I have lived in the United States for about a decade and all these years, I have been often asked “I am traveling to India what can I wear?”. I myself visit India almost every year and ask myself the same question “What all should I pack”. So, here is our guide that not only tells you how to be respectful of the local culture, but also helps you in picking up some Indian outfits for your wardrobe.
What you can wear in India depends on two main factors- 1) Which part of India are you visiting? 2) What time of the year are you visiting? Summers are generally hot across the country whereas winters are mild in the south and frigid in the north, especially due to almost non existent indoor heating. Culturally speaking, if you are visiting a metropolitan e.g. Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore etc, you can wear almost anything including shorts, short skirts and dresses. However, it is always a good idea to pack a pair of regular jeans and tshirt.
While you are in India, you should definitely try wearing some Indian outfits, it will give you a chance to experience first hand the colorful and vibrant Indian culture. Some of the outfits we suggest are also super comfortable, elegant and mix very well in an Indian set up.
Kurta is basically a long top/shirt with side slits. It is definitely the most go to outfit for Indian women. Kurta not only looks elegant but is one of the most comfortable dresses. It also fits well with colorful and embellished traditional background, you are likely to encounter quite often in India. You can buy these anywhere in India from roadside markets to brands such as Global Desi, Wforwoman , Sabhyata clothing in the shopping malls. Pair a kurta with either denims or leggings and you are set to explore India. You can also wear oxidized silver jewelry to get a more chic look.
2. Salwar Suit
Salwar suit is a more formal version of kurta and pants , paired with a dupatta ( stole).You can easily buy them pre-stitched from shops and have them altered to fit you. Or if you care for a perfect fit like most Indian women, you can buy unstitched version and get it tailored to your own measurements. It can be done easily for a nominal cost but can take a couple of days.
3. Traditional Long/Maxi Skirts
Indian long skirts are quite popular and comfortable, they go well with the colorful and traditional background especially when visiting historical places. These can also be bought anywhere roadside or in the malls. Pair your long skirt with a t-shirt, tank top or a cotton blouse to beat the heat. Adding big chunky earrings to your long skirt and tank top can add oomph to a simple outfit.
A lot of Indian women like to cover their shoulder and neck with a scarf both for tradition and to shield from the Indian sun. In addition, scarf is a great way to add a new dimension to your attire. You can buy beautiful scarves anywhere in India and wear them with kurtas or tops.
5. Drape a Saree
A saree is the most elegant Indian outfit. While Indian women can brave a saree at work, party or a date night, it is definitely not the most comfortable attire especially if you are new to it. However, it is the most traditional and graceful attire. If you get a chance definitely try to wear it once. If attending an Indian wedding or festivities, draping a saree is a great idea. While it can be worn in multiple ways, it is not easy to wear, but you can ask any Beauty Salon or parlour to drape it on you for a nominal charge.Many hotels also provide such service where a female staff can help you drape a saree.
A lehenga is a very festive outfit only worn for special occasions like weddings, traditional functions or festivals. It is a 3 piece outfit, a long skirt, a cropped top and a long dupatta ( stole). We won’t recommend wearing a lehenga for your daily travels but you can definitely wear it to a wedding or a festival.
7. Regular Western Outfits
In most parts of India you can wear any church style western outfit without drawing much attention (knees and shoulders covered, no cleavage). A regular jeans top is acceptable everywhere. I believe that everyone should be able to wear what they would like to. However, I would not want people to stare at me if I wear something out of place. It is quite common now to wear shorts/ mini dresses in metro cities in India while smaller places are still conservative. So, be aware of your surroundings and dress to the best of your judgement.
8. Dress for the Weather
Indian summers- Summer across India are extreme and are characterised by scorching heat, humidity in some parts while hot, gusty and dry air in others. So, if you are visiting India during summers ( which we don’t recommend btw), you need to be ready for it. Wear cotton whenever possible, trust me it will certainly provide you some relief in the heat. Keep a stole handy to cover yourself from the hot Indian sun and always keep sunglasses and hat when going out in day time.
Indian winters- If you are visiting northern half of the country between November and February you are likely to encounter some winter that generally peaks during December-January. So, pack sweaters and jackets to face the windy and chilly cold weather. Sweaters/ sweatshirts are a good idea since you will need to wear warm clothes all day as there isn’t any indoor heating in Indian houses and jackets might not be comfortable. You can also get some kurtas in cotswool( a warm fabric used for winter dressing).
9. Some Indian Ethnic Brands to go for
If you are worried about too much color in Indian clothes, you have all kinds of pastel options in Indian wear too. Also there are brands like “Anokhi” where you can find the right fusion of Indian prints in western style long skirts and blouses. There are brands like “W” which is famous for Indian work wear. Check them out during your visit to India and we are sure you will not be disappointed. Sabhayara, global desi are some other brands you can consider.