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How to Dress for Social Success in India...

 

Mariellen Ward is a JourneyWoman who writes about India, yoga and transformational travel on her blog, BreatheDreamGo. She has traveled for more than a year in India and leads small group tours to some of her favourite places there. We asked Mariellen to advise our readers on how to dress appropriately in Rajasthan, so you fit in socially. This is what she had to say...


Udaipur is a dream, a fantastical medieval Rajasthani city complete with a sprawling Maharaja’s palace, ancient temples and narrow laneways lined with artisan’s workshops. Though it is the Indian state most visited by tourists, Rajasthan is still one of the most traditional and conservative and this is amply evident by the way people dress, work and live, here. One hot day, I was seated at an outdoor café in the courtyard of the City Palace and the present-day Maharaja (king), ramrod straight posture in an elegant pink shirt, strode by.

Yet, on the same day I saw the Maharaja, I also saw a pale-skinned couple, tourists from (perhaps) Europe, North America or Australia, walking in the bazaar wearing shorts and tank tops. They looked as out of place as a beef BBQ at a vegetarian ashram. From the point of view of the locals these people would be considered socially inept and disrespectful of the culture.

In spite of what you see in Bollywood movies, most Indians still favour modest, traditional clothing – and you may find that you enjoy your time in India more if you do too. This is especially true once you leave inner city Delhi and Mumbai, and if you go to any social occasions (such as weddings), festivals (such as Diwali or Holi) or to religious gatherings, temples, gurdwaras (a place of worship for Sikhs) and mosques.

For those women travelling to India, here’s eight tips to help you dress for social success.


Bring underwear and comfortable shoes and sandals to India, but not a lot of other clothes. Go shopping in India for three-piece salwar kameez sets (also known as suits). These consist of a long or short tunic, tight or loose pants and a long scarf, called a dupatta or chunni. Wear all three pieces together. Buy cotton in summer and silk or cotton in winter. FabIndia is a great store to buy mix-and-match suits.

 

Wearing Indian clothes has several advantages. It suits the climate and the need for modesty, plus you will fit in a bit better, and be less of a target for beggars and touts. You can get in touch with your inner hippie or backpacker in India if you like, but you will pay the price with a lot more hassles. If you are wearing Indian clothes, local people tend to respect you more and also treat you with more warmth, honesty and openness. Try it and see what I mean.

 

In gurdwaras and mosques you have to cover your head, so it’s a good idea to always have a long scarf (such as a dupatta or chunni) with you.

 

You need good solid, comfortable shoes in India. The country's infrastructure is much less than perfect so expect pavement to be broken, potholes will be everywhere and sewage sometimes runs freely in the streets.

 

Speaking of shoes, feet and shoes are considered “unclean” in India. You may be asked to remove your shoes to enter people’s homes and you definitely have to leave your shoes at the entrance to temples, gurdwaras and mosques. There is usually someone there who will store them for 10 rupees. Also, never point or touch anything with your feet.

 

As a general rule, make sure your legs and shoulders are covered, especially in religious or sacred places. Women in India are very modest about their breasts. They wear armour-like bras and then drape their dupattas over their chests. You will probably not feel comfortable in a thin, light bra; or in clothing that reveals your bra. This look is trendy in the west, but a taboo in India.

 

The modesty rule goes out the window when pertaining to wearing jewelry. If you are invited to a private party, a nice restaurant or a hotel, layer it on and the bigger the better. But be very careful. It's important to realize that walking around wearing flashy jewlery just draws attention to yourself and makes you a target for the many, many 'have-nots' in India.

Editor's Note: My advice is to buy any wonderful baubles that you can afford but don't wear them while in India. Bring them home and wear them in places you consider safe or share your goodies with the pals you left behind.

 

Everyone loves Indian shawls – inaccurately called pashminas – and, unless it's meltingly hot, they can really come in handy for both modesty and warmth. Unlike the common dupatta or chunni that women in India wear -- which are longer, usually made of lighter fabric and worn as an accessory -- shawls are worn primarily for warmth. By the way, real pashminas are very expensive: if someone tries to sell you one for the equivalent of $5, $20, $50 or even $100, guaranteed it’s not pure pashmina. At best, it's a mixture pf pashmina and wool or silk.

 

 

How to wear a pashmina shawl...

Are you aware of the many ways you can wear a shawl? Twist it, tie it, drape it and fold it. It's a fashion accessory, a way to cover your bare shoulders when modesty is called for plus it's a wonderful way to simply keep you warm. Even on the hottest days, Journeywoman carries one in her backpack. Hot weather outdoors invariably means that the air conditioning is set on HIGH indoors and you'll need that extra bit of protection from the cold air that seems to be directed right at you. Going into a house of worship? A pashmina makes a sophisticated head covering. Slip a colored pashmina over a black tank top and black jeans and a savvy traveller is set for the opera. Packing a glass jug you bought in an Italian marketplace? Just wrap this new treasure in your pashmina and it will do the trick.

Finally, click here to watch a video that illustrates the many fashionable ways that you can wear a shawl at home and away.

 

 

 

 

 

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