India, with its 29 states and seven Union Territories, is a country of dichotomies. It is home to incredibly diverse and vibrant cultures, economies, religions, and traditions. The country is constantly growing and evolving with each passing year. From the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, from Gujrat to Arunachal Pradesh, India is vast with varying weather and climate conditions.
Whether you are planning to visit India for a vacation, to study, for work, or simply for an adventure, being aware of the local dress code and knowing what to wear while you are here is important–both in order to respect the culture and for your own purposes. Here are a few tips about what to wear in India that might help you with your packing.
When in India, dress like an Indian
India has a vast range of traditional clothes that vary from region to region. Though some of these are reserved for special occasions, most can be used as daily wear.
For a woman, the Indian saree is the most versatile and popular outfit in India. It has three parts; a single piece of cloth up to nine yards in length that is draped around the body, a petticoat, and a blouse to drape over it. You can choose from the infinite options in the weave, design, color and the material of the saree. The drape of the saree changes from region to region, so the options are endless.
Another piece that is easy to carry for a traveler is the quintessential Salwar kameez or a kurta churidar. It is basically a long top worn with leggings underneath. The kurta can be of loose or tight and the leggings can vary. You can choose ones that sit closer to the skin called churidars, or loose-fitting ones called a salwar. The kurta can also be paired with harem pants, jeans, and capris. It would be a good idea to choose cotton or linen fabrics so that you will be comfortable in the heat and the humidity in the country.
For the northern states, it would be a good idea to carry some thick long scarves or shawls and proper winter wear since it does tend to get chillier up there. For men, beautiful kurtas with pajamas are as comfortable as they are versatile. Choose a light-colored cotton or linen one to combat the humidity and the heat. Kurtas and kurtis (the shorter ones) can also be paired with jeans. They also dry really quickly and are easy to wash.
India’s small towns are noticeably more traditional than the big cities. People here dress more conservatively and in traditional clothing. Though this is changing rapidly, it would still be a smart idea to dress with this in mind. Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and your legs to at least your knees. Wearing Western clothing is fine in the big cities, but it should still be non-revealing.
Women can wear long or knee-length skirts, jeans, trousers, pajamas, harem pants, leggings, or capris. Try to ensure your tops are not too low or too revealing. If you feel as though your tops might be showing too much skin, you can cover it up with a scarf. Men can wear almost anything in both rural and urban areas, but it would be wise to cover up to protect yourself from the pesky mosquitoes.
Mind the religious sites
India has many holy sites. While some religious sites have a very precise dress code, all of them require their visitors to dress with respect in mind. It is mandatory to leave your shoes outside the sites and to have your shoulders and legs covered before entering. While some places do not allow any leather goods inside their premises, some require you to wear scarves or traditional attire. Temples in the south of India make it mandatory for visitors to wear a saree for women, and a lungi if you are a man. These are available for rent near the temples.
Avoid two pieces
While visiting the beautiful Indian beaches, remember not to wear revealing two-piece bikinis or speedos. For women, stick to a standard one-piece bikini and pair it with a sarong or skirt if you aren’t swimming. For men, shorts are the safest bet.
Flip-flops, or chappals, are a practical choice of shoes while traveling to India. While closed-toe options are essential for hiking on Indian roads or if you are planning on walking a lot on the busy streets of the major cities, chappals are convenient to slip off and on while visiting a religious site.
Looking for some more information on India? Check out our guide to the best festivals to attend.
Header photo by Mitchell Ng Liang an.