What to Wear in India

India is pretty conservative and you need to be cognizant of your wardrobe when traveling there. Though I did see a few girls getting away with wearing shorts and camisoles in Mumbai, in most of the other cities we visited, the majority of the females we encountered were decently modest with their clothing. My main goal when preparing my outfits was to be comfortable; I wanted to wear things I felt confident in, I wouldn't overheat in, and I wouldn't garner unwanted attention in.

My friend from high school, whose parents immigrated to the States from India, gave me some tips before I left. She said that bearing a bit of skin is fine but err on the side of conservative. I took that to mean that I could wear short sleeves, skirts to the knees, and show a bit of midriff (after all, Indian women in saris show off their bellies too).
I ended up packing trousers, crop tops, a midi dress, and a scarf and it was the perfect wardrobe to survive in India for two weeks. The scarf came in handy for protecting my head from the sun as well as wrapping around my shoulders when I wanted to be a bit more covered up.

Here's the actual list of what I packed:
  • 3 pairs of trousers - 1 pair navy, 1 pair mustard, 1 pair multi-colored
  • 2 pairs leggings
  • 4 crop tops
  • 2 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeved shirt
  • 3 sweat-wicking tanks (Uniqlo Airism)
  • 1 midi dress
  • 1 short-sleeved wrap top
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 jacket
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 2 pairs of shoes - 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 crossbody bag
  • 1 pair sunglasses
It ended up being the perfect amount of stuff. Though I rewore bottoms a bunch of times and recycled a top once or twice, I never wore the same exact outfit twice and I was comfortable the entire time, including when I had to trek through the airports carrying my duffel. My bag was just under 15 lbs.

Before I left, I read a lot of advice on various blogs on what to pack for India and the general consensus was to pack loads of neutrals so that mixing and matching would be easier. However, I followed a slightly different philosophy. I went for a mix of some bright colors and patterns because I didn't want my wardrobe to look boring and I wanted to be able to look cute and standout in my photographs.

  1. No cleavage! (I broke this rule when we were at the pool at our hotel.)
  2. No shorts (unless you're in Goa); try to keep your knees covered.
  3. Showing a little shoulder is okay.
  4. Don't wear clothes that are too form-fitting.
  5. Wear breathable clothing.
  6. Bring layers; in case showing a little shoulder turns out to be not okay.
My ultimate advice is this: wear what makes you feel confident and cute because that is the only way you will feel comfortable and happy. That being said, you should be quite purposeful with what you pack; even if you pack bright colors and patterns, make sure you can still mix and match the pieces well. Despite the fact that I did have quite a rainbow-like representation in my luggage, almost everything went together well so I felt like I had loads of choices. I also pre-planned my outfits and wrote down what I intended to wear each day so there would be no guesswork. This is something I do regardless of the duration of the trip; it's a timesaver and takes the stress out of getting ready in the morning.
Leggings are what I wore on the initial plane ride and I wore them again for Holi, knowing they might get destroyed. The second pair of leggings I kept fresh in my luggage for the plane ride back home. I also wore one t-shirt as my pajamas and it's what I ended up wearing on the plane ride back home as well. It was important to me that I kept one set of clothing "fresh" for the plane ride home because I knew the rest of my clothing would end up getting kind of sweaty or dusty from being out and about and I didn't want to stew in an icky outfit for the 24-hour journey home.

I feel like leggings are a bit controversial of a clothing item because they're tight. However, my butt is basically concave so I feel like they don't exactly look super sexy on my body and I felt okay about wearing them out in public since my shirt was long enough to cover my crotchal zone.

Everything fit into two medium-sized packing cubes, which left plenty of space in my luggage for my toiletries, makeup, first aid kit, and souvenirs.
I really liked my outfits and the choices I had. I didn't feel restricted by what I'd packed and planned at all. And this semi-hideous yellow scarf I took with me was one of the best decisions. I actually picked this one because it was the breeziest scarf I own, thinking I might toss it at the end of the trip. While I was abroad, I was posting Instagram photos and my sister texted me to say that my ugly scarf actually photographed really well and kudos to me. (And now I never want to throw it away because it's got fond memories attached to it.)
My leggings did not end up getting completely ruined on Holi like I thought they might. And actually, if you rinse out the dye quickly enough, your clothes shouldn't really end up stained. I actually tried to set the dye in my t-shirt by running it through a hot dryer for 10 minutes. Some of the dye still washed out though, which is unfortunate because I really liked how it looked!
The only complaint I might have about my clothing is that it was kind of suffocating in the more intense heat of south India. If I had it my way, I would've been in bandeaus and shorts that are so short they resemble underpants; I do think that it's kind of psychological and that wearing less clothes makes you feel cooler automatically. But actually, I do have to thank my long pants for the sun protection and the semi-successful attempt at protecting me from mosquitos. Some mosquitos actually managed to bite me through my trousers, but I'd say that I probably got off much easier than I would have had I been wearing shorts.

And I have to give a shout out to the Uniqlo Airism line because it was pretty comfortable and cooling. It isn't the most flattering material (it's got a slightly shiny spandex vibe that shows off lumps and bumps in a not cute way) but it does wick away sweat and keep you cool. The camisoles worked well as an undershirt to absorb sweat.
I suppose the downside of wearing colorful, particular clothing is that it is more recognizable and it's possible you'll end up looking like you're wearing the same things over and over. But honestly, I feel like I look cute in all of my photos and I'm happy with the results.

In conclusion, just wear the things that bring you joy (as long as they are respectful to the culture) and have fun!