Cultural Experience | Mumbai

Fashion in Mumbai – what to wear…or not.

A guide that helps you decide what to wear out and about in Mumbai.

Mumbai is as metropolitan as it gets in India. Being the commercial capital of this country, the city offers solace to people from all over India and all around the world. Nowadays, the expat community is expanding with more Korean and Europeans moving in too. Not only that, but sensibilities of the people of Mumbai have evolved and everyone is a global citizen today.

Now ‘staring’ is an old game girls are warned off in Mumbai. As crime rates skyrocket is parts of India, Mumbai is still known as one of the safest cities so here are a few things you need to decode about the men who stare: protect yourself from sexual predators, but also realize that a lot of them are not staring lecherously. They are staring because they come from families where women have always been saree-clad with their heads covered so a girl in shorts is unfamiliar and thus an object of scrutiny.

Others, the ‘old-fashioned’ people somehow think clothing can offend Indian culture. Where half our gods and demigods supposedly roamed in fragments of cloths with minimal coverage, how a bodycon dress could offend culture is questionable. However, an odd mix of people clashing their eastern and western ideologies off each other make for an interesting environment where girls may experience self-doubt when dressing in the morning.

For a non-local person to seamlessly blend in- sorry if you’re light hair makes you stand out easily- clothing can be key. Hopefully, many of you will realize that it’s not all that different.  Here is a guide that helps you decide what to wear out and about in Mumbai.

The weather in this country is more or less always hot and humid and short-shorts are not the most practical thing to don. Especially when you’re traveling by public transport or traveling long distances on foot, shorts may seem tempting but the unfavorable glances and the riding up and down of those little hotpants will keep you constantly uncomfortable and paranoid.

Everyday Mumbai

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Dress from Mango. Bag from Michael Kors.

• This is my ideal outfit for any Mumbai day for multiple reasons. A nice sleeveless shift dress from Mango that comes just above the knee is great for a hot day because it’s airy and it’s perfect for the rains because no muck will splash that high (hopefully!) but I guess on a rainy day, you could go for a color other than white just to be safe. Team it with a nice bright bag to brighten up the outfit. Also modify your footwear according to the season- where sandals in the summer and waterproof ballet flats or flip flops on a rainy day. Accessorize with a nice chunky watch of multiple bangles and ethnic earrings for the Indian touch. This outfit is appropriate for work too.

Workplace Staple

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Kurtas from Shoppers Stop.

• At first glance, these may look like slightly absurd dresses but relax, they’re not distorted versions of western clothing. These ‘tops’ are called ‘kurtas’ and are worn with churidars, which are tight fitting leggings-like bottoms that crinkle at the bottom, or with salwars, which are loose harem pant-like bottoms. Now a days, many people just wear leggings instead of churidars because they are close cousins. This is the most common outfit seen in the workplace in India, alongside trousers or jeans with shirts and tops that are modest, without the plunging necklines and overtly cropped lengths. Complete the outfit with ballet flats, sandals, wedges or block heels. Stilettos are not conducive to the office environment not only because of the possible discomfort but because most people traveling by local transport or walking the uneven roads won’t be able to do so with stilt-like heels.

 Day to Night

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Top from Mango. Ankle-length jeans .

• Whether it’s brunch, work or clubbing, this outfit is a great day to night outfit. During the day at work, throw on a cardigan or a black blazer with black flats and at night, shrug off the jacket and put on some beige stilettos and let your hair loose. In india, bodycon dresses and crop tops with bandage skirts are a rage for the high-heeled lasses who are regulars at clubs but that’s more common when people are traveling in personal chauffeur-driven cars or with cab services. When people go from home to dinner or a party and back without roaming the streets, anything goes. However, an outfit like the one above is easier for those visitors on a budget who want to spend the whole day out, exploring and discovering.

 Handy at all times

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• A huge bag is a must for a traveller in Mumbai. Except for these more-than-bare necessities, a huge bag is a plus when exploring the cheap shopping in Mumbai- just stuff everything in there and stay hands free. Not photographed here, but a water bottle is another necessity if you’re stepping out for an entire day. Keep sipping on water the whole day to avoid getting dehydrated.

Bag and contents:

• Large maroon bucket bag from Zara

• Smaller Quilted Black bag from Aldo

• Blue wallet from Charles & Keith

• Sunglasses from Mango

• BB Cream from Garnier

• Lip Shimmer from Burts Bees

• Pressed powder from MAC

• Love Etc Perfume from Bodyshop

• Hair tie, a brush

• Tissues

• Hand sanitizer (that I actually finished and disposed of earlier in the day and need to desperately replace!).

• In the evening, a colorful wallet can double up as a clutch or use a smaller black bag that you can hang at your side or across your body  so as to not carry a huge weight around and be able to carry a few things like phone, keys and lip balm.

Basically, have fun, be yourself and dress to impress because Mumbai isn’t short of it’s fashionistas but when you are commuting through densely populated public spaces, be modest in order to avoid attracting unnecessary attention. That will keep you feeling comfortable and content too. There are no real do’s and don’ts- just suggestions to make your stay in Mumbai more smooth-sailing.

Ananya Bhattacharya

New York University | 7 stories

Ananya Bhattacharya is a rising junior at New York University, double majoring in Journalism and Economics, with a minor in Creative Writing. She can't travel without a good book to read and she can't sleep without a good meal to eat (foodie alert!). Having grown up in three countries in three different continents, she can't stay put in one place for too long- an avid explorer, she documents her life, partly as journalism and partly as poetry.


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