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How Thailand fucked up my style

I knew this was going to happen…

I’ve got an important meeting and I’m not at all dressed for it.

And you can tell.

Me, the one who, a long time ago, set the example in terms of style for those around me, to the point that it made me a bit arrogant…now I’m 6 feet under.

Trousers that are too short, a shirt collar that doesn’t last the distance.

When I think back to the time when my recruiters complimented me on my outfit…Those were the good old times, when my clothes perfectly matched my image and what I wanted to communicate.

How did we ever get to taking such a huge step backwards?

About a year earlier: Landing in Thailand

I just arrived in Bangkok in Thailand.

The most touristic country in South East Asia, but I’m here for more ‘serious’ stuff. My first steps in the land of smiles are made as a student.

A few months earlier, I made the decision to finish my engineering degree in a uni in the sun.

nok air

This is a real Thai plane from Nok Air (Literally “Bird Air”)

As soon as I leave the airport, reality hits me: 85°F and a suffocating humidity. On the other hand, the pollution isn’t as bad as tourists’ accounts would allow you to think – Bangkok is a city where life is good.

How you present yourself is important in Thailand, as can be seen through the increasing numbers of luxury shopping malls (literally one next to the other) as well as the rails of dresses and accessories for sale on the pavements and all the sidewalks.

The dress codes are much less strict, though, and it’s perfectly normal to go to the top clubs in sneakers and a T-shirt.

victory point

Cheap clothes everywhere

The power of context

In Rome, do as the Romans do. The importance of context when it comes to the way you dress is crucial.

Over the course of a year, my environment had completely redefined what I considered to be dressing well.

What’s the point of wearing a really nice shirt and great jacket when everyone’s wearing a T-shirt? When your favorite clothes, your shirt and jacket become totally uncomfortable in suffocating temperatures?

The clothes that you used to wear all the time become your worst enemies.

sunshine

This picture describes quite well how you’ll feel wearing a shirt + sweater + jacket

A bit of context – what’s it all about really?

  • Every morning, a big shining sun and a gorgeous temperature accompany you to work. Sunglasses for sensitive eyes and no more than one layer of clothing at a time. Jumpers, jackets and sweaters will stay in the cupboard all year round. So outfits are always very simple.
  • The rainy season, hot and very damp, renders the use of plastic shows. Crocs or flip flops are completely justified in everyday life.
  • There’s no need to dress formally to go out. With the humidity, my smart shoes got moldy even when they were in my cupboard. (photo below)
  • On the isles, tank tops and swimming shorts are standard. At evenings on the beach, it isn’t rare to lose your flip flops (or have them pinched)
  • People prefer to travel light, or ‘how to go for weeks with 1 shirt and 2 T-shirts only’.
  • Very low-cost shopping habits. When buying a pair of jeans for a trip on a motorbike, I look for the cheapest possible; I buy something in a poor quality material in a cut that doesn’t suit me. Later, I get attached to these same jeans and wear them regularly.

moldy-shoes

The price you’ll pay in a very humid country when you don’t wear your shoes

What happened within me

By taking an objective look at the clothes I had bought in the past year, it’s obvious that I had completely reviewed all of my basic criteria for choosing clothing.

It didn’t really matter to me if the sleeves on a shirt or the turn-ups on a pair of trousers were way too short.

The quality of the cotton doesn’t matter; it’s so cheap, we’re not gonna spend too much time fussing about it.

Thom-Browne

I did wear pants that short, because… cheap and… well, I didn’t care ! (here by Thom Browne and really expensive)

Insidiously, I wasn’t buying clothes anymore but rather a low price.

Without realizing it, my standards of quality have come crashing down.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with having a well-cut shirt in a nice material.

These buys served me very well at the time but revealed themselves to be of a mediocre durability and not at all adapted to a different context.

The worst thing about all that is that I was still amongst the best-dressed on campus.

Over the course of my stay, I took a huge step back to view the importance that we accord to detail in big fashion cities such as Paris, NY, London and Milan, from a different angle. The debates of the refined artisans who tear each other to pieces on forums for the sake of a perfect number, in centimeters, for seams suddenly seemed to me to be very (very) vain.

However, even if the behavior listed above is justified in Thailand, it certainly has no place elsewhere… and this is what I would rapidly understand on my return…

chang tank top

Chang tank top, anyone?

The result: A handful of very bad habits

Bad habits, exactly the same ones that I constantly criticized before when I saw them in my friends and clients.

Habits that are hard to break. You might share some of them with me…

  • Wearing casual clothes, or sportswear cos it’s what you’ve always done, it’s comfy and everyone else does it too
  • Wearing old dirty sneakers or shapeless ‘smart’ shoes all year round cos they’re not in a bad enough state yet for you to throw them away…but you don’t make an effort to take care of them or get them repaired, either
  • Always wearing the cheapest clothes regardless of their durability or how they look
  • Never making a bit of an effort to dress better
  • Having nothing but jeans and T-shirts in your wardrobe
  • Only having one shirt or one jacket for special occasions. Feeling uncomfortable when you wear them cos they don’t fit and you’re not used to them

from scratch

My wardrobe was nothing but ruins. My friend Benoit told me :
‘Well, it seems like we’re going to have to build this up from scratch’.

The return : state of affairs

On my return, I soon realized that my notion of style was way out of tune with the place in which I was evolving. I had to react quickly to avoid joining the –already full – club of guys who dress badly or have no style.

I work in fashion but the heart of the matter isn’t there. I’ll never repeat it enough, you need to know how to dress well in your own environment.

The holidays are over, there’s a new start.

Maybe you’re going to have a change of environment, a new job, new uni, new responsibilities. Take your image seriously, now is the time.

crazy-stupid-love-jerk

My old self coaching the no-style guy I had become

Here is where it gets really tricky…

Determined to get rid of my bad habits, I realized that I was confronting total disorder.

At the moment I want to tackle things head on, I don’t know where to start. Everything seems complicated; I’m paying the price for a whole year in off-mode.

  • If I buy an item, I’ll have nothing to go with it
  • Things I have that I thought were fine are actually crap in this new context. For example, my Thai shirts look really cheap next to those of my colleagues
  • I’m not at ease in a store. Why would I want to put this on ? 
  • I’m completely lost now when it comes to looking at brands. Could that be a deal ? no idea…
  • I wonder : where people go to shop now ?
  • Everything seems expensive and nothing really appeals to me

But don’t worry!

Today, I’ve completely re-found my style. I –literally- had to go through a phase of re-education… but nothing too difficult.

In a future article, ‘Back to Basics’, I’ll give you the basic advice for ‘playing things safe’ and working from solid foundations.

PS: Stay tuned, in a week I’m going to reveal a fantastic offer that will only be valid for a few days!

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  • Passerby

    I’m just a Thai passerby. Really funny reading your article.

    Yes. Most Thais don’t dress up. They have no style (even me!) but you work in a fashion business. Don’t let this thing change you.

    Anyway, welcome back to Thailand anytime 🙂

  • TJ Nelson

    Holy Hell! So I actually developed somewhat ok style, and I am moving to Thailand in October… I’ve been trying to think of how I can still look good over there and not die and get lost in the backpacking crowd of people that dress shitty.

    Is there a way to dress good over there? Do you have a post of how to dress good and survive in Thailand?

  • Hi 🙂
    Thanks for your comment.
    Just one thing, I’m not saying that Thai people have not style or dress badly. It’s all bout circumstances.

    I would kill to travel back in Thailand this year and runaway from French cold winter.

    Nicolas, krap 😀

  • Hi TJ,

    Well I don’t have such a post right now but the two parts series on how to dress in summer should be of a great help all year round overthere.

    http://www.kinowear.com/summer-men-style-1
    http://www.kinowear.com/summer-men-style-2

    My personal advice, derived from my own experience is to keep on wearing pants as long as its bearable.

    I don’t know the purpose of your visit but if you start wearing tank tops and shorts all of the time you’ll have a very hard time to quit. Keep this habit for the islands.

    One more thing go shop in Thai mall for cheap chinos and casual shirts (Union Mall on Lad Prao road).

    Best, Nicolas.

    PS : if you’re there in time try to attend this amazing event Dynamite Circle in Bangkok. More about that at http://www.tropicalmba.com/innercircle/

  • TJ Nelson

    Hey Nicolas, thanks for the response. And actually, I’m flying out and first thing I’m doing is that event. You’re in the DC?

  • Hi TJ,

    I’m not in the DC and I wish I could join for DCBKK. Anyway I’m a big fan of Dan & Ian’s blog.
    Enjoy your time there.

    PS : Route 66 is the best club
    PS 2 : I’ll send you an email to introduce to a friend of mine who is going to be there.

  • Dan

    thanks 🙂

  • Undershirt hater

    It’s nice to see such article around here. I actually wanted this article to come up ever since I found Kinowear a couple of years ago. What you describe as “bad habits” are just “habits” in places every bit as hot and humid as Thailand, and “conventional” advices aren’t the rule in such countries.

    Some of your tips on those articles about dressing to summer are really valuable to places like Thailand, but I wonder what you would do when even those tips make yourself REALLY uncomfortable in hot weather. For instance, as much as I’d like to wear an undershirt to prevent me washing my shirts every single time I wear than, it is SO fucking hot I can’t do it. What would be a good advice considering these circumstances? Drop the shirt? Drop the undershirt and stick to washing the shirts every single time, even though they probably would wear faster? I’m all ears on this one.

  • My pleasure!
    Keep going with the portable bars, the cat furniture and above all the TMBA podcast!

  • Hi Undershirt Hater,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’ll definitely get rid off the undershirt. Yes, you’ll have to watch them almost every time. If you just put it on before hitting a party or maybe you spend most of the day under AC at home, you can probably wear it one more time.

    The thing is you should be carefull how you wash them. Laundry service is usually pretty bad as the cotton fiber is going under a lot of stress. Especially dryers are very very hot and the shirt is thrown in there with no care.

    If you can let them sink a bit before you wash them, then wash them on a “delicate” mode and later let them dry in the warm air, they’ll last twice as long.

    Nicolas

  • Voice

    Nicholas,

    Did you have a chance to head over to Indonesia? I am just amazed what this country has to offer in streetwear and value. Worth a separate post in itself!

  • Thanks a lot Voice.
    That’s a great discovery, really.
    The design is really nice. I think, it’s worth further investigation.