2012 Fall Cambriae Bates External Programs Thailand

Dress To Impress, Sometimes More is Less

Life is always a surprise. Even after tons of research, years of experience and wisdom, and comprising  many opinions what is expected still may not be what happens.

My life in Thailand has shocked me. I had devised a blueprint before I came here, and I had a set picture in my mind of how Thailand would be; happy to say that I would not make a good architect. I have been surprised by more than one thing on this journey.  When I came to Thailand my goal was to be so modest and conservative. I kept getting advice to blend in with the locals, cover my shoulders, don’t wear nice jewelry (or you’ll get robbed), wear skirts that cover your knees, and always guard your purse. This advice was given to prevent me from looking like a target in a “developing country” which to some people means third world country. But the truth is that Thailand is the second wealthiest country in Southeast Asia and compared to many poor countries Thailand is doing very well.

One thing I learned while being here is that to blend in with the locals means to dress nice, not to look modest. Thais care about aesthetics and appearance. A large portion of their government budget actually goes to the landscaping and aesthetics of the country (This is over 50%). Thais care about the way things look, including themselves. I know so many Thais that won’t get dressed until they iron their clothes, and when I see Thai women in the streets they are wearing heals, cute mini dresses, and heavy makeup. The first night I went out to a club here I felt so out of place. I was in jeans and a t-shirt because I left all of my club outfits in America. Even though my club outfits were modest by club standards, I thought that they would be a bit risqué by Thai standards. I was wrong about this and found myself very upset when I realized that many of my cute outfits did not have to be left behind. When Thai women go out for the night they go out in skimpy skirts, belly shirts, platform heels, tight dresses, and they make sure to look glamorous; when Thai women go out, they go out the same as American women.

A one point the culture was very conservative, but at one point American culture was very conservative as well. Just as America progressed and the younger generations began to change, Thailand progressed and the younger generations began to change here as well. Another example of this is how at one point public displays of affection were unheard of. A couple would never hold hands or kiss in public in previous generations, but now it is common to see young Thai couples holding hands as they walk through the mall.

Even when it comes to school uniforms, Thais have drifted from their conservative ways. I was told to wear modest length skirts, and yet every day I walk by Thai girls wearing skirts that stop right below their bum. When walking up the steps some Thai girls have to place a book behind them so they won’t flash everyone who is following.

The conservative aspects of Thailand only exist when entering temples, and in villages they tend to dress more modest because there aren’t many scenes that call for high heels and booty shorts. But this is the same thing that is found in America. I would never walk into a church or mosque letting all of the goodies God gave me hang out. I would dress for the occasion. It is a bit ironic too that when I go shopping here and I look for a dress or skirt that reaches mid-thigh length I can only find things shorter. Thai women are more revealing than me, and yet I was warned to not show too much skin. Surprise, Surprise!!

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