There is really no one right answer to this question.
India, with over 28 states and 7 Union Territories, is a country where at least 22 languages are spoken. It has become a popular destination for many across the globe, as people discover that there is more to it than snake charmers, elephants and the Taj Mahal, When it comes to the kind of clothes people of India wear, bright colors and sashaying saris may be the first thing that comes to people's minds. The fact is, there are almost as many varieties of costumes and garments as there are cultures. Indians have also been quick to adopt styles from other countries and modify their fabric and design to suit their lifestyles.
So if you are planning a visit to India, here are some of the types of clothes you're likely to find the people there wearing.
If you're at an Indian wedding, expect to see bright colors, gold-toned borders, sequins, glitter and a lot of silk. The type of clothes you see will depend on which part of the country you are in and/or the state the family hails from. At a wedding, traditional occasion or religious festival in Tamil Nadu, for example, you will probably see women clad in bright silk saris which are bordered with golden zari. Men usually opt for the traditional Dhoti - a white silk or cotton garment with a bright red or green border, that is wrapped around the waist. Little girls wear a long silk skirt, known as Pattu Pavadai with a specially tailored matching blouse. In Kerala, women wear the Mundu, which is a white or off-white garment wrapped elegantly around the chest, along with a blouse in a contrasting shade. At a Punjabi, Gujarati or Rajasthani wedding, expect to see women dressed in flashy Lehengas, Ghaghra-Cholis or Salwar Kameezes. The Lehenga and Ghaghra are slightly different versions of a long skirt and blouse combination. They are worn with a matching or coordinating blouse and a scarf or shawl (Chunni), wrapped over the shoulders, neck or head. The flair and length of the skirts, the cut and style of the blouse, the fabric, amount of decorative detailing such as embroidery and sequin or zari work are the elements that differentiate one woman's dress from another's. Dhotis, Sherwanis and Kurta-Pyjamas with decorative vests are the traditional costumes men choose to wear for festive occasions. A Sherwani is a three-piece costume with a tight-fitting pant that tapers towards the bottom, with a long shirt, usually decorated with gold thread (zari) or embroidery. This is usually worn with a shawl in a coordinating color. Men in some cultures and states wear a turban as well.
On a day-to-day basis, most Indians choose to wear clothes that reflect their lifestyle and work. Women and men in rural India, who work in farms or fields wear cotton saris and dhotis, wrapped in a manner that enables them to work comfortably for long hours under the hot sun. The style in which the sari or dhoti is worn varies from state to state. Many urban women in most parts of India made the shift from sari to the Salwar Kameez some decades ago, owing to its convenience and ease of maintenance. When it comes to convention, the Sari is still the safer choice of garment for women, if one is unsure of the dress code. Cotton, polyester, silk and a combination of various other fabrics are popular choices. Men in cities wear half or full-sleeved shirts or T-Shirts and trousers, pants or jeans. The urban youth in India dress pretty much just like the teenagers in any western country - in shorts, T-shirts, Jeans, skirts, tank tops, capris. They are quick to adopt latest fashion trends from around the world, reserving traditional Indian attire such as Saris and Dhotis for special occasions only.
Dress codes are enforced by some companies, especially those in more traditional industries such as banking or government services. Here, women may be expected to wear either Saris or Salwar Kameezes, while men may have to stick to trousers and collared shirts. With the increasing number of IT companies hiring young men and women in recent years, there has been a shift towards leniency and flexibility. Most of the new hires, who are barely out of college, prefer to wear trendier, Western outfits. While some companies don't enforce dress codes, some allocate a weekly 'Casual' or 'Business Casual Day' when employees are free to wear less conventional clothes. So, if you walked into a call center, a software firm, a bank or almost any work place in India, you would probably find a mix of semi-traditional Indian and Western outfits.
Rupa Raman writes for ModernMom, Travels, RedEnvelope and other sites on intentional parenting, volunteering, travel, careers and holistic living and has published articles for the United Way. She has over six years of writing experience. She holds a master's degree in communication from MOP Vaishnav College, Chennai, India.