How to Pack for India Like Princess Jasmine
I stood in front of my closet judging every piece of clothing I owned while trying to pack for my first trip to India. I wanted to be respectful of the culture, stay cool in the heat, and of course, look cute. My fashion goals for this trip were inspired by a mix of I Dream of Jeannie and Princess Jasmine.
I was going for my honeymoon; 10 days in Rajasthan staying at the Oberoi Resorts in Agra, Jaipur, and Udaipur. After hours of deliberation, I ended up with a suitcase resembling a Thanksgiving turkey, only to get there and realize that I had packed all wrong.
When I researched, I read and heard a lot of conflicting things about appropriate clothing and how it differed depending on where you were (temple, market, hotel). I panicked, thinking my ankles couldn't show, convincing Josh his shoulders and feet had to be covered at all times. The first day there our guide de-bunked everything. I realized with the exception of daisy dukes and body-con dresses, you can basically wear whatever you want anywhere. There are just some temples and sites where shoulders and knees should be covered.
But while you can wear western clothing, after spending one day admiring the beautiful, colorful clothing the locals wear - you won't want to. So depending on whether you’re planning to backpack or take a six-star honeymoon, you can follow these tips on what to wear, and how to pack.
How Much to Pack
My biggest piece of advice is to pack light and go on a mini shopping spree when you arrive. Bring just a few things you need from home - like dressy outfits for nights and a few lightweight dresses or rompers that are great for hot weather. And then go bananas buying everything in sight at the local market.
Shopping The Market
For $20-$40 you can buy an entire Indian wardrobe at the market. Once you see the rows of elephant-printed pants, shinny sequined bags, and beautiful, tasseled tunics - you’ll want it all. And because it's so cheap, you can have it all. I actually felt guilty paying so little for clothing. The Indian silhouettes and fabrics are made to keep you cool and comfortable. It's a vacation dream-scenario for any avid shopper and/or anyone who loves pants with elastic waistbands. Come lunch time you're be saying "bring on the samosas!"
When you're back home, you'll love lounging around the house in your harem pants, and your kurtis make the perfect swim cover-ups.
Harem or ali baba pants will cost you about $2-$4 a pair, depending on your bartering skills. Tunics or kurtis about $5-$8. You can also buy bags, pashminas, and other accessories. If you don't like the selection at the market, you can have anything custom made by the many tailors.
Clothes, saris, pajamas, curtains, tunics, bedspreads, pillows - basically anything made of fabric that you want can be custom made-to-order. You get to pick your fabrics and silhouettes and then a tailor takes your measurements and gets to work. You go back the next day to their shop for a fitting and pick up. Some places will deliver to your hotel if you don’t want to go back to their shop.
I had equal success and failure with this. My custom-made metallic-gold pajamas (yeah, I did that) fit like a dream, but the white linen pants I ordered were a complete fail even after the second fitting. But you do not pay for anything that does not fit right, so they took them back with no issues. The best scenario for a perfect fit is to bring them an item that fits well and have them copy the exact silhouette. I bought a great tunic at a famous, upscale shop called Anoki and then had the silhouette copied in other prints at a custom tailor. #winning
India is HOT. It was over 95 degrees everyday. I packed a few lightweight midi-dresses I wore the first day or two. Then, as I mentioned, I went on a harem-pant-buying spree at the market, and after that I wore a different pair everyday with a lightweight crop top, tunic, or tank and my gold sandals. I found this to be the perfect outfit to stay cool and look cute. Showing your tummy in India is totally acceptable. And don't feel like you need a six pack to do it, because you’ll see all kinds of bellies on display from the locals wearing beautiful saris.
I liked wearing harem pants rather a dress because we were sightseeing and exploring all day: riding elephants, climbing around sites, and sitting on the floor in a lot places. But a lightweight, midi-dress is a great option too.
You'll also see a a lot of locals wearing traditional Indian kurtis and leggings. You can buy these or have them made. But in my opinion, you don’t need to have shoulders covered so this outfit was a lot less comfortable in the heat.
If you keep the evening casual, you can just stay in your daywear. But if you’re having dinner at the Oberoi, or other nice hotels, you’ll want to be a little dressed up. I have never seen more extravagant hotels in all my travels, so this is the time to put on a nice dress and some pretty sandals or heels. For any evening, a lightweight dress is a great option. I usually made my look a little fancier with a silk pashmina and a some bangles.
There aren't rules for footwear, and despite what you might read - showing your feet is totally acceptable. But there are many times you'll be removing your shoes to enter a place, so I recommend flip flops or sandals that are easy to remove. You can also buy beautiful Indian slippers or leather sandals there that are adorned with jewels and pom-poms! I recommend buying a pair, because they really complete the Jasmine look. Bring sneakers shoes if you plan to workout (or just pop into the gym for the scented towels and snacks like me), and one pair of neutral heels to wear at night with a fancy dress.
A pashmina or two, a hat for the sun, and jewelry. You can bring this from home, but you can also find all of these things there. You'll see gold jewelry and bangles galore, at all price points. On Maniharon ka Rasta (otherwise known as Bangle lane) in Jaipur, I filled a box with colorful lac bangles for $5! You can buy cheap, costume jewelry on the street or go to Gem Palace for some of the most amazing jewelry in the world. Same for Pashminas. I bought a beautiful, oversized, soft grey cashmere pashmina for around $100, and a few cheap, lightweight ones for $10. You can find cheap sunglasses, totes, and hats if you'd rather not pack those things.
So when it comes to India don't panic, don't overpack, and don't be afraid to go all out when you get there and embrace the local dress and culture. The more tassels, bangles, and geni-like apparel you're wearing, the better.