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What women should pack when travelling to India

Since I’ve come back from India one of the most common questions I get asked by women is about what women should pack for a trip to India.

I was expecting to be asked how to avoid Delhi Belly, how to find nice accommodation, how safe it is to travel alone and what the overnight trains are really like but it seems that what to pack is somewhat of a dilemma for us ladies.

The majority of the country is hot and humid so you need clothes that will keep you cool, but it’s also a conservative country and it isn’t safe or appropriate for women to be wearing skimpy clothing. Argh, dilemma! So what on earth do you pack?

I may have mentioned it once or twice (OK, about a billion times) that I can’t stand those ‘traveller pants’. The ones that come in khaki colours and have eight pockets on each leg and removable bits so you can make them into shorts. I know that they’re practical and perfect for travelling but I just can’t bring myself to buy them. Thankfully, there are a few alternatives that can keep you looking stylish and feeling cool.

Here’s my packing list for India and some examples of the types of clothes I think are best for female travellers.

India

My packing list for India

3 x pairs of loose, thin trousers

The high street stores are still full of loose, printed trousers. Some of them have bold and bright patterns and some are completely plain. I had one bright pair, one navy blue pair and one black pair. I chose dark colours because the streets of India are often dusty and your clothes are nearly always filthy by lunch time. These trousers were all really thin, almost as thin as a sarong, and baggy too so they kept me cool.

Update: You’ll find more tailored, printed trousers in high street stores and these are perfect for India too.

Topshop have a great selection of loose and printed trousers. The different leg lengths are really handy if you’ve got shorter legs because you really don’t want your trousers trailing along the floor in India. Even if you opt for quite formal trousers, you can dress them down with a casual top and sandals.

what women should wear in India

6 x plain t-shirts

I opted for 4 dark t-shirts and 2 white ones

These were just your standard t-shirts and jersey tops that you can buy from H&M or TopShop. I found in other Asian countries that your clothes get wrecked when you have them washed in your hotel so these t-shirts are almost disposable they’re so cheap.

I chose plain t-shirts because a standard black t-shirt will never look outdated. They also look really nice with printed trousers. I learned this the hard way when I was backpacking in Asia in 2009-2011. I packed all the latest fashions and left home feeling like I’d stepped out of a Vogue catalogue (OK, a Primark store). I thought I looked the bee’s knees in the latest trends but when I look back on those photos they look dated already.

Fashions change too quickly to ever look good a few years later so stick to plain clothes that don’t make too much of a statement. You’ll also be wearing the same clothes over and over again so don’t pack anything that stands out in your photos.

1x long black cotton dress

Every female traveller should have a long, black, cotton dress because they’re just so handy. A good quality dress that sits just above the ankle will travel with you all over the world and never look out of place.

This black maxi dress is from H&M and pretty much travels everywhere with me. They’re easy to pack, easy to wear, they’re comfy and they look sexy without showing any flesh.

what should you wear in India

2 x cover ups/shirts

You’ll need something to keep warm in the evenings and also to cover your shoulders when you’re out and about. Some kind of kimono/poncho style top or a loose shirt will work perfectly.

1 x pair of Havaiana flip flops + 1 x pair of Converse

All I took was one pair of Havi’s and a pair of Converse. I knew I wouldn’t be doing any serious trekking and I know I’m perfectly comfortable walking around in flip flops all day so why bother bulking up my bag with extra shoes? I actually didn’t wear my Converse but I think they’re worth having in case it rains.

It’s so worth investing in one pair of shoes that are suitable for evenings but a pair that you’re comfortable driving in, cycling in and walking long distances in.

I opt for skinny fit Havaianas in black with a gold tag. That gold tag somehow makes them seem a bit fancier.

1 x thin cardigan

It’s always nice to have a cardy for when you’re lucky enough to be in air conditioned spaces. I took a black cardigan so it matched all my outfits.

2 x large cotton scarves

A scarf will be your biggest lifesaver while you’re in India. You can use it to cover your arms, your chest, your head and your shoulders and there will be times when you’ll want to wrap your whole upper body in it to stop people staring.

I’ve put 2 scarves on the list because sometimes you’ll need to cover your head when you’re visiting religious sites. It’s also nice to have a spare one to use as a blanket or pillow during long journeys.

Small, cross-body bag

It’s best to have a small bag that goes over your shoulder that you can keep close to your body. Not only are bags like this easy to carry but it’s harder for pick-pockets to get into them.

Feel free to use a normal, small handbag – just because you’re travelling, it doesn’t mean you need to carry an ugly rucksack. If you prefer the ease of a backpack, take a look at my 50 stylish backpacks perfect for travelling.

Lots of accessories

All these plain, dark clothes get boring pretty quickly so I also packed heaps of jewelry and head scarves and picked some lovely things up along the way too.

what to wear in India

My tips for clothing in India

  • Unless you’re on the beach in Goa never show your cleavage or wear skirts and shorts above the knee
  • I found that showing shoulders and wearing mid-calf dresses was fine
  • Pack dark clothes – you will get dirty
  • Keep clothes as plain as possible so they don’t look dated when you look at your photos in years to come
  • Always carry a scarf or light cardigan to cover yourself up and in case it’s required in a religious building

 If you’ve travelled around India and have any other must-pack items to add to the list, let us know in the comments below.


What women should pack for India

My other blog posts from India:

My top tips for visiting the Taj Mahal – A must read if you plan to visit

What not to pack 10 unnecessary items every traveller thinks they need but I NEVER used

What to wear on a safari in India

How to survive sleeper trains in India

My experience taking an organised tour in India with Intrepid

Searching for tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Highlights from India

A magical candle and flower ceremony in Varanasi

Laughing yoga in India – Definitely recommended for a giggle

Instagramming India – It’s an amazingly Instagrammable country!


 

Here are some ideas for tours you can take in India to make the experience as simple and stress-free as possible. These are all bookable through GetYourGuide who offer affordable tours with local guides.

 

 

https://partner.getyourguide.com/en/widget?partnerId=668Z756&localeCode=en-US&currency=GBP&queryType=q&q=india&tourIds=&iata=&lat=&lon=&excludedTourIds=singapore&numberOfItems=&cmp=#playground

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a full time blogger and has travelled around the world in search of the best holidays. Monica lives in Wales with her growing family and now also blogs about travelling with young children!

Comments

  • August 29, 2013

    This is such a useful post. I’ll definitely be coming back to it when I pack for my trip to Cambodia and Thailand in October 🙂

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      • Sanskriti
        March 7, 2016

        please don’t generalize the people of this country…everyone will not stare at you for wearing revealing clothing-even if they do, they will do it for like a second…i am an indian and i wear revealing clothing and do not experience anything weird…maybe its dues to the differences in various parts of india…moreover, i got stared at in miami and new york wearing a crop top and shorts, so … u can never really generalise… :p

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        • AD
          April 13, 2017

          hi sanskriti, but yes this is advisable because foreigners always stand out in india. And people do stare (mostly because they are curious). Wearing skimpy clothes one would probably attract ‘more’ unwanted attention.

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  • August 29, 2013

    I’m not planning on going to India any time soon, but I really like posts like this. Informative and fun.
    Also, yes to a black cotton dress. It’s basically all I wore for a year.

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      • Ally
        August 14, 2015

        Where can I find the trousers you had?

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  • August 30, 2013

    This is a really useful post! Storing this in favourites for when I make it to India. Also borrowed a few of my sister’s salwar kameez from when she was backpacking around India. Should be useful for blending in a little more. 🙂

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  • August 30, 2013

    Really helpful information! I’m hoping to go to India, and I definitely plan to bring most long skirts and scarfs.

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  • September 6, 2013

    Really useful! I am thinking of going to India next year, so this will come in very handy.

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  • September 7, 2013

    Great guide! If I ever get to India, I’m totally coming back to this post. Well done!

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  • September 7, 2013

    Useful and informative tips.TheTravelHack love this blog very much

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  • September 8, 2013

    great tips! my sister just moved to India and i think i just might go visit her. i can only imagine the beautiful, colorful things one could buy while over there to spruce up travel outfits!

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  • maaret
    September 12, 2013

    Great tips! I love your b&w pants. Where are they from? They are just perfect. I wish could find similar ones for my trip to India next month.

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  • September 19, 2013

    Awesome!! thanks! Good to know about the scarves and length of skirts! I was in Thailand once and we had no idea skirts or showing any kind of leg was allowed (I think I was at the Grand Palace) Some friends had to go buy pants before being allowed in.

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  • Tyanajones
    September 29, 2013

    Hey, thanks for sharing brilliant information! I really appreciate with this post, Keep posting such kind of things always. Thanks again.

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  • Annie
    March 9, 2014

    I’m going to India in April and this guide was a huge help! You look super cute, comfortable and appropriate for the culture. I’m in the US, any recs where to get the kinda pants you recommend? I was thinking maybe a surf/beach store?

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  • Jessica
    March 15, 2014

    The scarves are a MUST. Not only do you need them to enter certain buildings, they are also useful to shield you from the sun and block any unpleasant smells like smoke (most trash is disposed of by burning). I also found it extremely useful to shield myself from locals at times. Although engaging with everyone was a high point on my adventure, I found it exhausting. It was nice to cover my light skin and blonde hair so I could blend in.

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  • June 12, 2014

    Hey Monica, your review is really good source of information for Women tourists who are planning for their tour to India. Thanks.

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  • Alexandra
    June 12, 2014

    Hi, this has been the most help I’ve found! All the other pales don’t seem to say it how it is, thank you so much!!
    I go away to India in a few weeks for 8 weeks, so…. One last question, baggy trousers, vest tops and kimonos? Would that be ok?? T-shirts don’t look the best on me vest tops are much better! Thank you xx

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  • Roxana Aedo
    September 28, 2014

    Thank you so much for this post, I have been worrying quite bit in regards to what I will need to wear while I’m there. I am flying to India on the 31st of October. Just wondering if you by any chance know what they weather is like at that time of the year?

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  • Alex
    October 20, 2014

    hi, thanks for the great tips! Can you tell me where Yu got your black dress from please?
    Thanks

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  • Irina
    November 14, 2014

    Thanks for the great tips Monica! I wanted to add my two cents, for what it’s worth, to the discussion. As a women who lived in India for three months, here’s what worked for me:

    1. Dress appropriately.
    While Bollywood movies continue to push the boundaries in what’s appropriate and what’s not, India remains a mostly conservative country where women usually cover their arms, shoulders, and legs, even in the fierce Delhi summers. Shorts are virtually unheard of, even among men, and you’ll rarely see an Indian woman wearing a skirt above the ankles. Add the influx of millions of uneducated laborers from villages to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai in the past decade and you’ve got a nation rife with tensions between traditional views and the more progressive ones on the rise.

    That said, I suggest you leave the tight T-shirts and skinny jeans home and instead, opt for light, long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting pants. Despite boasting over 6 million tourists annually, in India women travelers remain a curiosity more than a standard, and blond women draw the most stares. If you have blond hair, consider wearing a head scarf. And while we’re on the topic of clothing, I suggest. . .

    2. Wear local clothing.
    Something as simple as a long tunic over a pair of loose-fitting pants did the trick for me. I’d finally cracked and decided to purchase a Salvar Kameez after realizing how much I stuck out on the subway. Wearing local clothing helps you blend in and helps draw less attention to street solicitors and scammers who often try to single out tourists.

    I wrote about some more safety tips for women travelling in India. If you are interested, you can check them out at http://continentaldriftings.com/2014/11/04/5-tips-for-women-india/

    -Irina

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    • lilly
      May 1, 2015

      I just got back from India, and I so agree with this. I tried to dress modestly, but I found that when I wore a regular pair of pants and a t-shirt or regular button down shirt, I got started at, a LOT. I realized that I never ever saw indian women dressing like that. I bought a couple of long knee length tunics and a scarf and work them over my long pants, and found I attracted a lot less attention. It’s really hard for westerners to imagine how differently women in India dress.

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    • rishi
      May 1, 2016

      I am a delhiite and here both girls and boys wear according to weather conditions ..you can’t generalise the things as this is not any gulf or Muslim country.

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      • jae
        January 8, 2017

        I have to strongly support monica and lilly’s advice. Perhaps it either Rishi or Sanskriti tend not to get the stares because they otherwise fit in? I’ve been to India three times, each for a friend’s wedding, and in different parts of the country. I’ve travelled fairly extensively alone as a female and have been to both Delhi and Mumbai as well as Goa, Kochi, Ahmedabad and Bangalore and loads of smaller villages/towns in between (I tend to train/bus to get around). I’m going again in another week for my last single Indian friend’s wedding (:-)). And I know for sure that dressing as much as possible like a local (however ridiculous you may feel) is best. Otherwise, long skirts, loose trousers and a simple tunic top goes a long way to averting some stares. But not all.

        Only in Goa and Mumbai have I ever really escaped stares. I’ve had rickshaws almost crash on trying to get a look at me (Delhi, Hampi, Bijapur were notable for the distraction I caused) despite wearing rather dull long skirts and tshirts with a scarf.

        Granted, I’m not blonde. I am Ghanaian (though lighter skinned than some South Indians), but the stares were plentiful and most people are surprised to note that I get even more “attention” than my blonde friends. Everywhere. Wearing tank tops and slim fitting jeans like my Indian friends in Bangalore, Mumbai and Ahmedebad the first time I went to India did NOT work for me. Wearing more conservative clothing (yes, like I would dress if I were in a gulf country) limited stares considerably on my second trip to India. To be honest, there are times I would’ve happily put on a niqab to be just a little bit anonymous in India…:-)

        Sanskriti and Rishi please try to not take personal offense. We know that one can get stared at all over the world. I’ve never once been stared at for wearing a crop top or shorts in Miami, but it’s possible! And I’m a Londoner so I’m not used to it at all. But I get stared at all the time in some European cities because I’m just not what they’re used to. At least in India, there’s an easy way to minimise those stares – that’s a positive thing :-). And for what it’s worth, in Ghana, people get stares constantly. I don’t take people’s complaints about it as a personal offense – I know that in Ghana people just aren’t used to seeing certain complexions, fashions, dress styles in person and they stare.

        It’s annoying and frustrating to be on the receiving end however, especially when it is relentless and we just want to enjoy your beautiful country (and beautiful food) as quietly as possible. So we travellers are all looking out for each other and trying to help. No offense meant.

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  • Rachel
    November 15, 2014

    Thank goodness I read this before I packed, as half the stuff I had planned to take would have ended up staying in my suitcase! Now have an assortment of scarves, no shorts, no tight fitting vests, and some loose fitting trousers, dresses and tops. Thanks for a great blog post.

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  • Lizzie
    December 31, 2014

    This is a really useful post, I’m travelling to India & SE Asia in a few weeks and still not entirely sure what clothes I’m taking!

    I have this cardigan (http://www.asos.com/ASOS/ASOS-Waterfall-Cardigan-In-Crochet/Prod/pgeproduct.aspx?iid=3722951&r=2) that I’m considering taking for covering my shoulders in India/temples etc but I’m not sure if it’ll be appropriate because it’s a bit holey! Any idea if it’ll be okay or should my shoulders be completely covered??

    Thanks 🙂

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  • February 9, 2015
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  • February 27, 2015

    My best tip for India is: Pack next to nothing. Then go shopping!
    It’s what I usually do – I wear nothing but Indian clothes when I am in India – and the Indians love me for it. This also ensures that I am always appropriately dressed.
    What’s important:
    Resist the call of the super-glittery polyester or elaborate silk dresses and stick to simple cotton clothes that you can wear all day long.
    Buy the right colors for your complexion – what looks good on Indian skin might not be flattering for you.
    Beware of colors bleeding when doing your laundry.
    A kameez (tunic) is NOT a dress by itself! Always wear it with pants.

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  • Lotte
    March 12, 2015

    Good day! Very nice article to read and you looked awesome but still appropriate 😉 One question. Is that a leather bag you brought with you? As I don’t feel comfortable taking any kind of leather with me to India. What do you think about that?

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  • Mariah
    April 4, 2015

    Monica, this is perfect advice!
    I’m spending 6 weeks in India, 8 weeks in Nepal and making my way back to Australia through Asia so it will definitely help. I’ve heard SO MANY negative (attempting to be helpful) comments about this area of the world so I believe you’re advice will be a great help!! Thank you again 😉

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  • prada
    May 2, 2015

    Iam an indian.loved your post.

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  • Kymberly
    May 6, 2015

    Hi Monica,

    I LOVE your travel blog. My hubby and I will be traveling to India at the end of the month. I’m really excited and looking forward to this trip. The Taj Mahal has always been on our bucket list, we can’t wait. I’m so glad you posted information on what to pack. As a westerner this was very valuable information to have…I would have packed alot of the wrong things lol. I wanted to ask you about eating the food in India. We are staying at 5 star hotels, but I wanted to know what your experience has been with the food.

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      • Michelle
        July 24, 2015

        Just a quick question, I was reading some websites and of course were not recommended to drink their water, but how do you go about brushing your teeth. I feel like this is a silly question, but i had to ask. Also, do most restaurants have bottled waters? and would you recommend me to buy a water bottle with a filter in it? sorry for all the questions, but I just feel like I need to prepare myself!

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  • Selena
    July 17, 2015

    So glad I found this! I’m headed to India the 30th of this month for 3 weeks. I had no idea on what to pack but thankfully found this.

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  • Michelle
    July 24, 2015

    Thank you! These tips are going to be such a big help 🙂

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  • Sabreena McCue
    August 22, 2015

    What time of the year was it that you went to India?

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  • September 11, 2015

    great post. I would add two things. First, what you pack depends on where you will be, and when. Northern India is coooold from mid-December to February. Second, India has some of the most beautiful and inexpensive shawls and jewelry you will ever find. Save the space in your bag for your finds, and enjoy wearing them while yoyre there.

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  • Alice
    February 23, 2016

    This post has helped my anxiety about travelling to India alone in April!
    I’m doing a “taj tour” for 7 days and then travelling to Kovalam for 5 nights, whilst there it’l be my 25th birthday.
    I’m sure there’ll be times where I feel a bit silly on my own but I can’t wait and after reading quite a few of your posts you’ve filled me with a lot more confidence! Thank you!

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  • Claire
    March 18, 2016

    This has been really useful as i am planning a trip to India shortly (if i don’t bottle it!) it will be my first time travelling alone. Any advice on the best places to stay in India – hotel wise? i appreciate it depends what area….i am thinking South/South East so Mumbai/Goa sort of areas. Thank you.

    reply
  • Elizabeth
    April 9, 2016

    Hey i really appreciate the advice! Where did you get those black pants in the last photo? I’m going to be going with a group to India for about 3 and a half weeks and it isn’t easy finding clothing for the trip.

    reply
  • Autumn
    April 20, 2016

    help! I’ve read all the comments and checked the links, but I need more direction on clothing. I’m traveling to India in June!! I was thinking I could wear under armor pants that are dry fit with uv protection. not fitted but loose. I have to wear long sleeves?? ugh I want to respect the culture and wear the appropriate clothing… suggestions? websites?

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  • Michelle
    June 13, 2016

    Hi! Love that dress–what size did you get out of curiosity? I’d like to order one online but am not sure how the fit is.

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  • July 23, 2016

    This is so helpful, thank you! I just booked my trip on a group tour to India, and after doubting my decisions (reading the UK/USA governmental advisories is always a bad idea), Im glad I found this. So helpful. When did you travel to India?

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  • Sudha
    September 30, 2016

    It would be cheaper to to buy the kind of clothes and footwear suggested in India. It would cost you about £3 or less for a good pair of Hawaii slippers.

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  • Helen
    October 6, 2016

    Heading to India in February in a women’s group of 13, what a great post as I have had so many questions about what to pack. Thank you!

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  • January 16, 2017

    This is a really useful post.. THANK YOU!!

    reply
  • camille
    April 26, 2017

    Wonderful piece and very helpful.
    My question is about cost of clothing over there. What’s the cost of say genie pants, scarves and tops from street venders vs stores? I’m looking inexpensive material that will last.

    reply
  • Chris Hatton
    August 6, 2018

    Hello,

    I used to go to school with you, so it was surprise to see your face pop up at the bottom of this page. I hope you are well!! Great advice…for my GF 🙂 If you have any top top tips for India, Nepal, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Thailand, let me know.

    reply
  • June 22, 2019

    Being an Indian and having lived in Bangalore all my life, I must say the policy of “staring” in India is really bad. I’ve experienced it too and I hate it. I understand it must be a lot more for all of you since you’re foreigners. I agree that dressing according to occasion/place (beach, city/town, temple etc) is the need of the hour. For you and even us locals. However, I strongly disagree with the part that Indians don’t wear anything above the knee.
    I’m in my twenties. My friends, cousins and even older relatives enjoy wearing dresses, sleeveless, crop tops, skinny jeans and skirts. We’re big on international fashion and frankly, I wear “local” only when I visit a wedding or a temple. You should check out the fashion blogging scene in Indian, it’s super advanced and can match international standards.
    So to give people tips on what to wear is great but please don’t generalise that all indians dress this way. All major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune etc are quite modern, fashion wise.
    That said, I hope you have a great experience in our country. And also meet people like us, who love to dress up.

    Namaste 🙂

    reply
  • Queen Bubbles
    June 6, 2020

    One thing I did not see mentioned was about feminine protection. It is very hard to buy tampons in India. It is not the custom. So if that is important to you, plan before you go. Wish I would have known.

    reply

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