“I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.”
The Rolling Stones
I will be the first to admit that I am nobody’s idea of a fashion plate. If you are looking for a Beau Brummel wanna-be, I suggest you check out what the young trend setters are decked out in at some exclusive club in New York, London or Paris. I dare say that when the sun goes down in down in Bangkok, you will find a flock or two of peacocks displaying their plumage.
While I have never been described as devastatingly handsome, I am hardly Jabba the Hut (or his Farang counterparts hanging out on Beach Road). I have never had much of a problem attracting comely young women. Did they find me appealing because of my sparking personality, because of my keen intellect, or perhaps because of my seductive phernomes? Perhaps it was a combination of all three…..or more probably the answer is none of the above….. but I think I can say with certainty that it was definitely not because I was dressed to kill.
This is not to say that I have ever looked like I just dropped off the turnip truck. I have never been a sloppy dresser. I would rather live like a hermit than go out in public like many foreigners do here in Thailand. Now, don’t think I’m being snobbish. I’m all for casual comfort, especially when on holiday. I’m certainly no slave to “name brands”. Given the climate here most of the year, shorts and a tee-shirt make perfect sense much of the time. Certainly anyone walking on the beach would look like a fool wearing a tie and jacket. By the sea side, a simple pair of swimming trunks is fine and dandy………although if you are a woman who is well “past her prime”, please do the world an enormous favor and leave your top on!
What bothers my delicate sensibilities….and I dare say a few of yours as well, is when westerners walk around off the beach wearing utterly inappropriate attire. I use the word “attire” here loosely. How anyone thinks it fine to go out for the evening wearing a dirty, smelly singlet and an equally soiled pair of shorts (and no often underwear) is beyond me. If nothing else, put on something clean if not completely hygienic, and for goodness gracious, take a shower (frequently) and use some deodorant!
Back in Farangland for casual wear, I tended to wear jeans and polo shirts. These were ordinary Levis. No fancy designer labels for me. I am obviously waaay too old and “out of date” since I fail to see why people now pay good money for shredded jeans that look they were dragged through a pig sty behind a garage truck! I suppose this is supposed to give the illusion that the wearer has actually done a day’s honest labor. Friends of mine in the UK once told me that some rich “young ladies of good breeding often had someone drag their Barbour jackets behind a Range Rover to give the thorn-proofs that “authentic country look.
Here in the Land of Smiles I still like to wear jeans and a polo shirt, and around the house you’ll often find me barefoot in a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. If I’m going out to a Thai friend’s house for dinner, or to a temple, or to a special event downtown, I’ll often put on a dress shirt and a pair of khakis.
If you don’t already know, Thais are extremely fashion conscious. Yes, I know, down on the farm in Issan, and in many market places across the land, you’ll see Thais in dirty, sweat-stained clothes, but when the work day is done, and they headed out to the local noodle shop, bar or karaoke joint, they will usually put on the most respectable clothes they have. Thai women, like every When we lived in America, my darling wife, felt compelled to browse through every damned shoe store in creation. Funnily enough, now that we are living here in Lampang, she habitually wears my sandals (my one and only pair I should mention!) around the yard, and I have to go on a minor safari to find them!
Like it or not, Thais will judge you based on your appearance…..and their first impression is often their lasting one. Now if you are simply a visitor to these jasmine-scented shores, you might not care less what anyone thinks of you, Thais or Farangs. Well, I’m not your mother, so it’s not really my place to tell you what to do. I suspect that many (too many) Farangs will do as they damned well please anyway, and resent some “goody two shoes” like Old Sawadee telling them to smarten up…or at least not be a flagrant embarrassment to their homeland. I think every guide book on the planet advised tourists to dress appropriately when visiting a Buddhist temple, and yet plenty show up with way too much skin on display.
If you actually live here in Thailand, you probably have found that people often will show you more respect if you look reasonably presentable. I am constantly amazed whenever I’m at Chiang Mai Immigration, to see men and women saunter in wearing the most hiddously inappropriate clothing (and filthy to boot!) walk up to the counter, and expect to be treated well. When you walk into the “lion’s den” of Thai officialdom in a flagrantly disrespectful manner, you are just begging for a serious “attitude adjustment”…….and believe me, the folks in uniform there are more than ready to hand one out!
Any foreigners working in Thailand know how important it is to dress professionally. For most of my working life I’ve had to wear a dress shirt and tie. Luckily, I brought a closet full of them when we moved here, so it was no big deal to find something to wear to work. I’ve also never had to wonder what shirt to put on in the morning because each day of the week has a specific color associated with it. Many of you reading this already know which day has which color, but for the sake of anyone not familiar with the system here is a chart of the weekly colors.
While these colors are not mandatory by any means, on any given Tuesday, you will see an enormous number of people wearing pink shirts. Most of the time, you’ll see me wearing a pink shirt on Tuesdays…….which is fine with me. I happen to like pink. In fact I like just about every shade of every color. My home is a testimony to the variety of paint chips that TOA has in their spinner racks. One bedroom of our house is painted deep lavender. Another is brilliant raspberry. The “library” is dark crimson. The “office” is sunflower yellow. The kitchen is two-toned, with pumpkin orange walls and yellow ceiling. My home is probably not the ideal place to be if you are recovering from a hangover! The only colors you won’t find there are black and white. I’ve lived in too many white-walled houses in the past, and apparently I am woefully “unsophisticated” to appreciate the color black….at least when it comes to home decorating.
I’m not totally indifferent to black. Hell, it’s not that my head can’t be turned by a lovely young woman wearing a little (very little) black dress….especially if the woman in question is a Thai knockout with shapes legs that go all the way to an even shapelier derriere. I guarantee you that while not staring like an orangutan in heat; she will have my undivided, if somewhat more subtle attention. I would also be a liar if I said that the sight of long silky black hair on such a woman wouldn’t get my aging ticker going pit-a-pat…..even more so if she were wearing nothing more than a few trifles of black negligee. Oh yes, under the right circumstances, black is indeed beautiful.
Somehow though, other than socks and a few tee-shirts, I’ve never seemed to but much in the way of black. This has put at a bit of a loss at school, because recently we were told to dress in black and white for the next two weeks. Why? Some member of the royal family, some cousin I was told, just passed away, and “we” are in mourning. By “we”, I’m referring to the people of Thailand. More specifically I’m referring to the Thai bureaucracy, both private and governmental. I seriously doubt that more than a few people are in fact actually grieving, but in a culture where avoiding the loss of face is paramount, no one is likely to seem as though they are ready to dance a little jig…….at least not for the required two weeks of mourning. If you just happening to be visiting Thailand right now, it just seems that half the men you see on the street look as though they are applying for a position as a waiter at an Italian restaurant and half the women are about to enter a nunnery.
Anyway, back to my current fashion dilemma. White shirts are certainly no problem. I have two white dress shirts hanging in my closet, along with two white polo shirts. Black pants are a problem though. I don’t have a single pair to my name…..and I am not going to run out and buy any……at least not to “mourn” someone I’ve never heard of, and frankly could care nothing about whatsoever. It’s all well and good to “show respect” as a courtesy, but I draw the line at having to shell out money to do so. The recent visit of the Princess to my school cost me a thousand baht out of pocket. I am not in the mood to spend more on clothing that I will never wear again. Still, showing up in khakis would not win me any “compliance point” with the administration. Among the things I do not need to hear ever again is that I “don’t understand Thai culture”.
When you are a mere cog in the Rube Goldberg-like machinery that passes for education here in Thailand, when the Powers That Be say jump, the only acceptable comment permitted is, “How high”? I, being not only a mere cog, but a Farang cog am expected to refrain from even that modest question.
Well then, how could I finesse a winning solution out of this situation? For me the answer was obvious: simply wear the closest thing I had to black trousers, that is to say navy trousers. Would it really be sooooo disrespectful? My wife didn’t think I was courting disaster. In the end I went ahead and wore them and waited to be struck by lightning or for the ground to open me up and swalllow me. Of course neither happened. In fact no one, either Thai or Farang said a word about it. Perhaps it was because quite a a few of them were also wearing navy blue instead of black! It seemed they weren’t all that eager to spend any money either.
As the days wore on, and my laundry basket filled up, I was forced to do more loads of laundry than usual to keep enough clean work clothes on hand. Outside of work I have continued to wear any damned color I please, but for school it’s been white and ersatz black every day. The one exception was my one genuine black shirt. Actually I do have a number of black tee shirts, but somehow I don’t think anyone would be pleased if I showed up wearing my Angkor Beer shirt!
A couple of years ago a Kiwi teacher I know here in Lampang gave me an authentic All Blacks polo shirt. While not an actual rugby shirt, it is very well made indeed. I had hung it in my closet where it quicly became hidden by everything else I had hanging in there. Apparently it was waiting in reserve for just the right occassion. Coming across it was quite a pleasant discovery. I wore it last Friday with a pair of trousers which were orignally a very light tan, but which over the years has faded to nearly white. In all modesty I think I looked pretty damned spiffy in that outfit. I actually received a few compliments frommy fellow Farang teachers who were delighted with my choice of apparel. Besides being made of quality soft cotton, this shirt actually fit. It’s nice to have a piece of clothing that has an acurate size. In Thailand, clothing sizes bear little relationship to what they are back in Faranglang. Generally I wear size M to L, depending on how something is cut. In Thailand many times even XXL is much too small!
Thai clothing vendors are nothing if not on the ball. A few years ago when the king’s sister, Princess Galayani passed away, racks of black clothing appeared miraculously out of thin air. Obviously they keep abreast of what’s going on and are enterprising enough not to waste any time displaying their wares. Although not privy to what clothing manufacturers and vendors are talking about, I would be surprised if they were not prepared for the sad day when his majesty the king passes away. If we Farang teachers have to wear somber colors for two weeks for a minor member of the royal family, I can only imagine what we will have to wear when the most beloved person in Thailand passes away. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were in black and white for a year. I suppose then I’ll have to break down and buy a few pairs of black trousers and a few more white shirts. For now however I’m looking forward to wearing something brighly colored again soon.....although I think I will that All Blacks shirt again in the future, perhaps when the Rugby World Cup is on this October. No doubt black will be the correct color to wear!
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