The teacher fashion guide
Dress for success!
Thai students like a teacher with ‘nice hair', and 'nice' usually translates as 'short'. The girls back at university might have enjoyed fiddling with your pony-tail (among other things) but it's got to go. Even Steven Seagal and Antonio Banderas realized that pony-tails look ridiculous as you grow older.
There are plenty of old-school, traditional Thai barber shops around and for as low as 50 baht you can have the man with the magic clippers whip off your sideburns in the blink of an eye. Choose your barber well and he'll do a decent job but f you can't face the thought of wearing a hat for three weeks, then 'proper' hairdressing salons, with complimentary drinking-water and mincing ladyboys will charge 400 baht up for a cut and blow dry.
There is no need to tip hairdressers in Thailand - but many foreigners do. I guess old habits die hard.
In my opinion, shirts are the make or break item for any teacher. Avoid elaborate cuff designs such as French-style or monogrammed. They're OK if you're an attaché to the Swiss Embassy but as a teacher you'll just look a prat. Go for something simple like plain white or grey or light pastel colors. Not only will these colors keep you cooler but they're less likely to get screwed up by your local laundry shop. And anyone who's ever had a navy blue shirt ironed so shiny, you can virtually see your reflection in it, will know exactly what I mean.
You'll want to wake up in the morning, especially when you've overslept, and put your hands on a nicely pressed shirt, so it's important to have at least seven shirts in your closet - a good week's supply in other words. Laundry shops can have strange opening hours. Yes, I know it says open from 7.00am on the door. And no, I have no idea why it's 9.00am and the place is in darkness. Don't leave things to chance with Thai laundries or you'll be teaching in your pyjamas.
Oh, and short-sleeved shirts are the domain of air-line pilots and trainee managers at McDonalds. Leave them to it.
If you work at one of those schools where the emphasis is on ‘having fun' and you can get away with wearing a polo shirt, then good luck to you, but for most chalkies - teaching English means having to wear a tie.
It's said that a man can have fifty neckties or more but there will only be about six that he regularly wears. Yeah, I'll go along with that. So why not treat yourself to half a dozen quality ties and you'll never have to worry about buying them again. Ever.
Decent ties are quite pricey in Thailand. You'll need to pay about 700-1000 baht for something nice from a Thai department store. Probably more if it's something really ‘designer label'.
Oh and one more thing - you know that tie with Walt Disney characters that your colleagues back in the States used to love so much? When your back was turned, they were wetting themselves. Don't go down the comedy tie route. Please.
Be warned, Thais have strange feelings towards beards, possibly because you'll rarely see a great beard on a Thai man. Thais are unsure about them, even a little frightened of them - and I've seen teachers fail job interviews purely on the grounds of their facial furniture. You might get away with a well-trimmed George Micheal style goatee or the rap artist boot-strap but if your beard wouldn't look out of place on a Canadian lumberjack and people are beginning to wonder if there's anything nesting in it - then you had better be one hell of a teacher.
Bits of string? your girlfriend's old nylon stockings? I don't care what you hold your jeans up with at the weekend but when it comes to schooldays and dress trousers, you're never complete with a nice leather belt. Avoid the Sukhumwit Road street-vendors because this is the time to invest in quality. Buy the best leather belt that you can afford and it'll be your friend for donkey's years.
Oh, and shop assistants in department stores will be only too happy to punch a few extra holes in just in case you fall victim to middle-aged spread.
Always go for dark colors like navy blue and you can't go wrong. Cream and beige trousers might look very nice in tropical climates but you'd be amazed how quickly board marker ink can transfer from a whiteboard to a trouser pocket.
Avoid wearing trousers more than three days running. Letting trousers have a day off and 'hang' on the hanger allows them to regain their shape and you'll avoid the 'shiny-arse' syndrome.
The range of trousers in Thai department stores has improved a lot over the past five years or so and I actually think you get much better value for money buying off-the-peg trousers compared to having them made at a tailor's shop. Tailored clothing is not the bargain it once was.
The one massive disadvantage of buying trousers from a department store is if you need them altered and taken up an inch or two. Most department store staff have never heard of ‘invisible stitching' and I could cry when I think of some of the ‘dog's dinners' I've had presented to me in the name of trouser alterations. If you've got time on your hands, buy the trousers and seek out one of those roadside sewing machinists. They'll do a much better job.
don't make the fatal mistake of not paying attention to your socks. When you're sitting on your teacher's chair or sitting around the conference table at a school meeting, your ankles are exposed for all the world to see. Go for thin woolen or cotton business socks in dark colors available from all good department stores - and avoid the street vendors with their five pairs for a hundred baht deals.
I take a size nine and a half shoe (no idea what that is in that fancy European system) and I've never had a problem finding good footwear. Although this guide is aimed chiefly at male teachers, it's worth mentioning that my wife takes a size eight and a half and can NEVER find shoes to fit her. So if you're a lady and you've got plates of meat like a couple of Rhine barges then you might want to bring some shoes from home with you.
Once again, always go for quality with shoes. Even though a nice pair of ‘shoes for work' could set you back 3,000 to 5,000 baht, it's worth keeping an eye on the sales, when you can pick up some terrific reductions. I once bought a 6,000 baht pair of Timberlands at 70% off. The bargains are out there!
Be discreet where jewelry is concerned. A thin necklace here, a tasteful gold ring there - and leave it at that. You're far less likely to draw attention to yourself and you're far less likely to get mugged on the way home. I suppose that the very yellowy Thai gold might make for a good investment. But don't walk into a classroom dripping in the stuff.
Nothing marks you out as an English teacher faster than the bag or holdall that you carry your books in. When I'm sitting on the sky-train, I can spot a chalkie a mile off - and it's usually down to the bag. So what do you do? do you go for the antique leather satchel? the fashionable man-bag? or the computer case? What are the choices? Well, we've devoted a whole page of the website to the teacher bag issue so check it out.
Body Odour and Other Horrible Smells
The garbage on the street might be piled six feet high and dumping shit into the canals might almost be a national pastime, but when it comes to personal hygiene, The Thais have few equals. They are obsessed with showering and the whole concept of ‘smelling nice'.
The Thai word for stink is ‘men' And if you hear the words ‘ajarn men maak' it means ‘the teacher absolutely stinks'. And they ain't talking about your teaching ability either. I've seen teachers come into staff-rooms and kick doors and bang desks because their class of Thai teenagers or adults has dropped the ‘you stink' bombshell.
If you're a smoker or if you're inclined to sweat heavily on hot days (and who isn't?) then suck polo mints, splash on the cologne, rub in the hand cream or dab on a little perfume. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure that you float into that classroom smelling like a tart's window-box.
Unfortunately, spray deodorants are very expensive here. The brand I buy (Nivea) can be over five dollars for a small can. In fact it's virtually three times the price it is in the UK. I've never got to the bottom of why it's so expensive when the bloody stuff - at least in Boots case - is manufactured in Thailand.
Vests / Undershirts
Wearing some sort of undergarment beneath your long-sleeved shirt is always a very wise idea. People seem to think that wearing another layer under your business shirt is going to make you sweat even more but in reality, an undergarment of some cotton description actually keeps you cooler. And of course you avoid those horrible armpit sweat patches. The teacher arriving for a lesson dripping in sweat wins admiration from no-one, regardless of where the taxi or bus broke down and whatever the temperature might be outside.
Finally, if you are sick of the boring old shirt and necktie combination, we've got some alternative teacher fashions you might be interested in.
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I work in Thailand and I've written about the Thai dress code for female teachers on my blog. You can read more and see some photos here:
By Laura, Thailand (12th December 2017)
You didn't mention tattoos - the visible ones that is even when fully dressed. This is another big no-no. My Thai boss equates tattoos with being in prison! It's even worse for female teachers. You may think this is sexist, but remember, this Thailand. Also I was told that Thai teachers love to see clean fingernails. Dirty and ragged fingernails means you have no class.
By Ron Garth, Thailand (9th July 2017)
Hi Phil, I always enjoy your articles as they are funny, written in a humorous vein and they always make me laugh. Cheers, Greg
By Greg, Don Muang, Bangkok (8th June 2015)
Maybe you should look in another school than the one you're from.
I am so sick of reading racially slanted comments from the Great White Man. Read a book!
By Ian, Rayong (7th June 2014)
"Take a look at the Thai teachers if you want an idea of how you should dress in Thailand"
Thanks Ian, so next time I walk into a classroom, I'll do it in one of those grey safari suits and a pair of 149 baht BATA loafers.
By Phil, Samut Prakarn (7th June 2014)
I don't think this article is realistic. In a very hot climate clothing that is a little lighter and looser is a lot more practical. There is nothing wrong with a smart set of short-sleeved shirts, casual slacks, and loafers. Take a look at the Thai teachers if you want an idea of how you should dress in Thailand.
By Ian, Rayong (7th June 2014)
"There is nothing on here about how a female teacher should dress in Thailand. would appreciate some info please, women also teach"
You didn't use the ajarn search box
By philip, (28th January 2014)
There is nothing on here about how a female teacher should dress in Thailand. would appreciate some info please, women also teach.
By Melissa, South Africa (28th January 2014)
I'd love to see a similar article for female teachers in Thailand! I generally know how to dress for teaching in Asia (Korea, Kuwait, Mongolia, Burma), but I still make a few faux pas here and there. Maybe after I've got a bit more Thai experience, I could contribute and article for clothes for the women-folk.
By Alice, Wonderland (1st June 2013)
"Maybe the writer of this article has no teaching skills and so has to create a façade of professionalism to hide the facets he lacks"
I wrote it Bob. Sure, I probably wasn't the best teacher Thailand has ever seen - but I was far from the worst. And I always liked to look decent when I turned up for work.
By philip, (30th April 2013)
Rory, Philip, Andy and James
Nice replies; right on.
Maybe the writer of this article has no teaching skills and so has to create a façade of professionalism to hide the facets he lacks.
By Bob, KSA (30th April 2013)
Roll-on deodorant Rory? Kiss of death. It can leave a horrible residue under the armpit and show up on any shirt that isn't white.
By philip, (30th April 2013)
Woollen socks in Thailand? NO!!! Only cotton in this climate. Also shirts should be cotton with no vest!! Your vest is soaked in sweat, thats why you feel cool. What ? you never heard of roll on ?Can be bought anywhere. Short sleeve shirts are quite acceptable too. Oh dear.
By rory, Udon Thani (30th April 2013)
Interesting article with some good points. I teach at our own private English tutor school and always wear a shirt and smart trousers. When I am teaching off the premises, usually on a corporate gig, I always wear a tie.
By Andy, Udon Thani (29th April 2013)
Facial hair? I go into the interview letting them know that during the year from Sept to Christmas my beard grows -- it is snow white and my hair grows. They know that they can have a Christmas program with someone who has been Santa Claus wherever he worked for the past 28 years. I have pictures to show them and prepare them. Also, I have a very military style mustache that during the rest of the year is kept expertly trimmed.
By James Hutchins, Nakon Ratchasima (1st April 2013)
Jesus, who wrote this? Is it a joke?
"Oh, and short-sleeved shirts are the domain of air-line pilots and trainee managers at McDonalds. Leave them to it". Yes, TEFLers you dont earn enough to wear the same kind of shirts as these people.
Does the writer really suggest that you cant wear short sleeves in the city with the highest average annual temperatures on the planet? Well be careful when you are writing on the board that you dont get your pastel shaded sleeves soiled with marker pen.
Ties, ah yes the TEFL tie, also the domain of the accused in the dock, pushy salesmen, mafia, and sleazebags on the pull, all of which,.want you to believe they are something they are not and that they are respectable. If Obama and Cameron dont always wear a tie, why the fuck should a TEFLer on 45k THB a month.
Belts, well in the West we buy trousers the right size, so we dont need them.
After shave, I remember a mate of mine's sister worked in boots and she would come out with similar drivel, except she had an excuse,. If you buy copy after shave, then of course, it fades more quickly, it is diluted and yes the alcohol attracts the mosquitoes. So buy decent stuff and it wont fade and doesnt attract mosquitoes.
By Bob, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (29th December 2012)
And for the ladies??
By Christie, Krabi (11th December 2012)
Well, I think as a teacher, we should not wear too many accessories, right? It's not really good to wear many accessories as a professional worker.
By bell22, (4th November 2010)
Yep..also looking for a female version...
By Christie, new york (13th September 2010)
And for women? Any female teacher-experts care to chime in? It would be much appreciated.
By Jamie, Oregon (22nd February 2010)