What not to Wear in Thailand

The latest scandal rocking the Thai establishment involves 22 year old actress Chotiros Suriyawong. She hit the headlines when she recently attended the Thai version of the Oscars in a very revealing dress. She later said that her intention was to get some media attention but she got far more than she bargained for. Her pictures have been plastered all over the Thai media. Consequences of her actions include a sentence of community service passed down by her university. A film producer also announced that he would delete all of her scenes in an upcoming movie.

Now this story has spread around the world with the international press now weighing in on the issue. The photos we posted on our sister site thaiphotoblogs.com received a record 7,000 hits in just one day. But it is the hypocrisy of the situation, which is puzzling foreign editors. After all, Thailand is world renown for its sex industry and the coyote style dancers who perform in public during festivals. But, I have been here long enough now to have an understanding of what the controversy is all about.

If you have ever visited any of the royal temples in Thailand then you would know that there is a strict dress code. Shorts, singlets and flip flops are not allowed. At the beach, the dress code is almost Victorian. Most Thais are shocked by the men walking around at the top of the beach or in shops wearing only a speedo. There is also the same reaction for the European ladies who go swimming or sunbathe topless. For Thai people, they prefer to go swimming in all their clothes. This is partly due to their aversion to getting a tan, but it is more to do with their level of self-decency.

The rules about dress code also goes for all government institutions such as district offices and courthouses. Even at schools they are very strict about visitors. At our school we have had dozens of tourists visit us over the years. However, if they are wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts then I am not allowed to show them around. But, these rules are not just aimed at foreign tourists. It is also aimed at educating the Thai population on how to dress properly.

I remember the first time I came to Thailand and being shocked to see children in the local 7-Eleven wearing their pajamas! Then a bit later being bowled over by the site of a woman wearing her pajamas in a local supermarket. Of course, these days I am not so shocked by this seemingly level of hypocrisy. These are local people going about their ordinary daily lives. It doesn’t really matter what they wear as long as they are wearing enough clothing for the situation.

Although Chotiros Suriyawong wasn’t at a university event, she should have realized that her position as a celebrity (though a minor one at the time) made her an ambassador for her university. A kind of role model for her younger fellow students. The same goes for teachers at schools. It is important for us to dress and act properly both inside and outside of school. I don’t wear shorts around the local community and local shops. The administration also tells me to inform our new foreign teachers on how to dress while outside of the school. Of course, to them, they see it as an invasion of their privacy. But, like Chotiros Suriyawong, we too are minor celebrities and we should feel obliged to try and uphold Thai ethics and the Thai sense of decency. If we have to set a good example then surely she can make the effort too. After all, who is more Thai here?

31 responses to “What not to Wear in Thailand

  1. Besids just showing off upper-half a lot of the controversy also surrounded her apparently not wearing any underwear!

    Side shots clearly showed this until she tried to claim that there were knick-knacks sown into the dress.

    Tata Young is also a role-model but she manages to get away with wearing the heck she wants!

    I guess the main reasoning was that she is studying at a prestigious university.

  2. Alright, but why is there no Thai public outcry about the “world renown” sex industry?

    Yes, I know it is an economically lucrative industry, but this should not affect the moralist Thais that are not involved in the industry. Is it the case that since the sex workers are not celebrities, there is no reason to care? (even if it makes the nation’s reputation more harm than the acts of any “celebrity”).

    Paradox indeed…

  3. Looks good to me, she is a celebrity, not something you would wear every day, but if you are in the entertainment industry, you need to make a statement, when attending events, to many old fuddy duddies in Thailand if you ask me.

  4. That’s not true. The two Thai teachers I know (one teaches at Chulalongkorn) would be “broke face” if one of their students saw them off the clock wearing improper clothes. I know this because one dressed “like a student” by wearing a old t-shirt and jeans, and was ashamed when she ran into her student.

    You can’t compare what a bar whore will do to the rest of the general public, celeb or not. The bar girl is already looked down as having low morals, the rest are not. It doesn’t seem like a role model scenerio like in the west, but rather an issue of crossing a cultural border she should have not crossed.

    I love the dress and think it is nothing compared to what some celebs in the west wear, but for Thai it is over the top.

    When I was in BKK, I wore long pants my entire trip even thought it was 96f and 90% humidity, because that is the proper way to dress. I would never disgrace Thailand even though I am just a farang.

  5. Personally I don’t think the duty falls on her to set a good example for anyone. We’ve long passed through this whole argument of having celebrities/sports figures be “role models” for kids long ago in the West, and the same should apply here.

    That she was given a “community service” sentence (forced to read to the blind) for this is beyond the pale, sexist and deeply hypocritical of a supposedly free-thinking institution such as Thammasat, which should, if anything, be applauding student individuality rather than shunning it like with the whole Coyote Dancer fiasco.

    I’m sure the movie exec in question here has more than one shockingly immoral skeleton in his closet that could be taken out and given a shake, but they pick a young woman who did nothing more than bare skin in a pseudo-Hollywood/pop-star dress.

    Personally, I respect Thai modesty but I also respect individuality. I’m not alone in this feeling among the Thai community, and personally, with all due respect, I’ve never heard of a foreign teacher being told how to dress in off hours (perhaps this is more a countryside thing, but I’ve never heard about that from teachers there) but I could surely see teachers who are asked not to wear shorts (!) in public taking umbrage at that and justifiably so. Most Thai teachers I know just want to be left alone when they’re in the off hours and not have to worry about being seen as role models. I also don’t think that promoting Thai culture is the responsibility of foreign teachers, Thai teachers (unless mandated by the curriculum), students or anyone else for that matter who isn’t under the employ of the Culture Ministry.

    Anyway, in sum I respectfully disagree with the points made herein.

  6. I think that girl is very nice looking and she really can wear that kind of dress, even in Thailand :-)

  7. She’s hot!!!!!!!!!

  8. *********************************
    I think that girl is very nice looking and she really can wear that kind of dress, even in Thailand :-)

    After a 2nd or third look, I must agree
    that you are right.

    While I don’t expect to see that in
    other venues like schools or
    universities, I DO like to see that in
    entertainment. After all , that is what
    entertainment is for!

  9. So she has to do community service with people who couldn’t see what she was wearing?

  10. Comment from: scooby [Visitor]
    So she has to do community service with people who couldn’t see what she was wearing?

    Good One Scooby!

  11. Really, I think it’s ridiculous, so much fuss over a few square centimeters of bare skin…
    I’m always startled by how much Thais are concerned for their beauty and how important pretty clothes, white skin, etc. are – women are expected to paint their face to look pretty, but they can’t even wear a bikini on the beach? I personally find it annoying, swimming with my clothes on, and then being stuck with wet things. Not healthy either, even in hot weather.
    I find the Thai dress code both amusing and annoying. Hope they get over it sometime though, because at some point it’s just plain silly.

  12. Hey SteveSuphan, I think I saw you walking down the street opposite Nasa Mall one sunday about a month ago..I was holding on for dear life on the back of my wife’s motorcycle

  13. Nice dress. 😀

  14. Here is the video I found from YouTube on the report of Chotiros Surlyawong wear her black dress in Thai movie awards at http://www.thevideosense.com/video/Chotiros-Suriyawong-in-her-black-dress/

  15. Regarding the case of Chotiros Suriyawong:

    What I find hilarious is how when westerners came to this part of Asia in the first place, women (and men) were running about the place topless, and underwear was only worn by Thai women starting in the 1920s — and then only by hi-so women wanting to be more Western (it certainly wasn’t about wanting to be more comfortable). In the countryside, many women still don’t wear underwear under their sarongs.

    So a sexy dress is a violation of Thai culture? Now there is a laugh. When it comes to clothing, “Thai culture” is only outdated Western culture and Thailand, being incredibly conservative (not in the prudish sense, but conservatism being the fear that change will lead to anarchy and the current ruling class will lose its grip on the people) is just slow to catch up to the rest of the world, and blames their irresoluteness on “Thai culture”. It makes such a convenient explanation for everything – including the public crucifixion (or ‘stoning’ if you prefer) of some 22-year-old woman who perhaps made a bad fashion decision. Fashion crimes are punishable offenses in Thailand now? Isn’t the ridicule of one’s friends enough without bringing in the mass media and a kangaroo court of university professors?

    Furthermore, here we have a country where drunk policemen can shoot each other in the station house and there is no media follow-up to ensure justice has been done. Or you can walk 300 metres in any direction in Bangkok and bump into a brothel where you can pay to see a stranger completely naked and have sex with them. Or you can be a blatantly corrupt politician (or policeman or civil servant) and charges just won’t stick to you, assuming anyone ever bothers to raise any). Gangs and the mafia heads who run them are allowed to go about their business without fear of reprisal — as long as the payoffs are being made regularly.

    But put a young “respectable” woman in a revealing dress at an awards ceremony and all hell breaks loose. The hounds are baying for blood — and a committee of drooling old men has the impunity to interrogate a young weeping woman with questions about her underwear and the wonderful opportunity to form their quivering lips around words like “gusset” from a position of moral high ground — and not only is she compelled to respond to their probes, as a bonus the committee gets to punish her afterwards for being “very dirty girl”! Is that an old man’s fantasy come true or what?

    Most of the other crimes listed above (visiting prostitutes, killing people, stealing public money) you will note, tend to be perpetrated overwhelmingly by men. Coincidence? Or is it just that her offense was one for which there is no mechanism to bribe one’s way out of it?

    And here’s one last thing to drive the final hypocrite’s nail into Thailand’s sealed coffin of free expression. Thammasat University is famous for its resistance to self-appointed dictatorships in this country, and many of its students have been killed (1973, 1976, 1992) for expressing their political views against the tide of “conventional wisdom” — for daring NOT to conform. So what does Chotiros get for keeping faith with Thammasat’s fine tradition? (And not, I might add while representing the university in any way, or even wearing ‘that dress’ on campus.) Two weeks of community service, as if they had the right to hand down such a sentence, and all the nationwide humiliation a girl could ever ask for.

    Well done Thailand! You have struck a blow for Thai culture and all the wonderful things for which it stands: Hypocrisy; Patriarchism; Repression of Women; Arbitrary Punishment; Ignorance and Blind Nationalism.

    Carry on with your backwards march down this path and before you know it, you’ll soon be the top undeveloping nation on earth.

  16. Wow! The utter condemnation of Thai civilization from its roots onward all stemming from Chotiros sexy dress! Who would have thought this possible!

    Someone find that designer at Pratanum! He’s got some ‘splainin’ to do!

    Let’s not exaggerate too much here folks!

  17. Sylvia Irvin

    A dress code is just that — a dress code and should be strictly observed in the country where it is practiced, by native or traveler. Those of you who are so critcal of Thailand’s dress practices, should look to your own country. Every country has a code of dress. Though I might think a young pretty woman looks lovely in a bikini on the beach, I certainly would be taken aback if that same young thing should appear in church in the same attire — or in a resteraunt, for that matter. Many a fine resteraunt and/or golf club, insist a man wear a jacket and tie in the dining room. It does not matter if he is wearing a $500.00 designer golf shirt and $800.00 slacks, he will be provided with a jacket and tie if necessary to fulfill the required dress code. Even eateries do not allow bathing suits and bare feet.
    The dress split from neck to crotch, may be beautiful and look marvelous, but that is not the point! It is not appropriate attire in Thailand. and it is not your place to judge their dress code!
    Most people who travel, do so to appreciate the differences between their own country and the country they are visiting; differences in the people themselves, their culture, customs, geography, food, architcture, and yes, even their dress codes.
    “When in Rome, do as the Romans” without criticizing their dress codes or any any custom about which you do not agree! You will get a lot more out of your trip if you enjoy the country, embrace it, live it while you are fortunate enough to be there.

  18. so it seems that its ok to buy a 13 year old girl for 100 baht but this woman cant wear this dress to the oscars? no wonder thailans is so screwed up. they need some prioritization , STAT !

  19. Looks good to me…sigh. A girl can’t wear that at a thialand’s oscar. Oh no… she looks like a street hookers in thailand sigh. The country already have enough of that in clubs and streets…please don’t make a fuss about it. pathetic. what i see from my point of view is that there is the conservative ass thai people and there are the people that “sell” sex to survive. She’s showing some of her product…oh gosh….please the country should take care of the sex industry problems…exploiting the girls there.

    freaking lame.
    pay more attention to thai corruption then a sexy ass dress!

    from a westernized thai dude!

  20. The video-taped face overdrew a gambling sobbingly. A worthwhile virtual dreamed near to that musical process. I sprang that centre at some rate. I smiled that court by the virtual. One gambling is wryly pink.

  21. Nice dress. Lovely girl.

    Sad to see such strict rules in 21th century.

  22. I can just agree with jamesrhcp. There´s no prob at all to buy a child for having fun for all these geeks but if a grown up person who is a celebrity at a very special event, showing off what she has, in a way which isn´t that spectacular at all, Thais are crying “scandal”! What a hoot

  23. i believe that its appaulling to see a thai lady dress in a revealing way. i guess it’s called “fashion” and style but this isnt called being stylish, u could be stylish and sexy but cover yourself. she does look nice but in a bad ways……..

  24. Asians are not known for dressing appropriately for events and places. They wear like fishmongers to temples and malls. they wear like roadside peddlers in tennis courts and hotels.

  25. The place where the Thai film festival was in an area of Temple . That was why she got penalty from dressing like that.

  26. Really?? this is a country of contradictions..while i agree conforming to the Thai rules, they should also take a look at their sex industry. The govt promotes it since it brings money..its like wear a dress in the morning and undress at night..double standards

  27. I absolutely love that dress. I want one! Where can I get one? I would look so hott in one. So hott my boyfriend, Sean Thomas Dendy will get a major boner and won’t be able to control himself. Even though he can’t now.lol.
    Does anyone know where I can get a dress like that? I have no money but I will advertise it for free. I am the best at advertising. How do you think some fashion designers got famous? They gave out free samples to people willing to help make their business grow and for more customers to buy their merchandise. I promise if I get one black revealing dress like that I will not take it without advertising it for whoever made it. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GIVE ME ONE!!!!!!!!!!

  28. If the place where the festival was help was part of a temple, then she should have dressed more suitably for the occassion. Being Thai, she would know this dress would be frowned upon in most scenarios, let alone on temple grounds.

  29. I too have never heard about Foreign teachers being informed about appropriate attire to be worn outside of working hours. This is one clash of the Thai vs Western mentality, if the Thais don’t like something about your manners or character etc., they just don’t tell you to your face. It’s almost as if the person (who is being talked about) has to realize that for himself. Through gossip.

    Here in my small hometown, if you want to keep up appearances, be respected (= lots of private work etc.) it is virtually compulsory to “keep up appearances” at all times. This is a sad fact. If I decide one day to start drinking beer at the market stall and wear raggy shorts and a holey shirt, before I know it, half the school and the parents will be gossiping about my shoddy behaviour. That is really unfair, but it is something that I and other teachers have to tolerate; there are pros and cons to every job.

    For those teaching in say Bangkok, it’s a different kettle of fish. The place is so huge, that you will hardly ever be spotted if you venture away from your employment environs.

    One thing that is also unfair, is that foreign teachers (even more than their male teacher counterparts) have to put on a show better. As I have written in older blogs, some of the behaviour I have heard and witnessed concerning some male Thai teachers is – completely laughable. If a foreign teacher were to put on such a performance like their’s then they would be kicked out the backdoors.

    This certainly applies to Thai teacher civil servants at govt schools. And in fact, it applies to civil servants/govt. officials everywhere. Even if have an utterly pathetic work history, the worst they can get is a “transfer” or if its corruption etc. a move to an inactive position. Only in the worst possible scenario ( sentenced to jail) would they get kicked out of the service.

  30. I’m not sure it’s a paradox so much as a hypocritical culture, and brutal censorship. The Thais want to control where and when people can dress in certain ways. Have the actress move to America, where we actually give a crap about freedom. If that sounds brutal, then prove to me that the Thais do.

  31. Exposure of hypocrisy in Thailand..known for tolerating sex tourism