Uncomfortable train rides, crowded buses, unwanted stares and countless locals asking for selfies — while India can be a difficult place to travel, one of the first dilemmas faced by women before their trip is deciding what to wear in India.

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Bollywood aside, India remains a conservative society. A lot of women, and even men, still wear traditional clothes. While wearing a saree seems like a good idea it’s not something most female tourists will wear everyday in India. It’s very pretty but walking along tiny streets or taking public transport may cause a little concern with this kind of outfit. It seems too hard to carry around. I noticed that most younger locals also wore western style clothes (ie jeans, long skirts and dresses) so there shouldn’t be much issue if you want to wear something from your usual wardrobe.

Indian women wearing colorul sarees - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

Look at how colorful the clothes are! Indian women love their prints and colors. Most of them wear traditional clothes like the saree but you don’t have to. Younger women usually wear western-style clothes.

Cotton trousers and a loose t-shirt seem like a safe backpacker get-up for a trip in India. While it sounds very comfortable, it’s not something every female traveller will want to wear all the time. India is a very colourful and charismatic place. While most people think travelling in India meant restriction in clothing, in my head, I thought, let’s be creative.

Deciding what to wear in India was a little challenging for me since I wanted to find outfits that I actually liked to wear not ones that I felt like I have to wear.

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Woman wearing a colourful maxi skirt while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

I’m no fashion blogger but wouldn’t you agree that most women would like to look good during their holiday? India shouldn’t be any different and with a few rules to play with, I found that deciding what to wear in India wasn’t so difficult after all. Somewhere in between the traditional Indian clothes and the casual travel clothes will work well for India. Here are some fashion tips for female tourists travelling to India:

Colorful, patterned maxi skirts are awesome. Indian women wear bright colored sarees and these clothes really stand out in photographs. With this in mind, I got two colorful maxi skirts from H&M and they worked fabulously for my visit to the opulent palaces in Rajasthan. If you can’t find a skirt you like at home, there are plenty of markets in India to add pieces to your wardrobe. I found a reversible silk skirt from Udaipur and I received many compliments for it.

Woman wearing a colourful maxi skirt while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

The architecture in India, particularly in Rajasthan, is a feast for the eyes. You can either go with a plain colorful skirt of go bold with a patterned one! This is the famous peacock door in the City Palace in Jaipur.

Woman wearing Maxi SKirt while travelling in India- What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

Another maxi skirt and cropped top outfit I wore while in India. This photo was taken in Bundi.

Cropped tops are totally acceptable. It was very hot during our visit in Rajasthan (mid June to July) so breathable clothes were great for the hot weather. When I was there, I saw a lot of local women in their sarees with exposed stomachs or bare backs (not to look hot but to keep cool). As long as your cleavage is covered, you can pull off wearing cropped tops. The ones with short sleeves worked best for me so I didn’t have to worry about covering my shoulders when visiting temples.

Woman wearing a cropped top in India - - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

This black cropped top I got from Forever 21 is so easy to wear and it matches the coloful skirts I brought for the trip to India. This photo was from the temples in Khajuraho. They don’t have a dress code there.

Long dresses are perfect. A cotton fabric maxi dress is a great piece for your India wardrobe. I have two in black and grey and they worked well for the trip. I do suggest getting more colorful pieces if you want to stand out in your photos.

Woman wearing a maxi dress while travelling in India - - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

Like most of the clothes I brought for my trip, this maxi dress was specifically for India. I don’t usually wear long dresses as it is quite hot in Southeast Asia but I started loving them when I travelled in India. This photo was from the Palace in Bundi. The guide there said I was dressed like a maharanee — like a royal queen.

You can never be overdressed in India. I wore a blue asymmetrical dress for our visit to the Taj Mahal and Jon thought it was too “dressy.” When we went to the wonder of the world, local women and even little girls wore their fancy sarees. I wasn’t overdressed after all. In India, it’s hard not to admire their evidently rich culture.

Woman wearing a blue dress in the Taj Mahal - - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

As long as you’re comfortable, you can wear a slightly dress-ier outfit while travelling in India. I bought this blue dress for my first visit to the Taj Mahal. Can you spot me in the photo? The Taj Mahal is a very busy place!

Wear comfortable trousers for train rides or bus rides. What to wear in India is not as difficult as you think. The traveller pants that are quite common in Southeast Asia will certainly fit well in India’s conservative society. I have never bought travelling pants in Southeast Asia (they are everywhere in markets in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam) so I took a long shot and looked for one at the mall before my trip. It’s not hard to find one after all. Shops like H&M, Cotton On and Forever 21 have a lot of these albeit they are more expensive. I tried a few but went with a pair colorful silk trousers which I received from my cousin as gift. She got them from Terranova. In the markets in India, these kind of trousers are sold for 100 INR (around 1.5 USD) and up, depending on the material. So if you don’t end up finding one before your trip, just buy a pair or two while in India.

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Woman wearing trousers while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

We only had a day in Chittorgarh so we quickly went sightseeing after our train ride. This is what I usually wore while on public transportation in India.

Never wear a skirt or a dress on the bus or train. Make sure you can move easily among crowds when you take public transportation. In Fatehpur Sikri, I learnt the hard way that a skirt is the worst thing you can wear for a bus ride. It was the first time I did this thinking it was only a short ride. Unfortunately the bus broke down and we had to switch buses a few times. As I struggled to get on the bus alongside a group of Indian men, someone groped my bum. I couldn’t even react properly because there was too much commotion. It was a horrifying experience!

Woman with local people while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

Locals love taking photos with foreign tourists and it can be pretty overwhelming.

Jeans can be quite uncomfortable. As long as they are not too skimpy, jeans are totally acceptable as even locals wear them. However, other than during flights, I found these were too thick and can be quite uncomfortable for the hot weather in Rajasthan. Cotton or silk trousers seem to be the best options.

Sleeveless shirts are fine. While T-shirts or long sleeve shirts are an easy way to go. I don’t usually wear T-shirts so I paired my pants with a tank top a few times. I found that this was okay and received the same kid of stares as I did wearing clothes with sleeves. I think they just generally stare at foreigners (not just women), just try to stay away from their gaze and avoid eye contact at all costs. If you feel quite bare (I felt this a lot during overnight trains), add a layer to your clothes with a scarf or a cardigan. I did this a lot when travelling by train as I always felt the proximity of other people was way to close for my personal space.

Woman wearing a sleeveless top while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

I wore sleeveless shirts a few times during my trip and it was fine.

Steer clear of shorts. You can wear this inside the hotel (some staff will still tend to stare) but never wear this in the streets. We got talking to the owner of a guest house in Bundi and she mentioned how she didn’t like certain tourists because of how they behave and their revealing clothing. She said something like, this is India, even Lonely Planet tells you about dressing conservatively.

Always carry a scarf with you. Either for the sun or to cover up your shoulders or chest when needed, a scarf is a great accessory to have not just in India but for most places. I used the pashminas I bought from Vietnam and Morocco a few years back. There are plenty of these scarves in India so it’s a great idea to buy the scarves while travelling (they are great souvenirs too). Also, some places apparently require the head to be covered with a scarf. I never encountered this during my trip but it’s another good reason to bring a scarf along.

Woman with a scarf while traveling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

A scarf is a must-have in your travel bag everywhere. In India it was the best accessory for covering up, for the heat and for contrast of color to your outfits.

Stay flexible.While some people think it’s a good idea to buy clothes specifically for a certain trip, I think flexibility with your wardrobe is important. I rarely buy clothes that I can’t use anywhere else (this is the reason I let go of the idea of getting a saree since it would be a bulky souvenir during my trip.) It is best to bring clothes that you can mix and match. Also, don’t overpack as there are plenty of chances to buy clothes while travelling in India.

Woman wearing local skirt while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

Clothes are great travel souvenirs. I bought this reversible silk skirt while in Udaipur and I’ve used it so many times during my trip. I just love how it stands out in my photos. This photo was from the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Woman with locals while travelling in India - What to Wear in India - Fashion Tips for Female Tourists

The locals seem to love the outfit too. Or maybe they just really love getting photos taken with foreigners.

Note that I only travelled around Northern India (Rajasthan, Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho and Kolkata) around mid June to mid July. So these fashion tips may not necessarily apply for other parts India (ie in the south like Goa, Kerala or further north in Himachal Pradesh).

Are you planning your trip to India? What clothes do you plan to wear for your trip to India? Do you have anything to add to these tips? Let me know.


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About the author

Gia Kristel De Guia

Gia, who currently lives in New Zealand, grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly 2 years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her New Zealander partner, Jon.

11 Comments

  • For other parts of india too (Goa, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh) all of your advise will hold. Goa may be more used to seeing beach-dressed European tourists but leaning on the side of caution is often the better advice. That, and the weather. Himachal Pradesh will be cold. Kerala will be wet.

  • Glad you tacked this question! I take groups from North America to India several times each year, and this is the first question my group asks. Good advice. I’d add:
    – the most suitable clothes are locally made kurtas (long tops past hips in fine block-printed cottons) and loose pants. Buy in India — support the local economy rather than multinational chains! Back home, kurtas are great with jeans.
    – Cropped tops are ok as long as you drape a longish scarf over your bosom. Showing cleavage or a busty silhouette are a no-no.
    Keep calm and travel often!

  • Good posts.

    However, calling Indians “uptight” or by any other descriptions about clothing etc could well be compared to various other cultures in various other countries.
    I don’t know which country you come from but would you like your country people be called “uptight” about their personal habits, culture and ways of living?

    India is hugely diverse with over 27 official languages, multiple religions, ethnicities and races and people here believe in living as harmoniously as possible. Yes, in our culture, dressing down is looked down upon as it is a sign of not respecting others’ sensitivities and sensibilities. I am not calling it either good or bad. It is the way it is.

    I would request people who come to India to not expect it to be like their country, but treat it as another culture.

    I understand the staring, that too comes from our culture, we stare and in our culture it is not considered rude, the definition of personal space is very different here. Again, I am not defending it, but people who come to India has to be prepared for it.

    When I went to China, even there the locals ask for selfies with us, may our colour intrigued them.

    • Hey Sarbari, I think you may have taken me the wrong way. I may have chosen the wrong word in reference to conservative clothing for my reply to someone’s comment (already edited). I was merely trying to point out the huge difference of how tourists are able to dress in different parts of India. As I have mentioned, I know that India is a conservative society and nothing is wrong with that! This is the very reason I wrote the post, so other people will take this into consideration even when they try to be flexible. I enjoyed my time in India and it is beautiful. There are more layers to this country than one trip can ever unfold.

  • Hi Gia, what type of shoes did you wear? I am struggling to find something that is comfortable and practical, but also doesn’t look odd with the long skirts and kurtas I plan to wear in Rajasthan…

    • Hi Stheere, I wore FitFlops most of the time. They were comfortable and dressy enough for the long skirts. They also provide enough height to avoid getting wet from the puddles in the streets when it rains. Comfortable wedges are also great. I brought a pair from Crocs (Leigh Ankle Strap) which were great for times when you want to look stylish / special. They were suitable for short walks in the city.
      Other may recommend wearing closed shoes but I never really like them when travelling as it was too hot. I just brought a pack of wet tissue to wipe my feet and sandals in case it’s too dusty in the trains. But it’s really a matter of preference. There are shops that sell fancy looking pointed shoes in most places in Rajasthan
      but I found them too low for my liking. So I’m not sure what they are like. I hope this helps! Have a good trip!

      • I’m so glad to hear that! I love wearing wedges, but I was wary of taking them because everyone I’ve spoken to said to wear closed shoes only. I feel much better about taking them with me now hahaha.

        Thanks so much for the tips!

  • Hi Gia!
    I really liked your post because it made me realize that the things that come naturally to us Indians (like wearing pants or jeans on a bus/train or carrying a scarf with me most of the times) is something that probably needs a little getting used to by others 🙂
    I guess its things like these that make traveling a great source of education…

  • Incredible India. And their taste. The colour black is basically no.no and other copies are always in here. Beside this Indian accept every dresses with less bold .

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