When I think of India I imagine beautiful beguiling women in metres of the finest silks draped over their ornately embellished sari. Obviously this is how women dress in Bollywood and not the real life India. Furthermore the sari is the traditional attire of Southern India not Northern India. So if you thought the sari was conservative with only the midriff and back on show then wait till you visit Punjab. Just north of Delhi International Airport where you can find the famous Golden Temple is where you will discover the state of Punjab. Punjab is certainly a destination you should add to your travel plans, however as a woman you must dress ultra conservatively. The traditional attire of Punjab is The Punjabi Suit. This is essentially a tunic with a boat neck so as not to show off any cleavage, worn with salwar pants and a dupatta draped across your bust. The salwar pants are basically like genie pants but much larger in fitting and gathered at the ankle. The dupatta was designed to cover a woman's bust. So if this is their traditional attire then as a tourist if you don't want to be disrespectful then it is best to cover and dress ultra conservatively.
Whilst other regions of India it is acceptable to show off your midriff or back, absolutely no skin other than your arms can be on show in Punjab. This is a no to the crop top, halter neck, lycra pants, leggings, V Neck tops, see through blouses or any piece of clothing that shows skin or the shape of your body. When I first visited India I thought I had packed conservatively and alas my husband basically told me I couldn't wear any of the items in my suitcase. Now bear in mind if you are visiting larger cities where there is bound to be the odd tourist they will be more forgiving in what you wear. But if you visit the offbeat places where most have never seen a foreigner in their life, then it is best to cover as much as you can.
You will probably notice that children in Punjab wear western attire. It is acceptable for children to dress in western attire if it is conservative. However you will not see a grown woman wear western clothing unless they have moved abroad or are a tourist. Even those who have moved abroad and return home for a visit generally stick to traditional attire out of respect. Although you will soon find out where and when you can wear western clothing. For instance if visiting a Sikh Temple it is mandatory to cover yourself up entirely. If you don't wear traditional attire then you should at the very least wear a scarf or shawl over your head.
Punjab experiences extremes in weather, Winter is absolutely freezing whilst Summer is deathly hot. Wearing plenty of clothing in Winter is okay but in Summer that can be difficult. You can't walk around in mini denim shorts with a strappy singlet. You still need to cover up which makes life more challenging.
SO WHAT EXACTLY CAN ONE WEAR WITHOUT LOOKING FRUMPY?
It is difficult to remain stylish and not appear frumpy like an Oompa Loompa when you are covered head to toe and are attempting to wear the traditional Indian attire as a foreigner. I like to wear a mix of traditional and western clothing, unless it is for a special occasion such as a Wedding, then I opt for traditional. My staples are a lightweight trench coat, jeans, poncho, scarves, tunic as it is long sleeved and long in length to cover your behind, jumpsuit and kurti's. Layering is your new best friend when it comes to being ultra conservative but wanting to still have some sense of style. When it comes to exercising I still wear leggings but ensure that my jumper is long enough to cover my behind. So it is okay only when working out to wear leggings as long as you wear a long shirt or jumper on top. Churidar Leggings are slightly different and collect around the ankle and can be worn underneath items of clothing. If you want to dress like a local then opt for kurtis with churidar leggings as they give you more definition than salwar pants. Or Anarkali Dresses for special occasions as they are essentially a long sleeved maxi dress worn over leggings.
What To Wear As A
TOURIST IN PUNJAB
KURTIS OR TUNICS
My fav combination is the kurti with jeans. This style is a great way to dress up your jeans without dressing in full traditional attire. I have lived in Punjabi Suits and I can tell you this, the salwar pant is extremely difficult to go to the bathroom with. So mixing and matching gives you comfort yet you also respect the local culture. A tunic is not dissimilar to a kurti so if you have a tunic in your wardrobe already this is a great staple to pack. Kurti's come in a variety of materials so you can easily find light weight silks and synthetic materials for Summer and heavier cottons for Winter. You can also opt for any sleeve length that suits your needs.
A kurti and jeans is a great casual option
In Winter it is below freezing cold in Punjab but the mornings tend to be frostier than the day. Especially if you are out and about sightseeing. I love to wear my poncho or it is also known as a shawl locally. You can essentially wear any outfit you desire underneath and cover up with a poncho. You won't be too hot or too cold with a poncho. However if you do remove your poncho be sure to have worn a top that does not show cleavage, is figure hugging or is not transparent.
I love wearing a poncho over a long sleeve shirt for a casual look during the day
SCARVES & SHAWLS
They are a great accessory in the event you have packed tops that aren't that revealing yet are still considered to be revealing in Punjab. I just purchased myself a few scarves and shawls to wear over my cleavage. Voila problem solved.
MAXI DRESS OR SKIRT
You will find that in Summer you will essentially melt away in the dessert heat, yet you still need to dress conservatively. A maxi dress is perfect as long as it is a shirt dress style where it buttons up to your neck and has short sleeves at the very least. Just be sure if it is strappy you will need to wear a loose button up shirt over the top. Or a shawl or scarf whatever your preference is. Alternatively a maxi skirt with a button up blouse is just as comfortable.
Like a dress I love a jumpsuit because it is the one outfit done and dusted. The same rule applies, if it is strappy then wear a loose button up shirt over the top. Or select a nice lightweight material jumpsuit that has short sleeves and buttons up to the neck. Make sure it isn't figure hugging and that the pants are loose fitting.
LOOSE FITTING BUTTON UP SHIRT
If you don't have a shrug then a loose fitting button up shirt is great to wear over tops that might be considered revealing. You can just tie a knot at the front and voila you have an instant light weight shrug.
Since Punjab is icy cold in Winter a cardigan just won't cut it so a light weight trench coat is a must. So that it can get you through both the cool and freezing weather be sure to pack a duster coat so that it can be worn through all the seasons. Just add extra layers underneath when it is at the coldest. This saves space in your suitcase by packing just the one coat. It is also the perfect coat for the plane as you don't want to lug a heavy coat around. Boohoo sells some great lightweight duster coats which is where I purchased mine from. Though just be sure you don't pack something that is too light like silk. I wore a polyester coat through Winter and it worked fine. I just wore two layers of clothes underneath. Now that it is warming up I can still wear it in the evenings when it is a little cooler.
A duster coat is so versatile
Salwar pants are essentially genie pants except the genie pants are made from loose fitting cotton so are ultra comfortable. You can purchase salwar pants separately made from soft cotton to wear as genie pants. Traditionally salwar pants are made from stiff cotton and are tied around the waist instead of using elastic. They are also usually made to be much much larger in size so that it achieves more drapes down the leg then gathers at the ankle. So genie pants to me are just a modernised version of a salwar pant. Either way you can wear them here with a tunic or top and still be conservative. So I'd suggest if this is your style then buy some when you arrive. You can get them for super cheap in every colour possible!
Jeans are my staple item as I can wear them with traditional and western clothing. I pack two pairs so that I have a clean spare. They are super comfortable and not too hot for the warmer weather yet warm enough for the cool weather. It is also surprisingly okay to wear jeans with rips on the knees however if your jeans are that ripped that they have the same amount of material as a pair of shorts then that definitely isn't acceptable.
If you prefer to dress like a local you can wear a kurti with leggings or the Punjabi Suit. Which consists of a short length kurti known as a kameez, salwar pants and a dupatta. Read more about the different traditional attire worn in Punjab in my post The Many Fashion's Of Punjabi Women.
A palazzo suit is elegant and comfortable
- NO cleavage can be shown pack choker style tops, pussy bows, button up or boat neck tops.
- NO midriff can be shown so that is no to the crop top unless you are wearing high waist jeans.
- NO showing your behind so don't wear leggings and be sure to wear long length tops and jackets.
- NO showing your legs so you cannot wear denim shorts in Summer opt for a maxi dress instead.
- DO show your arms however not in spaghetti straps.
- DO layer your pieces to achieve the end result, so if you have a v neck top wear a scarf.
- DO wear plenty of jewellery as Indian's love their jewellery and believe it or not apparently Indian wives own a large percentage of the worlds gold collectively.
- When in doubt research the dress code of your destination. Major cities are more accepting than small towns in the country.