fashion police

Thais are some of the best groomed people in the world. I used to attribute this to individual vanity, but looking good is actually a social norm enforced with utmost facism. The result is a country where you almost never get that “do they hate eyes?” feeling familiar to anyone who has ever visited the US (outside of the big cities) or majored in engineering, but where your appearance is the subject of constant scrutiny.

There’s a carrot and a stick: venture out in sloppy work-out clothes and everyone will treat you like crap, but step out looking amazing and Thais will radiate beeming approval from a ten-miles radius. This is a not a country where your new outfit will go unnoticed.

My usual everyday wear is the hipster-girl uniform of cons, jeans and some kind of artsy t-shirt. This is clean, comfortable, and if the shirt is tight, more than enough to get flirted with on a daily basis in Montreal. Here in Bangkok, however, this makes everyone think I am a lesbian.

So whenever I wear a skirt, or some kind of really feminine attire, everyone has to comment on it. They’re relieved somehow, as if my failure to appear feminine was some kind of social offence that everyone was too polite to point out but was still making everyone uncomfortable.

I wore a skirt and a girly shirt yesterday, and everyone had something to say:

Where are you going, pretty girl?” — my security guard, the one with no teeth who normally tells me I am fat
the hoping-i’ll-get-the-hint: “Oh, you look so pretty today! Girls in skirts are so pretty!” — teacher at school
the obvious, and maybe stunned: “you are wearing a skirt!”, indie guy who makes my lime-honey smoothie in Siam Square

There is some truth to my feeling that looking good is considered a social duty in Thailand. “I don’t do it for myself”, says my friend’s Thai boyfriend about his elaborate grooming routine. “After all, it’s not like I have to look at myself. I do it because I’m showing people around me that I respect them enough to want to look good for them.”

Only you can help prevent uggoes.

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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