Before coming to India, I wasn’t sure what to wear. Could I wear shorts? Could I wear boots? Did I have to wear a flowing robe? What about a loincloth?
I just wasn’t sure but after living here for over 6 months I’ve learned how anyone can dress like a local…
Can guys wear shorts in India? Yes, you can wear shorts, although most Indian men stop wearing shorts in their mid-teens. Most places are familiar with Western styles and in tourist areas or big cities, they might wear them as well. You can NOT wear shorts in many temples or ashrams though.
In some ways, men and women dress more conservatively here. In other ways, it seems really relaxed… like if I just wore a loincloth around it’d probably not be too weird either, haha.
I’ve learned some tips so you can avoid getting kicked out of a temple though and can generally blend in…
Planning a trip to India at some point? Check out my free ebook to help you save time and money, and avoid headaches. After +4 years in India, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and this guide shares what I’ve learned so you can have a smoother trip.
1. Men: Wear Pants and a Button-Up Shirt
Even in the dead of summer, when it’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit, most Indian men wear long pants and a button-up long sleeve shirt.
It’s so odd that they wear more clothes than Americans, even when it’s blistering hot, but it seems to work for them. Maybe the long sleeves and pants keep the sun or mosquitos off.
The shirts they wear are made with light cotton or polyester and do seem like they breathe.
I brought jeans and a cotton button-up shirt that I will often wear if I’m going to the airport or if want to look less like a foreigner.
This post is part of my series about how to pack for India. After this, check out the full packing list for India + a free PDF checklist.
2. Tank tops are a No
For men and women, showing skin is considered provocative, so it’s not recommended to wear tank tops.
I would NOT show my shoulders or full arms or wear a low-cut shirt.
3. Lungi’s are a Yes
Maybe I’m wrong about showing your shoulders though.
It may just be where I live, but in a town of about 150,000 people in South India, there are some tourists who never wear a shirt.
They just wear a piece of cloth wrapped around their hips.
The cloth is called a lungi or in some places a dhoti. It is a type of sarong that is bigger than a towel and might come in a plain white, orange or any number of patterns.
The local men wear them wrapped around their hips and tie it in the back. They can tuck it up, wear it half-length at their knees or all the way down to their ankles.
Some Western expats wear a lungi with no shirt. Maybe they add a scarf around their head to keep the sun off. Seems a bit odd to me, but it looks comfortable.
The reason the local Indian men wear them is that they are cooler in the summertime.
4. T-shirts are Everywhere
I brought three merino wool t-shirts that I wear 95% of the time. They are breathable. They are antibacterial so I can wear them for multiple days between washes. When I do wash them, I can wash them in the sink, hang them on the line, and they are dry in a few hours.
The locals and other Westerners wear t-shirts as well, so they are safe.
You can even buy ironic t-shirts with English sayings like, “Never Say Sorry For Being Yourself” or “Love Makes Your Soul Crawl Out From It’s Hiding Place.” I’ve also seen Batman shirts or shirts that say, Hipster.
Check out my recommended travel shirt to save time on laundry and to smell nice.
5. Loose-Fit is Better than Skin Tight
Similar to not showing skin, wearing loose-fitting clothing is more acceptable than wearing skin tight clothes.
For women, stretchy tight yoga pants might cause a scene.
For men, wearing shirts that are bigger would be safer.
You see a lot of spiritual tourists wearing loose-fitting cotton or linen pants and shirts.
However, the local men do wear pants that are slim fitting. I wouldn’t say tight but they seem slim like you might find in a big city in the US.
6. Religious Sites can Be Strict
A friend was kicked out of a local temple because he was wearing shorts. Another friend was kicked out of the local ashram because he was wearing shorts.
Different religious sites may have specific requirements for the dress code for entry.
For example, at Hindu temples, you may NOT be able to wear leather boots or belts. At some Sikh temples, it may be considered rude to leave your head uncovered.
Most religious sites will require that you leave your shoes outside and that your knees and shoulders are covered.
7. Sandals are a Must
It’s polite to take off your sandals before entering many buildings.
I was at the local branch of my internet provider and was walking back to talk to the owner and was asked to take off my sandals.
Many grocery stores and restaurants would require you to take off your shoes before entering. It is smart and will save you time if you have an inexpensive pair of sandals to leave outside.
The locals take their shoes off before entering their home and I do as well.
I have a pair of Chaco sandals which work well and give me a lot of support. Sometimes I wish I had a pair of more inexpensive sandals since it seems like my sandals would be prized by someone who couldn’t afford high-quality footwear. Some local holy men have commented on them being nice, haha.
Surprisingly though no one has ever bothered with my sandals so footware may be something everyone respects.
I’ll get a pair of inexpensive sandals soon though just to be sure, haha.
8. Kurta is Another Option
A kurta is a loose collarless shirt that hangs past your waist. They can be worn with a lungi or a dhoti.
You can also get a formal kurta for wear at a wedding.
9. In Goa, Anything Goes
If you’re in a beach city that has a lot of tourists like Goa, then it’s completely acceptable to wear shorts.
Men and women can wear tank tops or swimwear.
Men might wear brightly colored shirts, Capri-style pants that stop at your calf, and straw beach hats.
10. Dress Depends on the Region
In the same way that India has different languages for the different states, the way people dress is much different as well.
Lungis are mostly worn in Southern India. If you go north they would wear warmer clothes.
11. Clothes are Cheap
You can always buy more clothes if you don’t have enough. You could have tailored shirts made for $5 – $7. You could have pants made as well.
India has a history of clothing that goes far back before Christ was on the Earth. Cotton was spun, woven, and dyed here many many years ago. They used to use bone needles and wooden spindles to make clothes.
12. Scarfs are Not just for Fashionistas
Pashminas or Kashmiri scarfs are a great gift to bring home and here are really functional.
Almost all the women have them and many men have them to keep the sun and dust off.
You can find them in most places and they’re really soft.
Read more: Do Men Wear Hats in India?
Can females wear shorts in India?
The “shoulder-knee” rule is the general rule for what to wear, so if your shorts show your knees then it is NOT advised to wear them. Short shorts would definitely not be recommended.
What should tourists wear in India?
Women should wear blouses and shirts that are NOT too tight. Skirts that fall at your ankle are good. Cotton and other lightweight fabrics will help you stay cool. Long sleeves can be helpful in keeping the sun and mosquitos off.
What shoes should I wear in India?
Sandals, Chacos, and flip flops are best. I have some leather boots that I brought which are just taking up space because they are so hot. They are also a hassle to take on and off if I go into a store or home.
What to wear in hotels in India?
Most hotels it’s okay to wear all the clothing that I’ve mentioned above. I put my sandals outside my room and have never had a problem with them being gone.
For women, I would recommend dressing more conservatively and leaving the strappy dresses for another trip.
Can you wear Capris in India?
Wearing capris is okay. They don’t show your knees so do NOT violate the “shoulder-knee” rule which is the general rule of thumb.