Outreach360 Dress Code
Women - Professional Nicaraguan women dress very modestly. Wear pants, capris or skirts below the knee. NO SHORTS, spandex type pants, skinny jeans, tank tops, or sleeveless dresses. A one piece swimsuit always. Or you can wear a two piece with a tank top or tee-shirt. If you plan to go to the church, bring a long dress or long skirt and blouse or you may wear nice pants (including jeans with no holes etc.). Please bring two pairs of closed toed walking shoes. We will always be wearing closed toe shoes when we are out of the volunteer house in Jinotega. Please bring a light sweater and a rain jacket or umbrella.
Guys - Bring long pants/jeans and a nice polo or dress shirt. You will always be wearing long pants when out in the community. It is very very unusual to see Nicaraguan men wearing shorts. You may wear shorts when you are in the volunteer house. If you plan to go to the church, bring nice pants (including jeans with no holes etc.) and a nice polo or dress shirt. Please bring two pairs of closed toed walking shoes. We will always be wearing closed toe shoes when we are out of the volunteer house in Jinotega. Please bring a light sweater and a rain jacket or umbrella.
Tattoos and Jewelry - The areas in Nicaragua where we work are old country, conservative areas. Reputation in the areas where we work is very important. We want our volunteers to be respected as an American Peace Corps worker or local school teacher would be. Therefore, we ask that you cover any tattoos if possible, and minimize the visibility of any piercings, and minimize jewelry. We request especially that guys minimize the visibility of earrings. We thank you for going out of your way to respect the local culture in which we are working.
Nicaraguan Culture Lesson/Outreach360 Dress Code
Outreach360 has a seemingly strict and inflexible dress code. It seems contradictory to the “be flexible, fun, Caribbean, alternative break” environment we are in. Why? There are several cultural reasons that merge together that have created the Outreach360 dress code.
#1—We are Committed that our Volunteers are Respected Similar to how Local Teachers or American Peace Corps Workers are Respected
Dress is very important to Nicaraguans, much like it was in the U.S. and Canada way back in the 50’s and 60’s—when men regularly wore a suit and tie, and women dressed up to go to the market. Professionals dress very modest and proper—long pants, long sleeve shirts, collars, long skirts, etc. If they go to the bank, they dress up. If they go to a party, they dress up. Children will often attend our camps dressed in their Sunday best.
In contrast, Americans and Canadians tend to dress “sloppy” —shorts, tee-shirts, tank tops, etc. Partly because that’s our culture, partly because most Americans and Canadians in Nicaragua are on a vacation. Regardless, compared to the higher standard of dress shown by the Nicaraguans, we appear sloppily dressed.
We haven’t attempted to address the casualness of our dress—we aren’t going to ask our volunteers to wear collared shirts, shined shoes, etc. That’s too much to ask! But we are expecting our volunteers to dress more modestly—no shorts, no tank tops, etc. That simple step goes a long way in having Nicaraguans view our volunteers not as beach vacationers, but as professionals here to teach and make a difference. Much like a local teacher or American Peace Corps worker.
#2—We are Committed that our American Female Volunteers are Respected
Women have a few additional challenges in the countries where we work that our male volunteers do not:
Nicaragua is a more male dominated society. Professional women are more of a rarity here than they are in the states and provinces. They have to work hard to earn and keep the respect of others; the same is true of American and Canadian women working in the country. A modest dress is one way of keeping that respect.
Shorts—a woman’s thigh is considered a very sensually intimate area; much more so than the states or provinces.
Hollywood reputation—for much of the world, their view of American women is based on what they see on TV and in the movies—which often portray American women as promiscuous or in a sexual context. Dressing more modestly helps to fight this stereotype.
#3 - Our Sponsors Believe in Conservative Dress
Culturally, international people can not work in Nicaragua without a local “sponsor”. For example, it’s almost impossible for an American to get a local bank account without a local signing for it. As a highly visible organization, it’s necessary that Outreach360 also have a sponsor.
Why is Outreach360 so concerned about being respected in the community? Because of the strong reputation Outreach360 has developed in the areas where we work, doors are opened to us that are quite unique—being able to teach in local schools, being able to be involved in the health system, etc. This wouldn’t be possible without maintaining a high level of respect in the community. And without the respect of the community, an individual volunteer would not be effective in the classroom.
Why can’t I wear long shorts that cover my knees? We have tried to be flexible in the past to meet various volunteer’s requests and exceptions. Unfortunately, with over 3000 volunteers working with us each year, we were spending an extreme and inordinate amount of time being “fashion police” and fashion counselors. “Are these shorts long enough?” “Are these shorts professional enough? “ These board shorts are as long as capris; can I wear them?” “How come she can wear those shorts, but I can’t wear these shorts?”, etc. etc. etc. We aren’t willing to spend our time doing that; there is too much work to be done. So, no shorts.
What about when we are playing basketball, or going for a hike?
Just like making exceptions for different types of shorts, there are numerous situations where it might seem justifiable to wear shorts.
Why the Restriction on Two-Piece Bathing Suits?
American and Canadian women draw a lot of attention at the beach, especially when wearing a bikini. To the point that it has caused some very uncomfortable situations for our volunteers in the past. Taking the small step to requiring a one piece suit has significantly improved the situation.
I didn't know about the Outreach360 dress code!
We work hard to communicate the dress code to each volunteer. Typically, each volunteer receives several reminders to review the Volunteer Guide prior to the trip. And we send a copy of the Volunteer Guide Summary, including dress code, to each volunteer along with their Outreach360 tee-shirt. There should be no surprises.
Thank you for your patience with our dress code. Remember that we have volunteers working with us for months and even years at a time; they live with this dress code continuously. We hope that adapting to it for a shorter period of time will not be that challenging. We believe it will improve your volunteer experience significantly.