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I'm going to be traveling in India for the first time alone in the near future and I'm excited to explore, but I've also seen a few questions here/articles suggesting that women should be somewhat cautious while doing so.

Some of the advice people give is to dress modestly, but most of it doesn't apply to how I usually present - I have very short hair and dress in somewhat masculine clothing at home. Would kicking that up a notch while I travel be more likely to get people to leave me alone, or make them more hostile because it's odd?

If it's relevant, I'll be mostly in Hyderabad, but I'm hoping to take a few days' trip to somewhere nearby.

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As an obvious non-Indian, you will stick out either way, and however you dress, will stick out too. Otherwise, they typically consider all western habits different (or even strange, depending on how far off the beaten path you go), and probably will not even realize that you are not fitting any western norm perfectly (and if they do, they wouldn’t ever mention it).

I am travelling there often with female colleagues who wear pants and have short hair, and I didn’t have the impression that anybody ever even realized.

It can be dangerous to dress as a woman in shorts, deep-cut blouses, or other wear that a rather conservative dressing community would consider ‘sexually attractive’; again, that depends on where you go. In typical business environments, nothing would happen. Common courtesy and sense should dictate to not do that, similar as you would not walk in a church in the US in a bikini - it’s not illegal, but it’s asking for trouble.

Generally, people are very friendly and embrace visitors, they are curious, and very nice and indirect with critique. I don’t think you need to be afraid of anything related to your outfits.

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    Cool, so it sounds like from what you're saying dressing boyishly won't really help with street harassment, because anything I wear will seem odd, but it won't make it worse either. – RSid Dec 28 '17 at 14:35
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For posterity, during the trip I only received maybe 1 catcall in 2 weeks, though I can't say for sure whether that had anything to do with how I dressed. Also people were certainly right that visibly foreign people stand out no matter how they dress. However, I don't think the prior answers fully captured the other part of my question about how a gender-non-conforming woman would be received.

No one was was actively hostile, but in Delhi and Hyderabad most buildings have security checkpoints that are split between men and women. You will almost always get a pat-down at them by a guard of the gender you present. People tried to send me to the men's line or questioned why I was in the women's line at all of them, and often got flustered or frustrated when they realized their mistake. People also frequently try to hail you over to shops or tuktuks or what have you by gender ('hi sir/ma'am'), and this can lead to some awkward interactions once your gender is clarified.

I never felt unsafe, but many people I hung out with while here asked why my hair was short, why I dressed the way I did, or generally expressed some discomfort with my gender presentation. It wasn't enough stress that I'd recommend anyone changing how they dress if it's important to them, but if your primary goal is to not get a lot of attention, dressing more boyishly is probably not the way to go about it.

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India and especially Hyderabad is a conservative city, but you will find an interesting mix of modern and positively ancient in most cities. However, dressing boyishly will not really raise hackles or draw undue attention which I think is the core of your question.

Otherwise for the most part no one will be critical of your clothing choice. People are generally welcoming and will go out of their way to be nice and helpful. Most places, even far flung areas are used to seeing tourists, so no issues there.

The articles on women safety that you refer to are useful and should be kept in mind. Generally try to have company with you or if you are travelling solo then try to be in safe places. There are many places where you can be by yourself and be safe at all times. E.g. Auroville near Pondicherry is one such place.

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