What to Wear When Volunteering Abroad?

We get a lot of future volunteers calling the office with questions about what to wear when volunteering abroad. Questions like ‘what’s appropriate to wear on the projects?’ Or ‘why does it matter what we wear?’ And ‘how do I know if my clothes are appropriate?’ These are all great questions and super valid. We don’t want you guys buying clothing for your trip that then turns out to be inappropriate. However, we also can’t have you showing up to projects dressed inappropriately, no matter how well intentioned you are.

Firstly I think it’s important to tell you why we have a dress code. We’re not body-shaming puritanical prudes. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about working and living in a conservative culture and respecting it. If you don’t look professional and you are representing SLV.Global we run the risk of losing projects that are very important to us. And from our perspective, fashion is important. Just not as important as the projects you’ll be working on.

A few years ago we were asked to leave a project permanently due to a few volunteers wearing shirts with necks that were too low cut. A few peeks of cleavage saw us shooed from the premises and never allowed to return, and it’s not only us who lost out there, it was the kids. We still walk past that project most days and when they see us coming the often turn away from us because they are ashamed of us, and that hurts.

It’s important to mention that this dress code needs to be maintained while at your homestays and walking through local areas. At your weekends you are free to wear what you want, but while representing SLV.Global in the community you need to keep it conservative.

There are four simple rules you can follow to make sure you’re always dressed correctly. Please see the below for some examples of appropriate and inappropriate outfits. If you have any questions please give us a call in the office and we will be happy to help you further.

1. Look Professional

These guys are perfectly dressed for any project. For all projects volunteers are asked to wear a smart collared shirt in a neutral colour. 

2. Make sure your shoulders and legs are covered 

No naughty knees or sexy shoulders on display here. It's culturally appropriate to stay covered up. For all of your projects you’ll need to keep your ankles covered as well, so wearing full-length trousers or a full-length skirt is required

3. Keep it loose

Light, breathable fabrics are the secret to keeping cool in the 40 degree heat! The looser the better, as clingy materials are not only hot, but emphasize body shape, which is not appropriate for working at projects.

4. Check for sheerness

This lovely lady is not one of our team members, but she's certainly showing a bit more leg than is appropriate at projects. Too often our western clothes are sheer, so please hold skirts and tops up to the light to check and have eachother's backs! Don't let someone leave the house if you can see their knickers or bra.

By following these simple guidelines, you can be sure you'll always know what to wear when volunteering abroad. Specifically for the work you're doing in Sri Lanka.

Lee MLee