Thai people are obsessed with uniforms. They love to belong to a particular group with it’s own distinguishing attire. And they love the recognition they get when they are all spiffy in a starched, sharp uniform with award ribbons for the world to see. They are a proud people, and proud of their profession or association or club and like to announce to all that they belong to that group.
In the US, everyone pushes their individuality and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In the US, you make an individual statement with how you dress. You shout out that you are up with all the newest trends, or that you an intellectual, or are a free thinker, or you are a really tough guy. All of these statements made loud and clear by how you dress in America.
But in Thailand, personal aspects of a person are kept inside and not shouted out to others. That’s private. It is more important for a Thai to show that they fit in with their place in society, and the way this is manifested is by wearing a uniform. And their placement in that society group is distinguished by the patches and ribbons and medals on their uniform, just like the US Marine Corp or other American military and quasi-military organizations. Sometimes in the West, wearing a uniform is something that must tolerated as a necessary evil for certain jobs. Who wants to wear a Walmart uniform? But in Thailand, wearing uniforms are embraced wholeheartedly.
A public school principal is the administrative boss for a public school, and the uniform must show this. The picture at the right of this text is not of a high level general in charge of a major military organization, this is a picture of a public school principal wearing his dress uniform. Every Thai public school teachers also has a uniform, not quite as elaborate as that one. And of course, all students have a uniform, from the beginning all the way through the university. So in a sense, this school principal is very much like a General.
It doesn’t stop there. Most professionals in Thailand have a uniform. All the police and military people certainly have a distinct uniform. But also the people working at the Bank wear a company uniform, and the fellow directing cars to park in the parking lot has a uniform (very similar to a police uniform). Hospital employees, dental offices, factories, big retail stores, every kind of government office, almost everywhere, there is a uniform for the working people to wear. And they wear it with pride.Thai hospitals also have specific uniforms for almost everyone except the docs (and they don’t generally wear white coats). The RN’s still mostly wear white skirts and blouses and wear the traditional nurse’s cap, which is how you can distinguish them from the vocational nurses. But each technician group within a hospital or clinic, like lab techs or X-ray techs, can easily identified by the color of their uniform.
Anyone who visits or lives in Thailand cannot fail to notice the number of Thai people that are wearing a uniform. It is a Thai obsession with everyone getting in on the act. Whether its school children, university students or adult professionals everyone is set to show their colors. School children also have a second uniform since they all take part in scouting activities as part of the school curriculum.
One day a week in public schools, there is a Scout Day, where everyone involved in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or Girl Guides or any similar group wears their uniform. And that’s just about everybody. Even the teachers that are Scout Leaders have their uniform. The school on Scout Day seems to transitioned into a para-military camp, with the young soldiers learning to tie knots or build a campfire. But it is all in fun. Every other day at school, all kids wear the standard student uniform, all the way through universities (albeit college girls have managed to individualize their uniforms a little bit with high heels, a shortened skirt and a tight blouse, and continuously win international awards for having the sexiest school uniforms of any country).
Why do Thais love uniforms? It might be that wearing a uniform shows other people your status, your rank in society if you like, since Thais are in the main very conscious of their own and the social status of others. It might also be argued that this adds some sort of order to society with people knowing exactly where they stand.
One positive aspect of uniforms is that they put people on an equal footing, at least theoretically. It’s difficult to tell whether a student comes from a poor or rich background, without telltale signs like iPod headphones hanging out out of the shirt pocket or an expensive handbag.
And then there are the color codes for people that don’t generally wear uniforms, like office workers. This is a standard for every Thai in all parts of the country. Each day of the week, they wear a predominant color designating that particular day and what it stands for. The secret color code is as follows:
Monday is Yellow for the moon god, and is the color representing HM King Bhumibol (the King of Thailand)
Tuesday is Pink for the Mars god, and is the color representing HM Queen Sirikit (the Queen of Thailand)
Wednesday is Green for the Mercury god and is the color representing HM King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, the greatest Thai king of the late 19th century), and also represents the wishing of good health to the current King of Thailand.
Thursday is Orange for the Jupiter god.
Friday is Blue for the Venus god.
Saturday is Purple for the Saturn god
Sunday is Red red for the sun god.
On these particular days of the week, you will see masses of the appropriate color for the day. A sea of yellow shirts will be on the local bus, for instance. Monday is actually the most popular day to wear the appropriate shirt since the King is loved by all Thai people so much. A tourist or Western Expat that wears yellow on a Monday, especially if it is a tee-shirt with the King’s Crest on the pocket, will be sure to gain admiring glances from the Thais they meet.