LiBeL Column

Dress Code

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Entering into the dangerous world of fashion

If you’re reading this on the bus or sitting in McDonald’s take a look around you. You can see a mix of tourists, locals, and fellow English teachers. Hang on, how do you know they’re English teachers? Easy. They stand out a mile. It’s a popular myth amongst teachers that you can somehow disguise yourself. You can’t.

Teachers come in all different shapes, forms and sizes but, no matter what, they always stand out. Whether it be in the queue at the bus stop, the supermarket checkout or for the toilets in the Thermae. At this point I must apologise for this insinuation. Of course there is no way that anyone would ever queue in Thailand. I should replace ‘queue’ with ‘loiter around’. If you’re the type who’s adamant they would never loiter around the toilets in Thermae you should try it sometime – so I’ve been told.

“What fashion trends do you see emerging in 2001?” is a question that I’ve never been asked, not being much of a style guru myself. However, hypothetically, if I were asked it then I’d reply something like this:

The bottom line is that there aren’t going to be any new innovations or daring fashion statements in the halls of academia in Bangkok. White shirts and dark blue shirts are still in, for the 53rd straight year. There are some variations on this theme so join me as I make some observations on the various uncoordinated styles seen on the backs of teachers trawling the streets of Bangkok.

‘Off the plane and into a school’. The start of your teaching career. You must realise that first impressions count. So, why the hell don’t you make a bit more of an effort? I didn’t realise there was such a thing as fake leather shoes until I saw teachers from British American. I know newbies often have a lot to take in when they first arrive and, therefore, can’t be blamed for thinking that decent shirt costs over 3,000 Baht each. This is the only explanation that I can think of for the fact that this classification of educators only possess one shirt which, although regularly aired, only comes into to contact with soap powder once a week.

‘Thailand’s for me’ After the initial acclimatization period many language facilitators will decide to leave Thailand for greener (better paying) pastures. Those who decide to stay must now take the plunge and invest in some new threads. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Pratunam you go. Providing you’re of average size then you can get hold of a half-decent outfit here. Fake Polo shirts abound and they’ll last at least several months. You’re a bit more savvy now, having had some bad experiences with your plastic Bata shoes. Sure they were cheap but, after a few weeks of wear and tear, you’d been forced to alter their composition from 100% plastic to 60% plastic and 40% superglue. In addition you were getting a bit sick of having your socks meld to the inside of your shoes during hot weather.

Another accessory that gets the heave-ho is the ubiquitous carrier bag. Until now you deemed it perfectly acceptable to carry textbooks in a translucent Tops supermarket bag. “No-one will ever know I’m a teacher. They’ll assume I’m an expat who’s just been shopping”, you misguidedly think. Face facts, it’s now time to invest in a briefcase. You head up to Central to check out the luggage department, you cast your eye over the veritable baggage buffet laid out in front of you.

A brushed aluminium executive attache case for ‘today’s jet-setting manager on the move’ catches your eye. Then, reality, in the form of the price tag, rears its ugly head. 5,500 Baht!!! “Excuse me” your head turns to the pile of fabric wannabe briefcases. You know the kind, the ones carried by low ranking office clerks and are barely large enough to hold half a dozen sheets of A4. “How much are they?” “350 baht.” Sold. You walk out promising yourself that when you get a pay rise you’ll be back for the brushed aluminium beauty.

‘The sharp dressed man’. Someone who makes a bit of an effort. You’ve been in town a while and know the importance of having either a maid or girlfriend who can iron well. Bonus style points are scored in both the co-ordination and pleat/crease stakes.

At this stage in the evolution from teacher to fully fledged expat, attitudes towards farangs wearing shorts also change from “Good idea when it’s 35C” to “Bloody tourists”. Also noticeable is the lack of fake designer gear. Shirts are usually bought from department stores, albeit plucked from the 40-60% off bargain bin. In some, extreme, cases a disgusting, paisley Jim Thompson tie is thrown into the mix. “A present from a student”, you proudly quip when the words ‘waste of money’ are bandied around the teachers room by colleagues. Let’s hope they believe you and that you weren’t really stupid enough to blow 700 Baht on a tie.

Next week . . . Out and proud. Why do some teachers insist on wearing their ‘First Training’ ID cards in crowded go-go bars? Are they hoping to offer or receive ‘First Training’?