WE’VE heard so much fuss about the rules on Thai university student uniforms. To wear or not to wear (the uniform). Too outrageous or right on (Aum Neko’s campaign against mandatory student uniform rule). Really, I’ve gotten quite sick of hearing about this trivial issue, so I want to settle it once and for all. I’m even doing something uncharacteristic of me and being brief—sort of. Here are my Top 10 Reasons Why Thai University Students Should Wear Uniforms.
1. Almost all Thai university students love student uniforms. If you think I’m pulling this out of thin air, here’s the evidence. A Suan Dusit poll conducted just last week (14-17 September 2013) showed that 94.4% of 1,293 university students in greater Bangkok think student uniforms are “necessary” to maintain the order and their identity; 70.96% think they should wear the uniform everyday they attend classes.
If that doesn’t convince you of Thai university students’ love of uniforms, I don’t know what would. A poll asking soldiers about their uniforms would be hard pressed to produce such an impressive percentage. In a general election, 94.4% would be the mother of a landslide that even the late Saddam Hussein would envy. And given it’s the students who wear the uniforms, there isn’t really any need for more reasons beyond No. 1. There is no doubt that the 94.4% of 1,293 university students in greater Bangkok speak for all university students in Thailand. But for the benefit of skeptics, I’ll go through Reasons No. 2 – No.10 just to show the abundance of compelling reasons. Beat the dead horse, I will.
2. Uniforms promote social equality among students. I’m sure most Thai university students never think about different social classes among their peers. Inequality never crosses your mind even if one of your classmates drives a BMW to campus or is dropped off by the family chauffer in a Benz S-class series, and you take a non-aircon bus. It doesn’t matter that your girlfriend wears Prada and a Gucci watch and you are adorned with a Jansport backpack. We are truly equal in our uniforms. And when you see students from other supposedly lesser universities, you never look down on them for not having enough brains to get into your university. You cannot help feeling the camaraderie from sharing the status that comes with the uniforms.
3. Uniforms teach students about discipline, duty, tradition, respect and honor. That may sound like a lot to expect from simple white and black outfits, but you’d be surprised by the depth and breadth of their meaning. Learning to dress the same teaches discipline (think a complex version of getting in line). A sense of duty is inculcated in appreciating that although on some days you may not feel like wearing the same outfit as others, it’s your duty to do so (like putting on a work outfit and shoes instead of just sweatpants and flip-flops to go to work). Tradition is handed down by people born before you, and if wearing student uniforms didn’t kill them, it probably won’t kill you.
Honor is a high form of respect and universities are institutions of higher education. Notice the word “higher” before education? Wearing a uniform is a way for students to show higher respect for their higher institution (like how people used to dress up to get on the plane—to show respect to the lofty vehicle—pity people don’t show that kind of respect any more). Also, not everyone gets to go to university and wear the student uniform, so show some pride! (OK, add pride to the list. Come to think of it, modesty and courtesy, too.)
4. Not wearing uniforms doesn’t make Thai students any smarter. Truer words have never been spoken. We can count with one hand and are still left with four fingers Thai universities that have made the list of the top 400 universities in the world. Thai university ranking won’t skyrocket or nose dive just because Thai students are no longer wearing the uniforms. Uniforms have nothing to do with learning, so why not wear them at least for Reasons 1-3? Too bad there is no ranking of the world’s top university uniforms, or Thailand would… Oh wait!
5. Thai (female) student uniform is the sexiest in the world. So there! Sure, none of our universities rank among the world’s top 100, 200, or 300, or Asia’s top 40. But Thailand is No. 1 in the sexiest female student uniform in the world. Eat dust, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, and the rest of the top 100-200 universities that don’t even have student uniforms! As far as I’m concerned, this reason alone should render all the reasons that follow and all that come before superfluous. But I already promised 10, so let’s continue.
6. Uniforms remind Thai university students who they are. Think how easy it is to become confused and forget who you are when all kinds of people in your country also wear uniforms: police officers, military officers, nurses, bank clerks, office workers, security guards, office cleaning ladies, pilots, flight attendants, waiters and waitresses, bus fare collectors, taxi drivers, to name just a few.
The professions most at risk of being confused with students are probably bus fare collectors and waiter and waitress trainees. They are nearly indistinguishable but for the university pin and belt buckle, and in some cases a tie, on the student uniforms. Thanks to these little adornments, Thai university students are saved from total confusion. Imagine the cognitive chaos, if university students were allowed to wear casual clothes—no one would be able to tell them apart from other regular young people who don’t go to university, including those 2-year-college vocational students who skipped school. The horror!
7. Uniforms remind Thai university students of their unique national identity and heritage. Besides Thailand, there are only three other countries in the world that require university students to wear uniforms. (I suspect the survey must have left out North Korea.) But quite frankly, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have nothing to Thailand’s university student uniforms. Granted Vietnam may have their lovely au dais but the Vietnamese au dais haven’t been voted the sexiest student uniform in the word, have they? University student uniforms (especially the female ones) are hence Thailand’s de facto unique and unparalleled national identity and heritage to be passed on to the next generations.
8. If students can’t even follow the simple uniform rule in university, how will they cope in the real world? For instance, will they wear shorts or sweatpants to work? Or jeans, pyjamas and flip-flops? Will they be able to follow simple rules like coming to working on time and when to take lunch? Will they know how to take orders from their boss or will they—gasp—refuse to follow the boss’s orders? Used to getting their way as students, they might start campaigning against this or that at work, and that’ll be the end of society.
9. If Thai university students are allowed to wear casual clothes, what stops them wearing bikinis to class? This is a proverbial slippery slope. It has been known to happen during summer at universities in the West. Given Thailand is in the tropics, there is a real risk of that catching on. And who can guarantee it’ll stop at bikinis? There are all kinds of inappropriate outfits Thai university students could start wearing—or not wearing, like underwear. (Granted they might already be wearing G-strings now but at least that’s underneath the uniforms.) And what if this excessive freedom becomes contagious and infects teachers too? Think I’m over the top? Think again. This has happened. Freedom has gone so out of control in America that a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, had to make a new dress code requiring teachers to wear underwear and female teachers to wear bras and prohibiting them to wear cut-off jeans, flip-flops, spaghetti-straps, and—God forbid—spandex!
10. Thai (female) student uniform is the sexiest in the world. Oh, I already mentioned that? Well, it’s worth repeating anyway. Why, even teachers in their forties can look adorably sexy in one. In the picture below, the two female students are actually lecturers at Thammasat University where the latest student uniform controversy started. (One of them posted the picture on her Facebook to remind the students how lucky they are to have the opportunity to wear the uniform because not everyone has a chance.) Given how adorable these two lady lecturers look, I’m starting to think it should be mandatory for teachers to wear student uniforms too. It might even increase class attendance.
I’m thinking of another possibility. If you’re bored with the usual French maid or nurse outfit, why not give the Thai student uniform a try?
Note: Thanks to Prach Panchakunathorn for his article (“Top 10 Worst Reasons” – in Thai) which gave me an inspiration to make this list.
About the author:
Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Sex Talk”.