Q&A: What to Wear for Summer Volunteer Work

April 26th, 2007

Love Squared Swiss Dot Babydoll TopQ:  I am heading to East Africa this summer to volunteer.  We’ve been advised to wear shirts that cover our shoulders and skirts that are at least mid-calf length, as well as closed-toed shoes.  How can do this without looking awful?

A:  Volunteering in East Africa–what a noble thing to do.  But just because you need to cover yourself up doesn’t mean that you need to look dowdy. Here’s how to stay stylish this summer:

Short Sleeved Fitted Tops: Cover your shoulders with cute cap sleeved tops that contour your curves.  Wear these with both long skirts and pants.

Tanks over Tees: If you can’t bear to go without your camisoles and tank tops, try layering them over fitted tissue-weight t-shirts for a playful look.

Bright Colors: Spice up a simple outfit with a burst of color.  Bright yellow and cobalt blue, in particular, are favorites of Omiru readers.

Favorite-Fit Linen/Cotton Deck PantFull Length Skirts: Mid-calf length skirts tend to be unflattering, as they make your legs look shorter.  Wear full-length skirts in flowy fabrics instead.

Pants: Tired of skirts?  Pants are also a functional option for your volunteer work.  Look for breathable fabrics like cotton so as to not overheat.  Tip: You can wear tunics and babydoll tops over pants.

Here’s a couple of outfit ideas to get you started:

Casual Chic: Tunic + Jeans + Sneakers.

Flirty and Feminine:
Camisole + Tissue-Weight T-Shirt + Full Length Skirt + Flats.

Love Squared Swiss Dot Babydoll Top | $26 at Nordstrom and Favorite-Fit Linen/Cotton Deck Pant | $79.50 at J Crew.

Style question?  We’ve got answers.  E-mail us at tips at omiru dot com, or leave us a comment with your question.

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Women's

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. temi  |  April 26th, 2007 at 4:13 am

    i love your idea about full figured skirts.however, i’m scared of getting one like the peasant skirts everyone wore 2 yrs ago and are so out now.could you give us an example of a really nice one?

  • 2. Trisha  |  April 26th, 2007 at 4:44 am

    Excellent point, Temi–the tiered peasant skirts of 2004/2005 are still very much Out, so do take care to find a different style of skirt.

    We’re huge fans of this Nine West Eyelet Skirt | $79 at Nordstrom.

  • 3. abs  |  April 26th, 2007 at 8:13 am

    Hi! I worked for an international relief agency for about 5 years after college- and made frequent trips to Africa including Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. I have to say, malaria is a big worry in most of those countries except for high altitude regions- find out if the mosquitoes in your area bite at night or in the daytime to help figure out what you should wear. I wore alot of linen and cotton pants and skirts. (Alot of Theory). As for skirts, they have the best frigging batik makers in East Africa, and I’m sure you can find fabric and have long skirts made for not alot of money! Have fun!

  • 4. Trisha  |  April 27th, 2007 at 12:20 am

    Great tip about the batik makers in East Africa. Thanks for sharing, abs!

  • 5. Julia  |  April 28th, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    I think they require skirts and NOT pants because pants show the female form (i.e. the bum). I would double check with those in the know about whether pants should be worn at all. Anyway, skirts are cooler in the heat and humidity.

  • 6. Alice  |  April 29th, 2007 at 7:35 am

    It sounds like you have to dress conservatively in East Africa. I would wear the shirt shown in a heartbeat if I were in the U.S. but is it wise to wear a shirt made out of a sheer fabric that “contours your curves” while in a strict muslim country?

  • 7. Trisha  |  April 30th, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Great points, Julia and Alice–I think you’re right on the pants issue. Didn’t realize just how conservative East Africa was, and I’m so glad that you helped to give an even more complete answer this reader’s question!

  • 8. Kevin  |  April 30th, 2007 at 3:47 am

    When I was in Mombasa Kenya the locals prefered to barter for things like socks than money. Take things you won’t miss and leave them there. Apparently there’s no sock factory, or the elastic is useless after one wearing. I never got a straight answer.

    And honestly, you’re better off shopping at REI or someplace like that than nordstrom if you’re going to be out of the urban areas. (Or even within them)

    Look for the hi-tech fabrics that dry quickly and don’t wrinkle. Chances are laundry facilities will suck and you’ll be handwashing clothes in your tub or sink. Stuff with built-in antimicrobial stuff woven in is even better cause it’ll help reduce the stink. And you will stink.

  • 9. La BellaDonna  |  April 30th, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Bring a hat. Bring sun block! Bring hand sanitizers. Don’t bring or wear camouflage clothing! In some parts of Africa, it’s actually illegal. If you’re traveling at all, why bring unnecessary risk on yourself? ! I would suggest foregoing the cap-sleeved shirts in favor of shirts with elbow-length sleeves. It’s possible to roll sleeves up, if you find shorter sleeves are permissible; if all you have is cap sleeves, you can’t roll them down. Remember that bright colours attract insects; some travel advisories recommend long sleeves and trousers in thick weaves to guard against the tsetse fly, which is a problem in East Africa. You may want to look for boots/ankle boots in one size larger than you’d normally wear; plan on wearing sneaker-support-inserts in them, with thick socks (remember to bring them with you while shopping for the boots!). This way, you’ll be comfortable and look good. Remember to shake your boots out before putting them on every day!

    I would say, if you still have your peasant skirts, they would certainly be appropriate to bring and wear. Most of the people whom you’re volunteering to help won’t care that they’re a whole year out of date, and you will be less traumatized if anything happens to them.

  • 10. Trisha  |  May 1st, 2007 at 4:28 am

    Kevin and LaBellaDonna, thanks for adding your two cents here, especially about the laundry and tsetse flies. Those who have had the experience of traveling to Africa are best suited to be giving advice on this topic :)

  • 11. Vicki  |  November 22nd, 2007 at 9:48 am

    My husband and I will be touring southern Africa (Capetown, Johannesburg, Rooben Island,Victoria Falls, Livingston and Thornybush Lodge game reserve). We are from the most southern area of Arizona and see that the temps in S.A. are quite cool in May…in fact, they look cold! Also, when visiting Maine last month, we were told by a lady (who was headed to Africa the next week), that every color other than the khaki’s and brown tones were not allowed.

    Has anyone heard of this clothing color rule or be able to direct me to a website that discusses this? Thank you much…vki

  • 12. Trisha  |  April 27th, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Vicki’s question is answered here:


  • 13. toe  |  March 21st, 2009 at 5:52 am

    what to wear in south east asia now?

  • 14. Lee  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 6:11 am

    Don’t forget to load on the sunscreen! I was visiting India last summer and a friend let me in on a sun screen pill by the name of Heliocare which I took once a day and protected me from the suns rays. Just a heads up if you wanna read up on it at “kiwi drug” at least you’ll have one less thing to worry about when it comes to getting your face fried

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