A gentle look at uniform behaviour
published : 13 Jan 2019 at 04:25
newspaper section: News
Reports that Bangkok Christian College is allowing students to wear casual clothes once a week might seem a trivial tale, but it could cause a few ructions in Thailand. This is a country where even university students wear uniforms and any thoughts about breaking out from this conformity are frowned upon. After all, it might spark "self-expression" which will send shudders down the spine of the education establishment. The next thing they know, students even might start asking meaningful questions.
In many countries, one of the delights of leaving school and going to university is not having to wear a uniform. You suddenly have the freedom to clothe yourself in whatever way you want. There is admittedly a downside in that this allows students to display what bad taste they have and may prompt you to wonder if uniforms aren't such a bad thing after all.
Thai education authorities have also consistently been unhappy with the "inappropriate" manner in which some students wear uniforms. Not long ago there was considerable debate at one leading university over the length of skirts. According to officials, the short skirts worn by the girls were attracting the attention of male students, which one suspects was exactly what they were intended to do.
There are perhaps some good arguments against mini-skirts. The English photographer Cecil Beaton possibly had it right when discussing the merits of the said garment. He observed: "Never in the history of fashion has so little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered so badly."
He might have changed his opinion had he come to Thailand.
Who's wearing the trousers?
Uniforms aren't just confined to students in Thailand, of course. Civil servants have a whole range, depending on one's rank, and some of them look very smart too. Maybe people in Thailand, even students, simply enjoy wearing uniforms.
Female Members of Parliament in Thailand took considerable flak a few years ago for wearing trouser-suits to the House. Apparently, such outfits were deemed -- yes, you've guessed it -- "inappropriate" attire for respectable women. The lady MPs were told to stick to the "traditional" skirt, which in fact wasn't traditional at all.
Perhaps the officials should have taken note of the American writer, Dale Carnegie, who observed that "the expression a woman wears on her face is more important than the clothes she wears on her back."
Even in Western countries, it took a long time before it became acceptable for ladies to wear trousers. World War II saw the biggest breakthrough when women helping the war effort found they couldn't do their jobs properly in skirts and took to wearing trousers.
But while they gradually became acceptable leisure wear in the house, trousers still weren't regarded as smart public attire for women, According to a source in the Thai fashion industry -- Mr Daeng at Pratunam's Jonny Tailor -- the key moment came in 1970 when Bianca Perez-Mora Macias donned a trouser suit when going out with Mick Jagger. So, not for the first time, we can blame it all on the Rolling Stones.
In the US back in the 1930s, one of the individuals who pioneered the wearing of what was then regarded as "men's clothes" was a lady by the name of Edna Ferber. She had a famous exchange with playwright and writer Noel Coward. Less than impressed by seeing her in an elegant trouser suit, the Englishman observed, somewhat acidly, "Edna, you look almost like a man." To which the good lady replied, "Noel, so do you."
If the cap fits
Getting back to what one should wear as a student, I recall hating my school uniform. It included a dodgy brown blazer which had absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. The school tie was an unhappy blend of brown with blue stripes which was equally unappealing and may explain my aversion to brown clothes ever since.
In those days we also had to wear a school cap which was also brown. If we were caught not wearing it we would be subject to detention or even the "slipper''. Everyone detested these caps, because being teenagers we knew they made us look nerdy. In desperation, we would perch the caps at a cheeky angle on the back of our heads to give the impression that we were somehow "cool".
Fortunately for us schoolboys the "Swinging Sixties" arrived and conformity went out of the window -- along with the dreaded school caps.
When I was first in Thailand, for some absurd reason it was compulsory for Bangkok taxi drivers to wear hats, or more accurately caps.
Understandably, the cabbies only put the caps on when they came to traffic lights where there might be some eagle-eyed cop ready to pounce on any hatless driver brazenly disregarding the law. For most of the time, the cap was draped over the non-functioning taxi meter, which at least served a practical role as a hat stand.
In those days haggling with a taxi driver in an old Bluebird was an integral part of the daily mental challenge of surviving in Bangkok.
It either sharpened your brain or made you go stark raving mad, more likely the latter.
In that respect, nothing has changed, except these days cabbies don't have hats to hang on their meters.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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