Siam in-between: How (not) to dress and shop in Thailand

Amongst how to articles about Thailand, straight-forward and practical guidelines for everyday men’s wear (and shopping) seem under-represented. Nevertheless, walking around reveals that there is a very clear and present need for guidelines. While I might be naturally inclined to hit a sarcastic note, the pointers remain valid. The perfect compromise lies between respect for local culture and being yourself, somewhere in-between.


Thai people are generally laid back, easy-going and respectful. As a result your dress-code faux-pas will not be pointed out (unless really over-the-top, obviously) and might not necessarily result in a disadvantage. Following these guidelines might bring an advantage, ‘though … so listen carefully.

Buttons: good for shirts, bad for shorts

In general, shirts with buttons leave a good impression in Thailand. Dress shirts are a good option for nightly wear and restaurant visits, but not ideal in warmer climates. As short-sleeved button-down shirts are a big no-no just about anywhere, my preference goes to polo shirts.

Cargo and longer shorts are on the way out, anywhere. Any short significantly below the knee or with too many pockets is out.

Think local

This is where the Thai middle-class makes its appearance, again. In my opinion, the best deals are to be found in department stores and local chains, both to be found in malls. Bangkok’s Tokyu Department Store deserves a visit. Local brands that offer good value are Giordano, Mc, Jaspal, and CPS. As a reference: last week I bought 6 shorts at Giordano for about THB 4000 (about EUR 100).

Don’t be a cheapskate

While good value can be found at the JJ weekend market, and Siam Square does feature interesting local designers, it represents a minority. Don’t waste your time looking for the ultimate deal in wholesale malls such as Platinum Mall and Union Mall, especially when you’re on holiday. Trust me: what men’s wear is concerned, it’s a mirage.

Anyone can spot a fake

Don’t go there. Mah Boon Krong (MBK) in Bangkok might have a wide variety of knock-offs available, once spotted you will loose ground. The suspicion of fakes is growing so quickly, that several middle-class Thai I know avoid buying brand-name products in Thai stores when they can, and order overseas (avoiding luxury tax, but that is a topic for another time). While ungrounded, it does reveal something.

You are not Thai

While respect for the local culture is an absolute necessity, nobody expects you to become Thai or a parody thereof. Don’t decorate yourself with buddhist amulets, don’t walk around in flip-flops all day, and don’t keep a longer finger nail on one hand.

T-shirts with a Thai flag, or any kind of mention of the words ‘Thailand’ or ‘Muay-Thai’ are off limits too, I’m sorry. If you’re wearing one right now: you’re trying too hard and it shows, mate.

When in doubt, use the following rule of thumb. Would you want to be seen like this on a sunny day on a high street in your native country? If the answer is negative: burn your outfit.

You are not on your way to the gym

Many Westerners, even at home, confuse summer wear with gym wear. While both feature short sleeves, they serve a different purpose all-together. So if your are not on you way to the gym, track or football field, don’t look like you’ve got a representation deal with Nike, Adidas or New Balance. Sneakers are OK, though.

You are not on your way to the beach

While the philosophy that one’s holiday starts when boarding the plane is a pleasant one, you do not need to look like it. Let your swimwear (or Speedos, god forbid) make their appearance near larger bodies of water and apply the same principle to nipples. Hawaiian shirts are only appropriate for mustached men in a red Ferrari and around Songkran.

Don’t broadcast you beer preference

Chang , Leo and Singha singlets are about the most despicable thing you can wear. Yes, even if the brand is written in Thai script.

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