Richard McCully

TEFL crimes against fashion

Call out the fashion police!

My sister works in fashion. She is a merchandiser for a high street store in the UK and has previously worked in boutique wedding stores. As you can guess she took all of the fashion awareness in my family and I’m way behind the trends. That being said I feel I still dress better than some TEFL teachers in Thailand. 

Throughout my time here in Thailand I’ve seen some crimes against fashion which seemingly go unpunished. I can only imagine that Thai staff don’t want a foreign teacher to lose face if they have to ask if the teacher looked in the mirror before leaving home.. 

Thailand is a hot country and of course it isn’t fun to be outside in the heat in a suit. Some teachers don’t even have AC in their classrooms and I do feel for them. However, nobody is saying teachers should be suited and booted like city slickers. There are a few instances where I’ve had to laugh or just shake my head at what I’ve seen. 


Probably the biggest fashion faux pas I see is a complaint against the men. Often teachers will wear half decent trousers and shirts and finish it off with a pair of tatty black sports shoes. They didn’t fancy buying dress shoes and felt a pair of old Adidas trainers would finish their look well. Most of the time these shoes have seen better days and the constant slipping on and off has left horrible, visible creases on the back of the shoes. 

Sure walking around in sports shoes is comfortable but it is pretty easy to see that it just doesn’t fit the teacher look. 

The university student / mormon missionary look

Crisp short sleeved white shirt, dark trousers and plain black shoes. Add a tie and you look exactly like a Thai university student or a Mormon missionary. 

In my view there’s nothing wrong with Thai university students or Mormon missionaries but it will certainly raise a few laughs from students and probably a change in the teacher's wardrobe. 

The Tesco twins

I’ll admit I was guilty of this. At my first job the other new male teacher and I didn’t have work clothes so had to go shopping. Unbeknownst to both of us we had gone to the local supermarket and picked up the same set of five work shirts and trousers to wear. We even had pretty similar shoes. The students loved pointing out to us that we had the same outfits.

It’s happened before in other offices I’ve worked in when there’s been a big sale at the mall and teachers have picked up the same shirts. Although these aren’t fashion crimes they do cause laughs in the staff room. When you’re on similar salaries you often buy from the same stores. Currently it seems most of my office buy clothes from AIIZ or G2000. 

Trendy but laughed at

I once attended a meeting a few years back where a teacher was wearing a pair of trousers which were about 3 inches too short. I get there is a fashion for those kind of trousers which show a couple of inches of ankle but I thought they looked stupid for a teacher. I asked him if they were his little brother’s trousers and he wasn’t amused. The same teacher also had a habit of wearing bow ties to work. It got a laugh from his students but he thought they were laughing with him not at him. I checked and they were definitely laughing at him. 

Too much on display

At one of my first jobs here in Thailand a parent complained that a female teacher had too much on show. This led to red-faced bosses not wanting to tell her this directly but to send a reminder of the dress code to all teachers. After a week of everyone falling in line with the dress code teachers went back to wearing what they were before. Management never brought up the issue again… 

What dress code?

I look at Thai teachers and see them in perfectly pressed uniforms and they look super smart. Perhaps these uniforms aren’t overly fashionable but it’s hard to argue that staff look good. It seems that TEFL teachers don’t have to live up to the same high standards or maybe just don’t want to. 

My work shoes are a bit scuffed up and could do with cleaning. My bag is about four years old and falling apart in places. I wear odd socks most days. Anyone who knows me would never get fashion advice from me but I still feel I don’t look too bad as a TEFL teacher. As a group I think we’ve got a long way to go in the fashion stakes! 

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Much of this should be made compulsory reading for language school ajarns, there are a few that take this 'won't get out of bed for less than 1000 baht an hour' attitude a bit too seriously.

To me, wrinkled shirts and Big C shoes say a lot about their attitude, lesson planning prowess & class performance. I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

Teachers on a monday night saying they're going for a few beers later are also alarm bells.

By Language School Teacher, Bangkok (23rd April 2019)

I have noticed over the past five to ten years a shift from the “semi-formal” attire to mostly the business casual look for male professionals here in Thailand, with the full suit and tie look reserved for top executives and the occasional formal occasion. It seems like we have been following the US West Coast trends.

I prefer this trend myself, as I think it is much easier to look smart wearing business casual clothing (slacks, professional shined shoes and either a button-down short- sleeve or Polo-style shirt) than the old-fashioned semi-formal look of a long-sleeved shirt with a tie. It is also more comfortable. Take a walk down the business district of Bangkok during working hours and see how many men are wearing long sleeved shirts and ties. No many, although it was the look of 10 to 20 years ago.

I personally prefer the business casual look, it looks more confident, but still professional enough to set one apart from the common tourist.

Personal opinion, while a man can look very professional and smart wearing a full suit and tie it needs to be worn in the right situation, the semi-formal old fashioned long sleeve often white shirt with a tie without a jacket looks pretty dorky on most men, although some can pull it off with style.

I am not sure what is necessarily expected at government schools, but I suspect most language schools and other places operating outside official government regulations are comfortable with male teachers wearing clothes of a business casual style, which in my view is both more comfortable and looks smarter.

But of course, this is just opinion, there does seem to be some national differences with some of the English (British) teachers generally preferring the old-fashioned semi-formal look while many American teachers preferring a less formal look, with Canadian, Aussie, Kiwi and other foreign teachers being split on these opinions.

Just an observation.

By Jack, Taking the day off at home (11th November 2018)

Some of the best and most qualified teachers I've worked with have been the worst dressed. Thing is though, they get away with it cos they are good. The average tefler in Thailand or Europe dress badly cos they spend all their money on booze instead of on qualifying themselves for positions through which they could afford better clobber. And if you can't even polish your shoes then you weren't brought up properly regardless of your job.

By SD, UK (4th November 2018)

I would never wear clothes purchased in Thailand, always high poly and I'll fitting. Ties from Thailand, never. Yet, I don't mind wearing a tie. I don't find them necessarily uncomfortable or hot. Of course, many children working here. Never had a proper job in need of proper attire. Like the children that have never worn hard shoes, can only wear trainers. Can't wear sleeves, too confining and sweat like a pig. Of course you will be ridiculed by the other foreign teachers who never gave a F about anything anyway. The ones that have it sussed, you both do the same work, but they are only around for classes and no investment in proper clothes - stupid you

Government workers only required to wear uniforms once a week I believe. Maybe second day is school colors. Many schools supply shirts or poly material.

Falang females are almost always horribly dressed. Maybe its just hard to find their sizes. Lately in transit I've seen male teachers dressing much better, properly. Think of the effort your kids put into their uniforms and cleanliness. That's the minimum standard.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (3rd November 2018)

I find this post a bit insulting to Western teachers. As a female Western teacher, my experience is that we are always being told to 'cover up', whereas I have seen Thai female staff in mini skirts. The reasoning being, I was told directly, that the female Westerner is conspicuous and "will be scrutinised".
Fortunately the school I now work in is not Thai owned and adopts the same dress code for all staff.
As to male teachers, I have not seen anyone in scruffy sports shoes, nor would they be allowed to be, as dress shoes are the norm in all staff handbooks which I have seen.
Often impractical, given the heat and the amount of standing and running around which we need to do in the course of a day. However, in my experience teachers follow the rules and get on with it, doing the best job we can

By Suzan Tokdemir, Bangkok (3rd November 2018)

There will always be those who say "why bother?" or "it's not worth the effort" I've often found that those are also the teachers whose apartments or living quarters are total chaos when you are unfortunate enough to go round. Oooh is that last week's pizza delivery box?

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (3rd November 2018)

One of my favorite teacher topics and one that has given me endless pleasure over the years because you can have two teachers who earn exactly the same salary; one teacher gets nods of admiration from the Thai staff with the odd 'ooh very handsome today' thrown in. The other teacher looks as if he got mugged on the way to work.

This of course is half the reason you can always spot a TEFLer on the skytrain. Often there's a 'world-weariness' about them or rather the way they're 'packaged'. They're wearing a shirt and tie because they have to wear a shirt and tie and not because they enjoy or 'don't mind' wearing them. There's a huge difference.

And as you say, some of the things I've seen teachers put on their feet down the years; let's just not go there.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (3rd November 2018)

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