My Thoughts On India, Part 8

Dressing Appropriately when Visting India

When out, I often see tourists to whom I wish I could offer some tips and advice for a more enjoyable stay, in particular how to dress appropriately. Sometimes I want to run up to them and grab them by the shoulders and say “Put more clothes on, for your own safety.”

India is quite conservative in dress. How much depends on the part of the country you are in, whether it is a big city or small town, or a tourist haven. Most (but not all) of the big cities are becoming more accepting of women wearing shorter skirts or sleeveless or strappy tops, but in general, if you aren’t on the beach in a known tourist destination where the locals are accustomed to seeing half dressed people, make sure to dress appropriately.

What is appropriate? For men it means don’t go shirtless on the street and no short shorts. The only people you may see shirtless are common laborers and even they will usually wear a tank top at the least.

For women it means several things. No see-through items unless you have on the right underclothes. No midriff showing. Skirts and shorts should come at least mid-thigh, avoiding ones that are too tight. Don’t wear spaghetti straps without a coverup. You can wear sleeveless shirts but make sure you are not showing too much shoulder. No cleavage showing at all.

I understand that it’s hot and you are sweating. If you are in Goa, you can get away with strappy tops and mini skirts, or if you are going to a nightclub or for dinner in a nice hotel you can wear eveningwear. The thing is, people who do wear such things do not walk on the street. They drive to where they are going and drive back home, so pesonal safety isn’t such an issue. But if you, as a tourist, are trying to see the real India and you are walking the streets and eating in local restaurants and shopping where the locals do, then you should dress as the locals do.

Don’t go out like this. Ever! …


… Unless you are her. 🙂

I don’t mean you have to wear Indian clothes (unless you want to). You can get away with western styles; just make sure they cover enough. For example, a t-shirt and knee-length shorts or 3/4 pants is best for this kind of trekking the streets. Long skirts are also ok. When it comes to tops, the rule of thumb is: it should cover your shoulders (mostly, sleeveless is ok) and tummy, and the neckline shouldn’t be too low. If you can see any part of your breasts, it is too low. If it is transparent, wear a singlet underneath. Bras shouldn’t be clearly visible.
Ironically the sari, worn by the majority of Indian women, can be very revealing.

Women who do dress as the above model won’t be seen walking the streets, though. Also, that is a wedding sari. More commonly you will see this:

Yep, that is more like what you will see on the street.

Ok. Moving on.

Personally I mostly wear western clothes, but at times I do wear Indian styles. I don’t wear sari’s because I don’t know how to tie one, nor would I find it comfortable for daily use. I did wear one once to an event but sadly don’t have a photo of it.

I’m more likely to wear the salwar kameez, well, usually just the top. I only recently tried the pants, but I found that in a climate like Chennai has, they are cooler than regular pants or jeans. And I can’t believe I forgot to post this family photo that we took at Logan’s graduation back in March. I even had it enlarged and it is on our wall. What I’m wearing is a more modern salwar. Usually there is a dupatta (scarf) with it but I forgot to bring one. This outfit came from a shop where you can mix and match the tops and pants.

The salwar kameez comes in many varieties of design, color, materieal, and style. It is both everyday wear and party wear, casual or elegant.

So if you ever come to India, remember these tips and have a great stay!

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