You Are What You Wear
When I got to the garden party they all knew my name
But no one recognized me, I didn’t look the same
Most of us are aware that when we retire our lives change, sometimes drastically. And when we retire to a foreign country, the changes can increase exponentially. Some things that are affected by retiring and especially when moving abroad include the language that we speak, the foods we eat, the amount of alcohol we drink, the health care available to us, our circadian rhythms (including when we eat, when we sleep, when we wake, how much we sleep, when we exercise), the religions that influence us, our social relationships including our sex lives, and how we entertain ourselves and spend our leisure time.
I’ll bet that you never thought that you wouldn’t even “look the same”.
If you are like me you’ll be wearing a whole set of different clothes. You may have a picture in your mind of the northern retirees who have moved down to Florida wearing Bermuda shorts (men) and muumuus (women, and some men too). But a move to the tropics will have a much greater impact. You don’t see those white suits and pith helmets and flowing dresses with bustles and large floppy hats like you see in the old movies about the British Raj anymore. But you will look different. Here is how it affected me.
I got shoes you got shoes all of God’s children’s got shoes
When I get to heaven gonna put on my shoes
I’m gonna walk all over God’s heaven
Since retiring to Thailand I haven’t worn a pair of “real” shoes even once. And the pair of leather shoes I shipped here have since disintegrated into a powder. Leather stuff seems to do that here in the tropics.
The closest I come to wearing real shoes is occasionally putting on a pair of lace-up running shoes. In the house, everyone here walks barefoot. You take off your shoes before entering a person’s house, or a temple, and sometimes even a shop or someone’s office. Look on the floor in front of a shop or office you are about to enter. If there are shoes lined up in front of the door then you should take your shoes off before entering. When visiting a person’s house ignore anyone who says you don’t need to take your shoes off, especially if they themselves aren’t wearing any.
I see Expats who insist on wearing footwear they were formerly accustomed to. They bend down to untie and later to tie their shoe laces a dozen times a day.
So, because of all this taking-off-of-the-shoes, very few people here will wear lace-up shoes. I wear sandals (with Velcro straps) when I go out to a place where I might meet someone I know (my formal wear). More informally, I wear knock off Crocs when I go to the market. (Note: Real Crocs are sold here for about $30. Knock off Crocs sell for about $2.50). I wear knee-high rubber boots when I work in the garden.
The only lace-up shoes I regularly wear are my golf shoes. It’s also the only time I wear socks. (Note: For some reason Thailand has great socks. Three pair for about $2.50; that is if your feet aren’t too big for them. Mine just about make it.)
When in Rome, wear the same kinds of shoes that everyone else wears.
Pants on Fire
Before moving here I went shopping for dress pants, bought a number of pairs that fit perfectly and shipped them here. They are now hanging in my closet, the tags still on. And I am afraid that the waists nowhere still fit me after 10 years. But no problem. I haven’t worn a real pair of pants since I retired to Thailand.
What I do wear are these ¾ length pants (150 baht) with elastic waists, and occasionally shorts. Although things are slowly changing, it used to be that no adult Thai males would wear short pants. These were reserved for school boys and not for “men”. Women also did not wear shorts. It is still that way for older Thais and I will bet that you have never seen a 70 year old man (whose club I am proudly a member) wearing shorts, except for Expats.
I also wear sweat pants and some warm up type pants with elastic waists. These look like “real” pants but don’t need belts (which I also haven’t worn in years). These are my “formal” pants.
Anthropologists would argue that the tie directs a viewer’s attention downwards to the wearer’s genitals (hence the arrow-like shape). A kind of displaced cod-piece.
Linda Ellerbee (US journalist) is quoted as saying: “If men can run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a noose around your neck?”
I did a search on wearing a dress-shirt and tie on Google and there are lots of opinions about where and why this all started. Above are two of my favorites.
Needless to say I haven’t worn a dress-shirt or tie since arriving here. Before coming we packed all our stuff. All our clothes went into boxes, one of which, after more than 10 years here I opened the other day. In it I found a plastic bag full of my old neckties. I used to have to wear them to work. BTW, I never (unlike a red-tie-wearer we all know) let the tie drop below my belt. Sad!.
I used to be so proud of my ability to tie a perfect Windsor Knot. I think I have lost that ability. But at least I now never have a noose around my neck.
Note: I do own a short-sleeve black dress-shirt. One thing that increases with age is the number of funerals I go to. Sadly, this shirt is getting a lot of wear.
Long Sleeves and Jackets
Although Chiang Mai gets nice and cool in the winter there is rarely much of an opportunity to wear sweaters and jackets. Except that they are on sale just about everywhere. Why is that?
I’ll explain that using a scientific study I once carried out.
I stood on a street corner on a hot afternoon watching the traffic roll by. I counted the number of motorcycles that passed by noting how many riders were wearing long sleeves (shirts, jackets, and sweaters). The results: 95 Thai motorcyclists out of 100 who passed me by on that day were wearing long sleeves. Zero Exapts who drove by were wearing long sleeves.
Why the long sleeves? Well, besides the sun being really hot beating down on bare arms, Thais don’t like dark skin and will do what they can to protect themselves from getting tanned (Just check out the number of TV commercials for whitening cosmetics.) But Expats might consider using long sleeves while riding motorcycles for a more serious reason.
I know a number of my Expat friends who have had to deal with skin cancer here. Usually it is of the non malignant type but they still need to deal with these in a drastic manner. Each has had chunks of tissue cut out from their nose, face, hands and arms.
A helmet will protect you from the sun too, among other reasons for wearing one.
When in Rome, wear long sleeves when everyone around you is wearing long sleeves.
I should note that Thais occasionally do wear dress pants and shirts and ties and even leather shoes. And there is a bit of history that goes along with this.
Many years ago, along with the first of the Thai constitutions, came a movement to modernize Thai society. This is when the spoon and fork came into popular use, as opposed to simply eating with the fingers (still in vogue in the north and northeast though). Note: chopsticks are Chinese and used mainly with noodle dishes (Chinese) served in a bowl. No Thai would use chopsticks for anything served on a plate unless they were food in little easy-to-pick-up pieces.
People, especially government workers, were required to wear shoes too. When I first came to Thailand I often encountered people, usually villagers, who still walked barefoot. But the flip-flop changed all that. The flip-flop, or thong, may have been one of the most important inventions that have influenced the health of the world’s population (Diseases from going barefoot.) Today I almost never see bare feet except inside the house.
And in Chiang Mai, where ladies going topless was once acceptable, a la the famous topless Balinese at that time (which I was lucky to have encountered), I sometimes came across an older grandma who, on a stifling hot season day, had shed her upper garments (but by that time the younger ladies had made the change to modernity).
Other moves to modernity were the wearing of hats, suits, and ties, and the refraining from chewing beetle-nut.
BTW, It is obvious that women going topless today is severely frowned upon. What isn’t so obvious, especially to Expat men, is that men going topless is also a no-no. Except for an occasional laborer or a farmer out in the field, (and someone on the beach) you will probably not see a Thai male going topless. As for Expats, although it is sometimes difficult to endure, you will see this often.
BTW-2, Expat woman have their own way of dressing, but I try to follow one of the major rules to being a writer: “Write what you know about.” I am only 71 and been married for only 46 years, so I haven’t been around long enough to learn much about women. I will leave the descriptions of how they deal with retirement in the tropics to people who know more than I.
Today I am sitting here at my computer, writing this post barefoot, wearing a tee shirt and 3/4 pants with an elastic waist, possibly unrecognizable to my friends back in the U.S. but as comfortable as I can be.
When in Rome, if you’re retired and old enough not to care what anyone thinks of you, wear whatever makes you feel good.