Friday, October 30, 2009

Dressing Conserva-THAI

So on a pretty a-typical night out among my friends here in Denver, you might catch us wearing something like this:

But if you travel to Thailand you are more likely to see this:
Ok so that's probably a little formal on the Thai end for what you might really find but I'm trying to make a point...which is that in Thailand the women are very conservative in your dress.
Forget what you may see when you google image Thai women (I know, I did this and wow, what links people won't go to when trying to be a good mail order bride) for the most part every woman I say was covered up from arms to legs no matter how hot the temp. I worried about what to bring and what to wear while in Thailand and while I usually feel I can fit in most anywhere, I definitely never felt this way there. You know the feeling that no matter what outfit you put on it just isn't quite the right one? Well that was what happened to me every day. Which I accepted and got over quickly too I might add.
Right away I knew my blond hair was going to make me stand out and scream "tourist" louder than anything else. So I bought a hat and wore my hair up most of the time. It's not like I knew I would stand out any less I just didn't want to draw any unnecessiary attention. I read up a lot about the Thai culture and what is acceptable over there and it seemed like the temples were the most strict. I told Chad he needed to probably buy a pair of long pants because shorts weren't acceptable but I thought I'd be ok in a long dress. Needless to say my spaghetti straps were a no go when I got to the temple gates, even with a wrap so I was forced to head back to the main enterance and "rent" a t-shirt. The good news is I got to pick the color and I modified it so it didn't look too terrible:

Women who weren't wearing long enough dresses (or were wearing short skirts or shorts) had to rent sarongs and men had to rent these scrub looking pants if they were wearing shorts. So I wasn't completely alone in my mistake although Chad did get a good laugh that I was dressed inappropriately. Interestingly enough the Grand Palace was the only place that really cared enough to enforce this rule as the other small out of the way temples we saw didn't say anything. Flip Flops were ok most everywhere as this is what most Thai people wear (only about 2 sizes too small I noticed) because you are constantly taking your shoes off to enter stores and palaces. I just followed the rule that if I saw shoes piled up outside a door I followed suit. Don't want to offend anyone!
The beaches of Thailand are where you might think you would have a little more leeway but down south there is a great deal more Muslim's than up north so the women are covered up head to toe. No one expects tourists to do the same but you still have to show your respect obviously. The basic principal is that if you aren't on the beach, and I mean directly laying on the beach, you better cover up. In Costa Rica we would walk around in our bathing suits with maybe shorts on and the guys would go shirtless. Well you'll feel like an idiot if you do this in Phuket or Ko Phi Phi because you would pretty much be the only one. Sunbathing topless is actually a crime over there although we did see one *brave* girl doing so on a semi-deserted beach. To each her own I guess!
So again at the beach I had the same problem of not feeling like I was dressed well enough for my surroundings. I had brought a couple of tank tops and skirts but it was just so hot walking around town with your bathing suit on plus top and bottoms. My solution became this:

Introducing the sarong aka the best invention ever. Unfortunately I didn't buy one until Phuket round 2 because they were too expensive on Ko Phi Phi. There happened to be a guy selling them on the beach in Phuket and I bargained with him for a really nice blue one with elephants on it in silver glitter which you can kind of see in this picture. For those of you who have never used one they can be tied in several different ways and worn as a skirt or dress or even as a pashmina like scarf/cover up. They are made out of a really fine material so they are light weight and dry quickly when wet. Best of all EVERYONE wears them -Tourists AND locals which means sticking out just a little bit less. Not to say I didn't feel like a total fool wearing mine in the emergency room when chad had his little head injury but what could I do?
After a few days I did own up to the fact that yes, I was American and blond and no matter how much I tried or how many people mistook us for Australians, we'd never quite fit in. The key is to observing the customs of another country and not intentionally offending anyone. I also learned that conservative doesn't necessiarly mean frumpy as the Thai women were far from it. They were all beautiful and confident without showing any skin but their faces in most cases. If only we could follow suit in America and have some more clothing options that were just as elegant and tasteful.
Of course, I would miss out on wearing shorts if it became socially taboo...and of course my blond hair!

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