Choosing what clothing I would bring to Swaziland was difficult. There are so many unknowns about the weather, clothing styles, and attitudes toward females wearing pants that depend on your family and/or your community.
Of course, I had consulted many lists from other Peace Corps blogs and Peace Corps Swaziland provided a very last-minute list from the group of Volunteers that arrived in 2015, but I still did not know what I would need.
I started organizing my clothes by dividing my closet into what I would like to take and what I knew I would not need. This was at least twice as much clothes as I ultimately brought. I spent hours searching for maxi skirts without slits, which I had never worn before, and matching them to tops because I needed to be able to mix and match.
I did not want to spend too much money on anything I bought because the piece of clothing would most likely be destroyed in two years, but it also needed to be durable enough to last those two years. I had many durable selections from Eddie Bauer already in my clothing collection, and I found good items at Nordstrom Rack (huge selection online and you can search by skirt length), Kohl’s, JCPenney, Old Navy, and Target.
My advice is to prepare to be extremely modest and you will learn with time what is acceptable at home and in your community. This means shirts with sleeves and long skirts or dresses for women and shirts with sleeves and dress pants for men.
My dress style has evolved to include many cardigans, and they will be very important to provide arm coverage when needed or when Make wants you to be protected from the sun when it is 90*. Long-sleeve cardigans were great for our training period when it was cold outside and inside, but now I am wishing I had brought short-sleeve cardigans as well, to cover my shoulders when needed but also attempt to be less sweaty than I am with long-sleeves. (Thanks, Mom, for finding some for me!)
Pants are complicated. The young-adult females in my training family always wore pants. The only pants I had brought with me were my yoga pants (bring yoga pants/leggings in all lengths for wearing under skirts or relaxing!) and capris. My Make and other family members would laugh at me when I would show some leg with either the capris or knee-length skirts, but they were not being mean, and I was definitely allowed to wear the pants and knee-length skirts. We had “jeans days” during PST, so it would have been nice to have jeans to wear.
At my permanent home, my Babe is a member of the traditional council, so my household is more traditional than others. Females should not wear pants, but my younger bosisi are allowed to wear short skirts. I have worn pants at home when cold or when traveling somewhere, but they are not part of my regular wear and I still have not worn my jeans. I have worn shorts on hot days, and anytime I go outside, I wrap a lihiya, or piece of traditional fabric, over my shorts to be better covered up or put on a skirt. Babe liked that I was wearing a lihiya but I received further questions from Make. I revealed to her that I was covering up my shorts and I could not decipher her reaction.
Additionally, my bosisi are not allowed to wear nail polish, which is something I contemplated bringing and am glad I did not. If I ever decide I need to paint my toenails, nail polish is available in Swaziland.
On the other hand, wearing a traditional outfit that shows lots of skin is perfectly acceptable any time of year and is an excellent outfit choice for PCVs because Swazis of all ages get so excited to see us traditionally dressed. Men and unmarried women wear more or less the same fabric pieces but tied on different sides. Married women have a much more complicated outfit. The traditional outfit leaves one shoulder bare, along with the lower legs and a part of the upper leg on the side the lower fabric is tied. At Umhlanga, I was scolded for holding the bottom fabric closed.
I know that I could push my Babe’s rules if I so desired because even though I am a liked family member, I am also seen as a guest with more leniency. I plan on living happily with this family for two years and I want to live as much like them as possible, particularly in my current Peace Corps stage of Integration.
Finally, my clothing list.
- Lightweight Patagonia puffy
- Rain coat
- Lightweight water-resistant jacket from Eddie Bauer
- 1 thick scarf
- 1 thin scarf
- Straw fedora from San Diego Hat Company (I am so glad I brought this even though I had to pay it special care while flying. Absolutely worth it to bring a good hat.)
- Lightweight ball cap
- Winter headband (I have worn this inside on the coldest days.)
- Winter hat (Have not used yet)
- Long-sleeve shirt and flannel pants
- Short-sleeve shirt and light pants
- Short-sleeve shirt and shorts
- Slippers (So happy to have these. I am wearing them right now.)
- Plastic flip flops for hostel showers
- Regular flip flops for my inside shoes (Floors here are usually concrete.)
- Hiking shoes
- Asics sneakers (I wear these almost every day for all long walks.)
- Teva Hurricane XLT sandals (My homestead and shorter walks shoes. Teva also has a great pro deal for PCVS!)
- Teva sandals that are a bit dressier (These were my dress shoes for PST.)
- Brown flats (I had these mailed. I will not wear them on long walks, but take them with me when needed.)
- 1 bottom
- 1 tankini top (I know of a couple pools in Swaziland, and it would be inappropriate to be less covered than this.)
- 1 bikini top
- 1 business dress (I wore this to a special event at the Embassy and it would have been appropriate for swearing in. It is dry-clean only, of which there happens to be a dry cleaner in my closest shopping town and I also saw one in Manzini.)
- 1 maxi dress
- 3 knee-length dresses (If the dress or skirt does not come to your knee when sitting down, I think it is too short for Swaziland.)
- 1 business skirt
- 4 knee-length skirts
- 7 maxi skirts
Pants and shorts
- 1 jeans
- 1 capris
- 3 khaki shorts
- 1 exercise shorts
- 1 long yoga pants (I could wear these at my training home but should not at my permanent site.)
- 1 capris yoga pants (I wear under skirts or dresses.)
- 1 bike shorts (I wear under skirts or dresses. These are perfect for wearing under the traditional dress.)
- 1 hiking pants from Eddie Bauer that are water-resistent
- 1 quarter-zip pullover from Target’s C9 brand (These are my favorite lightweight layers.)
- 4 long-sleeve cardigans
- 1 elbow-length cardigan
- 1 blazer that was mailed to me (Swazis dress nice and often put us to shame.)
- *I wish I had brought a hoodie. I will likely look for one at the used clothing markets. Oddly enough, one of my bobhuti at my training family had a hoodie from an Ohio fastpitch softball team.
- 6 narrow-width (Great for wearing under cardigans.)
- 3 shoulder-width (These are shopping-town acceptable and I could wear them at home. They are not office or school acceptable.)
- 3 sleeveless (Same as tank tops above.)
- 3 button-down short sleeves
- 2 elbow length
- 2 button-down long sleeves
Less-fancy/Casual shirts (These are essential because who wants to do chores at home in dress clothes, especially when you spend most of your time at home sitting on a mat on the floor. These are also great for traveling to other volunteers in Swaziland or for leaving the country. Everything I brought has been Make-approved.)
- 7 short sleeves (One is a wrinkle-free, quick dry shirt from Eddie Bauer that I love.)
- 1 long sleeve (It is regularly cold enough that I could have brought a second.)
- 1 long-sleeve button down (Also a wrinkle-free, quick dry shirt from Eddie Bauer. It stays cool enough that I can wear this to be totally covered on the hottest days.)
The most casual of my shirts
- 2 tank tops
- 1 wicking shirt from Marmot (It is super soft and great for hot days at home.)
- 1 regular t-shirt that sports my Utah and mountains love
- 1 regular t-shirt from Peace Corps I was given at Staging
- 4 regular bras
- 1 strapless bra
- 9 sports bras
- 36 pairs of underwear (I was happy I had about half of these with me during PST but wished I had all of them. Washing underwear was complicated because of my living situation. It is not now, so I could have made do with less.)
Socks and tights
- 2 compression socks (Great for the 15 hours on the plane.)
- 2 black footless tights (Great for added warmth in the winter. They are available here.)
- 2 pairs socks to wear with dress shoes
- 1 tall ski sock (Yes, I plan to ski in Lesotho next winter!)
- 4 calf-length heavy-duty Smartwool socks (Check backcountry.com or Sierra Trading Post for these at a reduced price. I wore them every night during PST for sleeping and have worn them once or twice a week at my permanent site.)
- 1 ankle-length hiking sock from Smartwool
- 4 calf-length regular socks (4 pairs was not necessary.)
- 9 short socks I wear with sneakers
Of all the items mentioned above, I only purchased one pair of Teva sandals with a pro deal. I packed my clothing in pro-deal purchased bags from Eagle Creek. I had tried both of these items before I had access to a pro deal. Everything else I purchased at full price or during sales, except for a few items from Target, which is where I worked and therefore received a minimal employee discount. Most of my wardrobe comes from Eddie Bauer, which has regular and excellent sales, and makes extremely durable and professional clothes for traveling and adventuring. Finally, I have received no compensation to rave about any of these items, and of course, all opinions are my own.
It sounds like you did a great job with your research and estimation of what you needed for this trip. This post will be a great resource for others planning to do the same thing! I especially like your little disclaimer at the end. It made me smile. Thanks for the weekly updates, Alison.
You look good in traditional clothes, enjoy wearing them now as they appear to be a style that won’t work so well in the US. My “father” was a tailor and thus I had several traditional outfits from dress up to every day wear. How expensive are tailors there and do you have access to buying good cloth? The ones in town were quite inexpensive, and thus I came home with several outfits that were suitable for home, but reminded me fondly of Senegal. Unfortunately, none of them fit e now, except for one wrap around skirt.
There are traditional outfits that are more clothes-like than wraparound fabric. These are made of either a traditional, non-flashy fabric or from the modern and wild-patterned fabric that is popular in much of Africa. I don’t see too many Swazis wearing it, but that’s what I will use for any outfits and I want to make curtains from it, too. I think it comes here from Mozambique. Tailors seem reasonably priced, especially for something simpler like a skirt. I would need to go to town as well. Here, though, there’s really only one big enough city that is called “town” by the entire country.
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