• one thing you must pack

The ONE thing you MUST pack & tips for wearing a dress in India

What is my “cannot travel without”? I get asked in interview, and although I need my Clinique moisture surge lotion, passport, and more obvious things like a camera… when it comes to clothes it’s

my Little Black Dress. 

Mine was 14 dollars from H&M and I already regret not buying a backup because I wear it so often. It is amazing what a plain cotton tank top dress can do for your body! It’s the one thing you must pack. I also love this ASOS one with sleeves.

It can be dressed down to look like the ultimate “not trying” outfit. It’s cotton and plain, so it obviously took two seconds to get ready. When I’m going for this style, I leave my hair down and unbrushed & I add an accessory like my feather armband or headband. Put on flip flops and lipgloss and you’re ready to chug buckets on Koh Phi Phi.

one thing you must pack lbd

When I’m backpacking and end up needing to dress it up a bit, I wear the same dress with gladiator sandals (or heels if I was on a short trip and brought them). I wear my hair slicked back in a bun (sock bun, low messy pony, or twisty knot, and put on a little bit of all the make up I’ve brought, especially light pink lipstick. Add your favorite necklace from your travels (I never bring jewelry and buy loads while I travel) and you’re good to go for a night out clubbing or a fancy dinner.

one thing you must pack lbd

Whether I dress up or down, I have a few kimonos that work with it. I always take my crochet fringe kimono from ASOS for a low-key night and when I go to a club or nice bar, I wear a black chiffon kimono that has red flowers on it paired with red lipstick- it’s also and ASOS purchase.

I have other staples, but for long-term travel I’ve found this to be my most worn and versatile piece of clothing. I actually fold it down as a skirt, wear a crop top, and tie a little linen button-up shirt around my waste which is my favorite look right now and also when traveling it hides the dress being folded down.

See my full packing list here and my favorite beauty supplies here.

A Note on Dresses in India

Sadly, in India I can only wear a short dress like this in Goa or on nights out in the bigger (more modern) cities. I miss being able to dress however I want, but its inappropriate in village areas (you’ll have all the women gossiping about you!) and in the more conservative cities it’s not safe.

Obviously, I think more emphasis should be put on teaching boys not to rape girls (like the amazing “start with the boys” campaign), but instead Indian politicians have the motto, “boys will be boys” in regards to rape and that girls who wear tight jeans or go out without their brothers are putting themselves in trouble. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t because it won’t change a damn thing!

People have this idea that you can’t wear “club” dresses in India. I’ve touched on this before when I talked about how to dress in India, but Indian girls at the clubs in all the big cities are wearing little dresses and high heels. They were bra-tops and short skirts, and party their little butts off. If you show up at a club in Bombay in a tank top and ali baba pants you will look and feel silly. Bring a cute dress on your backpacking trip! If I go out to somewhere like Blue Frog in Bombay I dress the same as Goa. Bombay party people are trendy and fashionable.

what to wear in india

There’s a gap where the rich in the cities “are allowed” or can AFFORD to dress in western styles while the poorer people in the villages are sheltered from the clubs, shopping malls, the drugs, the party life- therefore would be shocked to see these types of clothes.

As a westerner traveling in India, you can dress like the Indian city girls do (shorts in nicer city areas like Gurgaon, crop tops, tank tops, and skirts in places like Colaba and Bandra) and there’s no reason to feel bad about that. Although you might get more stares because of your skin or hair color, it’s the norm these days although many people don’t want to believe that. I was just in Bombay yesterday and there was a private party at Indigo Deli. All the Indian girls had on short little dresses and it was a Sunday afternoon. Blame Bollywood, blame the west, but whatever the case- India is changing!

When I’m in Kochi, I dress very conservative. I dressed conservative on my trip to Karnataka as well. Even in Pune, I had to wear long dresses during the day. I did notice in Pune at night while barhopping, the girls were dressed just like Bombay girls- short and/or tight dresses and very cute stylish clothes; nothing traditional.

For more on women’s safety, read 14 tips for solo female travel in India.



About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Justine December 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    It’s so complicated to figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not in other countries. India sounds like a trip, especially because of the whole misogynistic thing. But it’s definitely similar in Jakarta, which is predominantly Muslim. You really have to be careful about what you wear and it fully depends on where you are in the city. At first I was really good about wearing long pants and shirts that covered my shoulders. And then I realized that in most of the places I go women are wearing super tight dresses, so I’ve definitely started to get more lax about the whole thing. But I do miss the days when I didn’t have to think about it!!

    • Rachel Jones December 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      I can’t imagine living in a place where you have to cover shoulders as well! Ugh.

  2. Andrea Anastasiou December 23, 2014 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Here’s to the LBD! I also carry my Miss Selfridge one all around the world with me. You just never know when you will want to feel a bit glammed up! I also put my hair in a bun and wear massive earrings – does the job.

  3. Emily December 24, 2014 at 12:34 am - Reply

    It’s nice to have versatile pieces that you can dress up, down, flashy or conservatively when you travel!

  4. Colleen Brynn December 24, 2014 at 3:25 am - Reply

    It was really nice when I visited Goa to have a little more freedom to dress how I wanted. The LBD is definitely the one thing any fashion-conscious traveler should have with her. It is so versatile! And ditto on the jewellery – almost all of the jewellery I own is from my travels. Pack light, and buy a new wardrobe from abroad, that’s my mantra.
    ALSO, India is pretty much mecca for cheap clothes at markets. So there’s that too!

    • Rachel Jones December 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      Ha, yes save the shopping for the Saturday night market!

  5. Rebekah December 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    This is good advice. I’m trying to figure out what to bring with me on my next trip. I dressed so grubby when I was travelling last time and although for most of the trip it was just practical… there were times in the bigger cities I wished I had a cute outfit

    • Rachel Jones December 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      Yeah it’s nice to have at least one piece you can really dress up

  6. Renuka December 26, 2014 at 9:57 am - Reply

    It’s commendable the way you are guiding your foreign friends who would like to visit India. Dressing is an issue in India. Although a lot of Indian girls like to dress skimpily, men here still can’t take it normally. So it’s better to dress soberly instead of gaining unwanted attention!

    • Rachel Jones December 26, 2014 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      Dressing here is an issue! ugh men need to grow up lol

  7. Tim | UrbanDuniya December 26, 2014 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Good guide – hopefully this should help some people planning a trip to the subcontinent!

  8. Sierra May 30, 2015 at 7:25 am - Reply

    What would you recommend to wear in Delhi? I’ve seen a blogger on Youtube who dressed in California-esque fashion while she was there, but what do you think?

    • Rachel Jones May 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      delhi is the place i cover up the most really… but you can wear a maxi skirt and tank if you want because all my indian girlfriends do even conservative ones, but no shorts unless you are in your complex in somewehre like gurgoan – nothing revealing in delhi!

  9. Kristin M June 2, 2015 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Sorry this is not a dress comment but it is a packing question. I trust your advice. I’m REALLY struggling choosing a laptop. I’ve never travelled with a laptop but I am going to Ireland for 6 months in 16 days and I plan to do lots of traveling. So I’m trying to decide between the 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro with retina. These are both super lightweight: the 15″ is only a pound more than the 13″. 3.5 lbs vs 4.5 lbs. With that in mind would you choose the 15″ or in your experience would it still just feel too big and bulky?

    • Rachel Jones June 2, 2015 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      i use an older 13″ and dont think going bigger is necessary. I’m getting a new one and deciding between the 13′ retina pro and the 13′ NON retina pro.. its older looking but has way more storage and speed originally without paying for upgrades. Even i am confused!

      • Kristin M June 2, 2015 at 8:44 pm - Reply

        Jeesh! Tell me about it! Thanks for your advice. Good luck to you! :)

  10. Jen December 15, 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    I am dying of envy at the freedom you have to travel! What is airfair typically from the states to Goa?

    • Rachel Jones December 18, 2015 at 11:27 am - Reply

      Depending on when I book it’s between 1200 to 1400 USD for Ohio to Goa (return, so both ways)

  11. Nicole depauw January 8, 2016 at 8:40 am - Reply

    I will be going to Rishikesh the end of February for 6 weeks . Any suggestions specific to this area ?? I am thinking of packing light and acquiring a wardrobe once I get there ?? What are your thoughts ?
    Thanks , Nicole

    • Rachel Jones January 8, 2016 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      I think Rishikesh will be pretty cold in Feb. I would take a light jacket and buy a heavy scarf there!

  12. Fleur June 26, 2016 at 2:50 am - Reply

    I adore your blog and ! Myself and friends are travelling India later this year – what’s the deal with wearing playsuit and kimonos etc? or playsuits and scarfs? Is it genuinely advised to not have legs out. I’m having a panic packing!!

    • Rachel Jones June 26, 2016 at 5:10 am - Reply

      In most areas of India, shorts are a no-no. In Goa everything goes, as well as places like Varkala or Kovalam (beach towns) but for the most part in cities you need pants or skirts that go at least to the knee.

  13. Michele July 8, 2016 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    I absolutely LOVE this blog, its been so so so helpful getting my focused for moving to india for 6 months! Quick question, I’m going to Tamil Nadu in the south (pretty conservative from what ive read) do you think culottes would be okay to wear? They are down to mid calf legnth and loose fitting…

  14. Emma Shah May 18, 2017 at 12:50 am - Reply

    Hey… I am planning to visit Jaisalmer in India. Can you please tell me what is the best to visit and what kind of clothes would be okay?

  15. Kathy Carlson January 25, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Is it ok to wear white shirt or pants in Deli in February?

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