What to Wear in India

Before I left for India, I scoured the internet trying to find anything I could get my hands on regarding what to wear. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, but I also didn’t want to totally change up my style and pack things I wouldn’t be comfortable in for several weeks of travel.

Here’s what I knew: India is hot. Hot hot hot in April in the northern part of the country (Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur, Agra, etc.). And India is conservative: no shoulders or knees can be shown.

I thought long and hard about what to wear and settled on the following: lightweight and breathable fabrics. Short sleeves, long skirts, and ankle/capri pants. Turns out, it was perfect.

I bought several blouse-y/loose shirts that had high enough necks that they’d cover my cleavage, long enough sleeves to hide my shoulders, and long enough to somewhat minimize my butt. The pants I bought weren’t all totally loose, but they also weren’t leggings. A lot of women in India wear legging-type pants, but then wear long tunics or saris over top, so you really only see from the calf down.
Footwear was also a difficult decision. I hate sneakers for anything except working out, but I wanted something comfortable enough to walk all day in and stylish enough that they didn’t clash with the outfits I’d packed. I settled on a pair of cushy-soled ballet flats. I also packed sandals, but one outing in those and I never put them on again. India’s streets are dirty, full of garbage and human/animal waste, and there are sometimes random puddles of god knows what. One splash in one of those brackish puddles and that was the end of sandals for me. Flats ended up being perfect–they were comfortable, looked nice, and were easy to slip on and off at every temple, mosque, and gurudwara I visited.

I also packed a scarf with me every day so that when I entered places of worship, I could cover my head properly. Some of the sites had bandana-type things that you could borrow, but I felt more comfortable using my own.

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hand sanitizer were also an absolute must, and I didn’t leave the hotel without them every day. Bug spray was another nice-to-have.

As far as makeup and accessories, I kept it simple. A black cross-body bag that zipped and had theft-proof pockets; some bangles, which I purchased there, and a pair of earrings; and simple powder and waterproof black eyeliner and mascara.

I’ll write up a full packing list soon, but if you’re struggling with how to dress, hopefully this helps! If you’re going in cooler months, I suggest taking a cardigan or jacket. I packed one and probably used it once in an air-conditioned restaurant. If you plan to do any sort of hiking, be prepared for that with the right footwear. If you’re sticking to mainly cities and small villages, what I’ve listed should work perfectly for you.

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