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Understanding Conservative Fashion In India
Dressing modestly is part of local culture. Fashion historian Toolika Gupta tells the BBC, “The influence of the Mughal empire was decisive – they ruled most of India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th centuries. I have not seen written codes about how to dress, but Muslim women covered themselves and wore divided garments. These outfits gave birth to garments like the salwar-kameez, virtually as a national dress in India today.”
Religion isn’t the only thing that influenced Indian fashion. In the Victorian era, it was customary for some women in Bengal to not wear clothes under the sari. But this did not go well with the British. Clubs under the British Raj refused entry to women who came bare-breasted under their sari, and so it became the norm to wear blouses, petticoats or shirts along with the Indian fabric.
These days, Indian women have more freedom in how they should dress. But as foreigners, it’s better to take our cues from locals.
What Do People Wear In India?
Men and women generally cover themselves from their shoulders down to their calves, regardless of the weather. To stay cool despite the warm temperature, wear loose-fitting clothing and stick to natural, breathable fabrics.
Adjusting To The Climate
If you find yourself in southern India during the winter months (October to February), the weather still says relatively warm but can get chilly at night. Pack warmer layers and thermal underwear. Bring heavy jackets or boots if you’re staying in the northern regions or the mountains, as temperatures can get below freezing.
Note that India also has a southwest summer monsoon, or rainy season, which lasts from June to September. During these months, buy special rubber shoes from local stores – buy footwear from the Bata brand, as they tend to last longer.
Keeping Yourself Comfortable
You’ll be required to take off your shoes in mosques, temples and other religious buildings, so choose something easy to slip off. We recommend Indian Khussa slippers, but no matter what you decide to wear, it’s crucial to stay comfortable as you’ll find yourself walking for many hours.
What To Wear In India for Female Tourists
Knowing what to wear in India for females is vital for staying modest. While some types of Western clothing will work, wearing local pieces is your key to success. Here are examples of the types of Indian clothing you should try.
Sari (or saree)
The sari (or saree) is a long piece of fabric that you can tie around your body in several ways. You can wrap it around your waist or drape it over your shoulder, baring the midriff.
Many tutorials are available online regarding how to tie a sari. You can use a safety pin to secure the fabric, but you’ll be perfectly fine without them as long as you drape the cloth correctly.
Also known as the Punjabi suit, the salwar-kameez is a two-piece garment typically worn by women. Salwar stands for the long and loose-fitting trousers, while kameez is the long shirt or tunic worn over it. The outfit’s usually paired with a fabric scarf or shawl.
The churidar-kameez is another popular type of dress for women. Compared to the salwar, the churidar has a tighter fit at the thighs, hips and ankles. The churidar is often viewed as more modern than the salwar.
Cotton Harem Pants (or Afghani Pants)
Long, baggy pants will be your best friend during the Indian summer. In the West, they also go by the name “genie pants.” As opposed to usual loose-fitting pants, these unisex bottoms taper at the ankle.
What About Your Existing Wardrobe?
Don’t worry – some of your Western clothing can also work in India. A maxi dress that covers the shoulders and extends up to the ankles will work. Wearing a long skirt is also a comfortable and fashionable choice for a woman.
Using accessories is something you should do with caution. Go for inexpensive but pretty local jewellery, rather than showing off your diamonds from Cartier. As for makeup, use something light and breathable.
What To Wear In India for Male Tourists
Following the local dress code isn’t limited to women. Men should also ask themselves how to dress in India. A harem-pants-and-shirt ensemble is fine, even in religious sites. If you want to wear something more traditional, try wearing a kurta. Attending formal events? Try a sherwani – a patterned and colourful version of the kurta.
How To Dress In India For A Business Trip
India does a lot of trade with the West, so it’s no surprise that you might find yourself on a business trip to Delhi or Pune. For ladies, Western-style business clothes are fine but keep hems below the knee and avoid plunging necklines. Pantsuits are ideal, as well.
Wearing a simple button-down shirt, trousers, a jacket and a tie is acceptable for men, though you can let go of the jacket during summer months. Putting on a kurta is also quite common.
Tips On What To Wear In India
TIP#1: Know Where To Shop
Pack just the basics like underwear and buy more clothes on your first day in the country. Stop by local retailers like Fab India to buy modest yet fashionable items.
TIP#2: Scarves Are Super Useful
Scarves are essential in covering the chest, arms and shoulders. If you insist on wearing a tank top, layering a scarf over it can keep you from attracting unwanted attention. You can also use the accessory to cover your head when visiting temples and mosques.
TIP#3: Check Your Itinerary
There’s no single dress code when going to India. You might get away with trendy western apparel in parts of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, but Kolkata and Chennai are usually more conservative. Finally, the beach in Goa and Varkala opens up the opportunity to show some skin, but a one-piece is still preferable.
Ready To Say, “Namaste”?
Now that you know how to dress in India, you can fit in with the locals comfortably. All you have to do now is to book a trip, apply for a visa, and go!
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