It is important to be dressed appropriately while teaching. And what is considered appropriate is different in different countries. (These suggestions apply to Sri Lanka and India)
For Male Volunteers
First rule – Don’t wear shorts!
It’s important to be seen as a respected member of the teaching faculty and, even if you don’t feel like a ‘teacher’ yet, it’s still a good idea to dress the part. Communities in rural Sri Lanka and India can be very conservative and, despite the heat and humidity, male teachers are expected to wear trousers (light cotton is fine) and a plain shirt. It doesn’t have to be long-sleeved, you can get away with a plain short-sleeved shirt but avoid patterns or outlandish colours. Ties are not usually required but it may be a good idea to pack one incase you are invited to any special or formal occasions while you’re overseas.
Most male teachers will be wearing black leather shoes but you’re fine wearing walking sandals (the kind with Velcro straps). Don’t wear flip-flops in class (but take them to wear in your down-time or at weekends).
For Female Volunteers
In Sri Lanka, the uniform for female teachers is the ubiquitous sari. Your hosts won’t expect you to wear a sari but the majority of female volunteers in Sri Lanka and India find themselves venturing into them after a few weeks and very quickly feel at home in them.
If a sari is not for you, don’t worry, you will be fine wearing cotton trousers, long skirts and shirts, high-cut tops or blouses. The important things to remember are that you shouldn’t show any cleavage what-so-ever; your shoulders and upper arm (and bra straps) should always be covered; skirts should cover the knee (preferably ankle length but calf length is fine).
Footwear is a fairly relaxed affair – any kind of open sandal is fine. Make-up is usually discouraged (it’s for film stars, weddings and girls from Colombo) but a small amount of discrete make up may be ok.
If you are brave enough to try wearing a sari then I’d heartily recommend that you give it a go…
Saris In Sri Lanka
there are two different styles of wearing the sari – one is called ‘Kandian‘ the other is ‘Indian‘ (or simply ‘sari‘). You will see women wearing both styles.
You can try to learn to tie your sari on your own but this will be difficult to achieve. Not because tying a sari is a particularly difficult thing to do (it isn’t), but because your host mother will be much more interested in making you look beautiful and not in the least bit interested in teaching you how to do it yourself.
If you want to cheat then it is possible to buy ‘ready made saris‘. These are in the Kandian style and are usually in two or three parts and are much easier to put on.
Jewellery is compulsory when wearing a sari. Probably a necklace, bracelet(s), earrings and brooch.
Saris In India
You can wear either a sari or churidor. Churidor is the loose trousers with the long top that comes to your waist or down to mid-thigh. It is worn with a scarf worn backwards over the shoulders.
You can buy saris and churidor cheaply when you get to your project. Your host family or teachers will probably be more than happy to take you shopping. Though don’t get too carried away. It’s a good idea to buy only one or two outfits at first so that you can try them out and see what other people are wearing. You’ll then be able to expand your wardrobe as you wish.