Researching how to dress for international business travel

blouseWhen I go to work in the warmer months my favorite thing to wear is a dress. Dresses keep me cool and don’t require much thought beyond shoes and accessories. I talk a good game about skirts, and it’s true that skirts are more versatile, but I will choose a dress every time.

When planning my outfits for my trip to India coming up in a few weeks I immediately picked out two dresses, a pair of pants, and two shirts for my four working days. Then I started seeing reports that the minister of tourism for India had said that foreigners shouldn’t wear dresses or skirts for safety reasons.

It’s been  a couple of years since my last international business trip, and most of my international travel  has been to one place (The Philippines). The Indian tourism minister caught a lot of flack for his comments, but they really made me think. Before reading the minister’s comments, I had completely forgotten to do research on business clothing norms for my trip. As a foreign woman, especially one that is there to get work done, I don’t want my clothes to be the source of any attention. I want to blend in as much as possible and get my work done. I don’t have to express my personal style as much  as I need to be comfortable and appropriate.

Then my questions started. Can I wear short sleeves? Are jeans okay for when I’m not working? What about leggings on the airplane? To help get answers for what to pack for my trip I accessed the following resources:

Blogs and news sites. Thank goodness for the internet! With a quick Google search I had plenty of suggestions of what was considered appropriate, in general, for women traveling to India for business or fun. Short sleeves are okay, but I need to wear pants and be careful about how low-cut my tops are. Even if I’m not showing cleavage (which I don’t, ever, at work) it can still be considered too revealing. Buttons should be buttoned all the way to the top!

Travel forums. Sites like Flyertalk and Lonely Planet have pages and pages of forums devoted to what to wear in various parts of the world.

Local co-workers. Women you will be working with in the country you  are visiting can be a great resource for what is not only culturally appropriate but also appropriate in the specific office you are visiting. For example, like here in the US, there is quite a difference in what people wear when they work in finance vs. tech.

My plan is to wear dark slacks with 3/4 sleeve, high-neck blouses for work, and leggings with long tunics for the plane. Moving forward, finding out what is appropriate business attire will be something I definitely add to do on my pre-trip checklist for international business travel!

Readers, what are your resources for deciding what to wear on international trips?


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  1. Do you need tops that *ahem* cover your groin? Most of the women in South Asian countries seem to favour tunics over shirts.

  2. You might try approximating a salwar kameez while in India. 3 pieces: pants, sleeved tunic length top , shawl. I would consider leggings, longish tunic, and shawl or a long scarf. I am Indian and this is what I would do. In business, most women in India, even in the South (home of the sari) now wear salwar kameez.

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