All personal opinions and fashion preferences aside, the reality is that the clothing you wear in India will affect the way you're perceived by locals. India is still a male-dominated, and mostly conservative, society with an equally conservative dress code in most parts of the country.
Here are some handy tips:
- Cover your shoulders, cleavage and thighs
- Avoid wearing thin spaghetti strap tops, mini-skirts or shorts, and tight clothing – tight jeans are fine, as long as you wear a long, loose top or shirt over them
- Only wear swimwear at the beach – and perhaps consider wearing a loose t-shirt over your swimwear when you're in a smaller, more remote destination
- Opt for loose-fitting shirts, t-shirts, long dresses, knee-level or below-knee shorts, pants and skirts
- Clothing made from linen or a linen blend is great to wear in hot weather
- Suss your surroundings and dress in a similar way – generally, touristy or modern cities like Mumbai are more liberal and relaxed when it comes to clothing than smaller towns and villages or holy places like Varanasi
- If in doubt, always err on the side of modest when choosing your outfits – many travellers dress like a local and buy a few pairs of harem pants or tunics to wear not just while they're here, but also at home.
In the lower-altitude towns of the Himalayas, like Darjeeling (2402 m/6699 ft), the winter temperatures can drop below freezing and may experience snow. Be sure to pack thermal underwear and clothes that can be layered – a warm fleece, windbreaker, gloves and a beanie are all great ideas, as is a down jacket.
Further south, in places like New Delhi and Varanasi, light clothes should suffice during the day with a warm jumper or jacket for the cooler evenings when the temperature drops. The same applies for Kolkata.
On the southern coast, around Mumbai and Goa, it’ll still be very warm in the winter so pack light clothes with a light jumper for any cooler evenings. It’s also worth bringing an umbrella or light raincoat if travelling to the south-eastern coast as the rain can last well into December.
In the summertime, and in the shoulder seasons for that matter, it’s going to be hot everywhere except in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. In Darjeeling, you’ll need light clothes with a rain jacket and jumper, but if you’re travelling higher it’s best to pack warm clothes or a down jacket as well as a beanie, gloves and scarf.
In all low-altitude regions you’ll need loose, lightweight clothing with a raincoat or umbrella. Some parts of India carry the risk of malaria so long pants and long-sleeved shirts, as well as a bottle of insect repellent, are useful to have for dusk and dawn when those pesky mosquitos are out and about.