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What to Wear in Madagascar

To be honest, I have no idea what to wear in Madagascar, and this title may need to be changed to "what NOT to wear in Madagascar" in a few months.  We will have to wait and see.  My 22 year old daughter, Alyssa, left for the Peace Corps this week, and she will be stationed in Madagascar for the next 2 years and 3 months.  Yes, you read that right- TWO YEARS and three months!!! We are very proud of her for wanting to help make the world a better place, and for being fearless in doing so, but it will be a looooong time for Mama and Papa back home.

Not knowing anything about Madagascar, the first step in figuring out what to pack was to figure out the weather and the cultural norms.  Madagascar is a very large island off the southeastern coast of Africa.  It's very, very unique in it's ecosystem, and has many species that are not found anywhere else in the world- most famously lemurs.

Right now, it is experiencing it's rainy season, as you can see by the forecast.  So, it's hot and humid for a sizable chunk of the year. As far as cultural norms, in looking at photos of people in Madagascar, their clothing can be more traditional or more western, as a lot of clothing from western countries ends up there through humanitarian aid organizations. But if she ends up serving in a community with traditional dress, it looks like women wear a lot of bright colors and wrap around a length of fabric in various ways.

Then, there will be the limitations in which she will be able to care for clothing items.  She will not have electricity and anything that needs to be washed, will have to be washed by hand, and air dried.  She's going to be working in the area of agriculture, so she didn't want anything light colored, as that would need to be washed more frequently.  She says that sometimes Peace Corps volunteers gain weight, but sometimes they lose weight, so everything should be something that she can wear even if she changes sizes in either direction.  Another consideration for her, is that she is very fair skinned, so she also wanted clothing that would cover up her shoulders to help prevent sunburn.

So, we came up with a few guidelines to narrow it down:
1.  Fabric must be able to dry quickly.
2.  Fabric should be breathable.
3.  Loose fitting styles.
4.  Longer skirts.
5.  Bright and dark colors.
6.  No zippers that could rust.
7.  No buttons that she would need to replace if lost.
8.  An assortment of dresses, skirts, tops, and pants.
9.  Shoulder covering.

So, my first thought was Wrap skirts.  For some reason, she didn't like that idea.  Probably thought that she'd have to worry about it coming untied, which is reasonable.  My next thought was the Barcelona Dress by Textile Studios.  This is a fantastic dress pattern- it doesn't have any buttons or zippers, just pulls over the head, and is long enough to be modest.  It's only slightly fitted, so it should fit her over a range of sizes.  This pattern is a classic- I've had it for close to 10 years, and it is one that I would never want to be without. 

My Hancock fabrics had some brightly colored crinkled gauze that I thought would fit the requirements for drying quickly and being breathable, so we went with that.  Right when it was time to start sewing, I came down with a bad case of carpal tunnel, and just could not sew for weeks!.  So, she made the first dress herself!  And I think that she did a fantastic job on it.

She had so many things to do before she left, that there was no way she would have time to sew everything she wanted to take.  Luckily, I was able to start sewing again for limited periods of time, and was able to complete the rest of the items that we had planned.  And here is the second version that I made:

Don't these dresses look comfortable for a hot humid day?  And being crinkled gauze, they are super lightweight, even though there is a lot of fabric.

We added pockets to the sides, about 5" below the waist.  These pictures were taken on a very cold and windy day in Illinois, so you can see she's already a trooper to go outside for a photo shoot!

The next fabric that came to mind was linen.  I really had to sing the praises of linen to her because she doesn't like the fact that it wrinkles easily.  I said, "It's going to be breathable, odor resistant, dirt resistant and drape beautifully.  Who cares about wrinkles? "  She was finally sold when she realized that this Marimekko print that she liked was linen. We decided to make a loose fitting tunic that would be something she could wear either on cooler days, or on days when she wanted full arm protection from the sun.

It has a slight gradient effect, and I decided to put the darker near the top, as that would be the most likely place that she would spill something on herself.  See, I'm always thinking about practicality!  The pattern is McCalls 7094, which I had also made last year here.  I think that the neckline detail on this is very pretty.  The pants are from Ex-Officio and are a fantastic techno fabric that stretch and dry quickly as well.  She also picked out this cocoa colored floral twill for a pair of capris, and a cotton/lycra knit for a t-shirt.  The capris have both pockets and elastic waist.  She knows how to adjust the elastic waist if she needs to change anything.  Both are darker shades, sturdy fabric, and should hold up well.

For another option to wear with the top, she chose this rayon/lycra knit for an elastic waist skirt.  It has so many colors in it, and will go with just about any top that she has, so I think it will be something that she will wear a lot.

She is also packing an assortment of ready to wear shirts, a rain jacket, and lots and lots of underwear! And there is a list a mile long of things other than clothing that she will need.  I'm amazed that she was able to fit this all into two bags and a backpack.

Here she is ready to embrace her big adventure!  Her first 3 months will be spent in training- she has to learn the language of Malagasy, as well as many other things that she'll need to know over the next two years.  Then she will be assigned to her permanent post, which could be anywhere in the country.

If you'd like to learn more about what she plans to do in the Peace Corps, she has started her own blog, Recklessly Freckling.  It's smart and funny, just like she is! We are so, so very proud of her, and know that she is going to do great things.

I really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with practical pieces to support her in her challenge of a lifetime.  You just never know where life will take you.

Happy Sewing!



  1. What an adventure! she must be so excited. OK, I'm sure she has a lot of other emotions as well right now, but excitement must be in there. Such a commitment. A pat on her back from me please, and wishes for an incredible and gratifying experience. I do hope you and her dad get to see her before the end of her time in the corps.

  2. You have put a lot of thought and consideration into these garments Ann. They all look great and I'm sure will be more than suitable for the conditions. You must be so proud of your daughter and I wish her well as she heads off on the challenge of a lifetime.

  3. Wow, how interesting! Those dresses are great. I like the McCalls shirt too. She will probably be able to find someone locally to alter clothes if she needs to. Will check out her blog now.

  4. Total love in all the garments! I especially love the dresses and will have to check out the pattern! What a lucky daughter to have such a talented mom to sew for her!

  5. Total love in all the garments! I especially love the dresses and will have to check out the pattern! What a lucky daughter to have such a talented mom to sew for her!

  6. I think that the 2 of you chose some wonderful outfits. Easy to wear, cool, and yet quite lovely. What a wonderful adventure. Maybe you and your husband can visit for a little adventure of your own :)

    1. Thanks, Rhonda. We just might, although we have to wait and see what her assessment is of the area and how easy it is to get to. I would like to visit just to see what she is working on.

  7. I'll bet I am experiencing some of the same feelings and emotions as you. My oldest son leaves for his new job in Chile this week. He cannot come home for at least 10 months. but that is nothing compared to your daughter being in Madagascar for over 2 years. Oh my goodness! I am proud and excited for him, but have lots of mom type worries and concerns. I have helped him shop for a work wardrobe, and advised that he get rid of the man bun. How wonderful that you can help plan and sew garments for your daughter's wardrobe. She now has some fabulous, but practical garments. The Barcelona dress was a brilliant choice. And I know she will think of you when she wears these clothes.

    1. Thanks, Audrey. Ten months is a long time too! Good thing that we can sew to distract ourselves- right? I hope your son has a wonderful experience in Chile.

  8. Wow! What a brave young lady! How you will miss her and I imagine worry about her. God Bless all of you.

  9. Congratulations to your daughter for being accepted into the Peace Corps! Such an honor! And what a great wardrobe you have built for her to take with her. Now when she puts on her clothes, so far away from home, she will feel hugged by her mom.


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