi, and Sikkim are three places where I have seen women wearing bright make-up with lipstick, glamorous eye shadow, and perfectly done contouring. Women selling tea at 4 am at Darjeeling’s tiger hills dress up beautifully as good as they are ready to face Miranda Priestly.

To blend in, you can keep the make-up subtle and light in South India and go solid, strong and bright in the other parts.

How to avoid unwanted attention in India as a tourist

Left Pic – Shopping at Kutch | Right one – Kyaatanamakki – Every time, 3/4th pants or capris are most comfy for me while travelling in India

After travelling in a handful of countries, I have arrived at the Two Laws of Creepiness which apply to most men in the world.

The law of creepiness 1 As many men claim, “Women in short dresses and skirts distract them” (from what?). If the length of your shorts increases by 4″, their distraction reduces. So the length of your dress/bottom wear is indirectly proportionate to men’s creepiness.
The law of creepiness 2 –Bare shoulders and arms with a bit of visible cleavage are meant to be gawked at. So the closed neck & sleeves length is indirectly proportionate to men’s creepiness.

Old large painting of Mysore Princely state's children in traditional attire

For hundreds of years, Indian women have been wearing conservative clothes. Some Indian men who aren’t used to seeing women in modern clothes may stare at you – a lot.  The pic above – Painting of Wadiyar Royal family members at Mysore Palace

How can I not look like a tourist in India?

Indian men should get used to seeing women in shorts without lusting after them. This will take probably more than a decade and will be our lifelong battle. As a tourist, you are in India to explore and have new experiences in peace. I want you to have a “Free from Creeps” experience. Already your appearance, language, accent, and excitement to click photos of poor people, cows and kids only would have made it clear to the locals that you are a foreigner. So it is best to wear modest yet comfortable, stylish clothing while travelling in India.

What should I wear for a trip to India?

Suggested wear for women travelling in India

Group of Indian hikers in western hiking outfit at OOty

Off to hiking in summers at Ooty – This is what most of us wear usually

Half pants, capris, yoga pants, and long skirts/dresses with short-sleeved waist-length tops are your best friends. Cities like Mumbai are more open to all kinds of western wear. In other cities, we usually keep our short dresses for pubs and parties only. If you love our Cotton Kurtas, pair them up with plain leggings or patterned pants. They are the best for India’s hot summer and most comfortable while travelling by India’s public transport. Avoid anything that is transparent and shows cleavage.

  • Hindu & Jain temples – Pants with knee-length tops / Salwar Kameez
  • Mosques – Same as above with a scarf on the head.
  • Sikh Gurudwaras – Salwar Kameez with dupatta on the head.
  • Buddhist monasteries – Pants and a sleeved top.
  • Hiking in the countryside mountains /deserts- Leggings, knee-length shorts with a T-Shirt. Sports tanks & boxers may not be a great idea.
  • Beachside – Shorts with sleeveless tops are best. Bikinis are good only for a few famous beaches.
  • City strolling – Short dress/skirts /sleeveless tops- anything that is modest & comfortable.

Suggested wear for men in India?

Indian man carrying a baby goat on the white sands by the lcyan coloured sea water at Lakshaadweep, India

This attire is perfect for beaches and restrict it to the same! : At Lakshadweep

Shorts and T-Shirts are common outfits for Indian men in most cities, though the majority prefer trousers. Apart from Tank shirts, everything else is fine.

  • Buddhist, Hindu & Jain temples – Pants with sleeved shirts. Men may be asked to remove shirts at certain Hindu temples.
  • Mosques and Sikh Gurudwaras – Same as above with a scarf on the head. Most places sell these caps or scarfs outside the entrances if you have forgotten one.
  • Beachside and Hiking in the countryside mountains /deserts- Track pants, shorts with sleeved shirts. Entering beachside cafes shirtless is restricted at most places.
  • City strolling -Comfortable semi-casual clothing
Indian men with head covered in orange scarf  at Amritsar Golden temple

Ashrith with his buddy Surkesh at Golden Temple, Amritsar with a scarf on their head

What to bring to India?

Indian woman wearing red kurtha catching a wild snake in the forest

I was about to step on that snake near my Grandparent’s house. Thankfully, the man behind me, caught it before it bit me. Of course, we let the snake out in the middle of jungle later.

These are some necessities particular to travelling in India. At the end of the post, I have a checklist of all you will need while travelling in India, including these special items.

ELECTRONIC ESSENTIALS 

For India, there are three associated plug types, types C, D and M. Power bank, plug and socket converters, and extension cords. Power cuts during summers are common in many Indian cities. So power banks and extension cords to charge multiple gadgets simultaneously are a must. 

EARPLUGS 

It is funny how Indians love to listen to music on loudspeakers. You will hear around 4 to 5 Indians playing different music on their phones on trains and buses. They seem to follow all gadget trends but won’t buy earphones. Either get a pair of good earplugs or extra earphones to gift these local DJs playing “Rinkiya Ke Papa.”

MOSQUITO REPELLENT 

Save yourselves from the bloodsuckers. I suggest Odomos cream, which can be found in any Indian pharmacy.

Toilet paper rolls: 

Squat toilets or EWC, Indian toilets rarely have toilet papers (Only 3* and above hotels keep paper rolls). It is the Jet Spray we wash the butt with. You can either bring or buy it here in the cities.

What shoes should I wear in India?

Indian woman in salwar kameez holding a dupatta in air at the ghats of Banaras with the beautiful background of a mosque

SLIP-ON SHOES. The lace-less shoes with soft, thick soles covering your foot completely are a must for Indian streets. These keep your foot free of dust and dirt and are easy to remove as well.

STERIPEN

Tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. You have to depend on bottled water. If you don’t want to spend on bottled water, bring Steripen.

SCARF/SHAWL/ DUPATTAS 

Other than my husband and mom, my best travel companion is my Cotton Dupattas. In India, it is one of the most essential.

  • Too sunny?Too dusty? Cover your face with it. 
  • Want to enter a mosque / Gurudwara? Put on the scarf on your head. 
  • Want to get inside a temple with your knee-length dress? Wrap the dupatta around your waist to make it look like a long dress. 
  • Going to a shack by the beach? Use the shawl to wrap around your bikini.
Indian woman traveller standing in front of a step well

Ideal temple wear – Leggings with Kurthas and a Dupatta. The pic above – Bhoganandishwara temple, Bangalore.

What Clothes to bring for your Indian Voyage?

Is it OK to wear shorts in India?

To an extent in a few cities, it is ok. But may not be fine in rural areas.

  • FOR SUMMERS – Anything in cotton, a little loose fit and non-transparent. Knee-length shorts & capris are best. Full/half sleeve cotton shirts save you from sunburn.
  • STRETCHABLE BOTTOM WEARS – In many places, you have to sit on the floor with your legs folded. Make sure, your bottom wears allow you to do so.
  • WINTERS IN TROPICAL WEATHER – A light shrug or a light jacket with your outfit is enough to warm yourself in the cold evening breeze. 
  • WINTERWEAR FOR HIMALAYAS If you are a temperate-region traveller and have come to India to experience the Himalayas, bring winter clothes from your country. The winter wears you get in India aren’t good as in the Colder countries. 
  • RAINY SEASON –Ankle-length or half pants that save you from getting splashed by the muddy water. Don’t forget an umbrella or a thin raincoat.


Is a bikini allowed in India?

Indian girls wearing shorts at Gokarna beach

My ideal Indian Beachwear – Shorts & T-Shirts

It is rare to see Indian women in bikinis on Indian beaches. We usually wear shorts and T-shirts while on Indian beaches but shift to swimsuits or bikinis on foreign land. Only Places like Goa, Varkala, and Gokarna receive plenty of foreign visitors, and it is common to see women in bikinis here. The sun is great, there are waves, the sand is soft, and the breeze is cool – this makes many foreign tourists in places like Gokarna go nude on the beaches & you may get bad attention from perverts. So, restrict the bikinis to the beachside and wear shorts or skirts with a top on the streets.

What can you not bring to India?

Indian priest walking in the ghats of Kashi wearing saffron robes

Overpacking is a syndrome. With the fear of India being unclean and dirty, you may carry unwanted expensive things. Here is the list of things you need not pack while coming to India.

  • Don’t buy Indian clothing IN YOUR COUNTRY – IT IS CHEAPER HERE, I BET
  • Don’t bring stilettos, heels, or any kind of fancy shoes. If you’re well-versed in travelling, you already know that your feet need comfort.
  • Don’t get tileable shoes /sneakers with lace.– You often have to remove them
  • Don’t bring sleeping bags unless you plan to stay in forests/deserts by yourself. You will need it only if you stay in cheap hotels (500-600 Rs/night kind of lodging). Your sleeping bags might help with possible bed bug problems, which can be avoided in the more decent hotels.
  • Don’t get bags of frozen meat and cup noodles from your country unless you are Neophobic.

Final Check List

Passport with Visa approvedMedicinesAppropriate clothing – 3-4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of capris, Tunics, shrugs
Backpack / Suitcase +Day BagMosquito repellent creamScarfs / caps
A small amount of hard cash for currency exchange. SteripenBeachwear/bikinis
Money BeltToilet paper rollsUndergarments and socks
Travel Insurance30/40 SPF Sunscreen and MoisturiserAnti-Thigh Chaffing shorts and dusting powder
Socket plug converterToiletries – shampoos, soaps, facewash and dental kitWinter wear (if needed)
Power banksSanitary pads/ tamponsComfortable Slip-on shoes + Flipflop
Extension ChordsWet wipes and hand sanitiserThin blankets for Train and long bus journey
Ear Phones, phones and cameras with their chargersCosmetics and fashion accessories Face Mask for the cities like Delhi and Kanpur
Ear PlugsSunglassesCable locks for luggage in Train

Don’t forget to bring your flowing dresses to India – We got some amazing backdrops for your fashion too – Pic above: Chettinad.

Need more tips on travelling in India? Ask us in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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