I'm so American and so can you. [Magic Mountain, baby. 2008]
I’m so American and so can you. [Magic Mountain, baby. 2008]
It started off with shoes, but then it became a bigger question. Does where you live change the way you dress?

Yes. A resounding yes.

Iโ€™m not sure if Americans are aware just how different they are than the rest of the world. Obviously American travelers gain a sense of this and extensive travelers really get a sense of this. As a teacher living abroad, I get a little bit annoyed that we Yankees are the only ones that refer to football as soccer or that we use the Imperial system (along with Liberia and Burma – wow) as oppose to the international standard, the metric.

Americans also dress very differently. The fun thing is I can usually tell who is from what country based on the way they dress. Two men wearing salmon pink trousers walking down the street? NOT Americans. Upturned polo collars? Hells no. Canadian flag proudly sewn on backpack? Hmmm.ย  White sneakers? Strong chance. Fanny pack/belly bag? Ding! Ding, Ding!

We like to be comfortable, yes. And well, Americans have become casual dressers. I long for the days past where women wore smart dresses and men, hats with their suits and ties. Weโ€™re too casual in our pajamas at the grocery store or wearing Daisy Dukes with tight tops to pick up our children from school.

All-American Girl at The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area [Las Vegas, 2007]
All-American Girl at The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. [Las Vegas, 2007]

Ever since I moved abroad Iโ€™ve become a more conservative dresser. I used to wear shorts and t-shirts fairly religiously. And one of my favorite all-time comfortable outfits was a bright orange velour sweatpants and jacket combo (ala Jennifer Lopez).ย  But depending on where I am in Thailand, I donโ€™t usually wear shorts even in this tropical heat.

What? Are you insane? Nah. Despite Thailandโ€™s reputation for bar girls and full moon parties, itโ€™s a country where cleavage is not regularly on display, short shorts have just recently come into fashion, and bare midriffs are rare as a road without rubbish. In bigger cities, youโ€™ll find less conventional clothing styles and fashion, but in smaller cities, I donโ€™t dare wear shorts. My rural roots family will simply think Iโ€™m a tart and I canโ€™t have that.

And since Iโ€™m back to being a teacher after a long hiatus of โ€œWTF am I doing with my lifeโ€, Iโ€™ve returned to my long, flowery or bright dresses that I used to live in when I was a Waldorf teacher. I paint my nails, too. Manicures and pedis are affordable here so I got into the habit through friends.ย  These days I donโ€™t go to the salons because I have acquired so much nail polish at home. Oh, and I wear makeup. Yessiree, Iโ€™ve become a much more Asian Asian.

It's all gone horribly wrong. Asian overboard. [Chiang Mai, 2014]
It’s all gone horribly wrong. Asian overboard. [Chiang Mai, 2014]
Has living abroad changed the way you dress? What about when you travel? Do you dress differently?

44 replies on “Has living abroad changed the way you dress?

  1. Great post. We go to great lengths to look only slightly “North American” (we shoot for Canadian). But I won;t lie here. One of my top reasons for moving to a hot place is to live in comfortable nylon shorts, t-shirts and perhaps some nicer casual shirts. And sandals everyday which will remove the white sneaker American stigma (except when I’m at the gym of course).

    I’m not sure how Diane will change but I suspect she will never switch to conservative but will no doubt lose all the stupid bright colored shirts. Life is too short to worry about what others think except in cases where you’re being disrespectful by dressing too liberally. Malaysian Asians seem to look about the same as most westerners from the pictures I’ve seen so I hope we only stand out when it comes to our sad lack of language skills. But now that we befriended a Singaporean that speaks fluent Malay and will be living close to us maybe that will change also.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’ve heard that Malay is easy to learn (famous last words) so you never know! I think a few useful phrases are always managable.

      As you know, Malaysia is a Muslim country, so I would imagine they, too, will be conservative. You might be surprised by how you change when you move abroad. If someone told me that I would be more conservative, I would have scoffed. I’m from Hawaii! Shorts and tees are for me, baby.

      As a rule though, when I do travel, I try to dress respectfully. I figure it’s better to be dressed up then dressed down.

      The “white sneaker American stigma” – haha! Love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Meter and Metric is the same system. I think what you meant to say was that the U.S. on the Imperial system, sometimes called English system ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I certainly try to be sensitive when I travel to how the people of that country might feel about the way I am dressing – though my colouring (very pale/freckles/red hair) usually gives me away as being Northern European. I remember when I spent three weeks in India, I wanted to be careful about not being too revealing and so wore long skirts, only to find the Indian sun rendered one of them practically see-through! That one went to the bottom of the back-pack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I know! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered this, too. Now, I look for linings in skirts or hold them up to the light. Dresses made in Asia seem to be infamous for this. As a teacher, I can assure you this is embarrasing.

      India! Lucky you. How did you like it?


  4. Yes, Americans really do like it comfortable. Europeans would never go to the grocery store in pajama pants or even sweat pants, unless they just went to the gym. It is more important to them to dress appropriate for the occasion.
    Even though we have spent quite some time in the US, we never changed the way we dressed. Most people knew right away that we were the Europeans where ever we were.haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm. Maybe we don’t conform as much as I think we do. Maybe I haven’t changed as much, too. Good sweatpants example. Europeans are probably overall, smarter dressers, but then again, Europeans are the ones that like to go topless and wear tighter beachwear ๐Ÿ˜›


  5. I really do wonder now about the different clothing styles. For example in China you often see people out in the stores wearing their pajamas while in Europe (at least Germany) people would think you are crazy ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thailand, too. I see a lot of pajama casual wear at the market. But Thailand has been accused of “copying” clothing styles and fashions. What really amuses me though, is the mismatched tops and bottoms – like crazy, not in a fashion way, just bad taste way that I see everywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m certain some recent Chinese immigrants wander into a store in PJs here in Canada. Then they learn quickly…

    You’re funny in your above photo, Lani. ๐Ÿ™‚ You are also becoming a prolific blogger with all this writing!
    I dunno, Lani. I gave up nail polish in my early 20’s. I found my fingers became cooler. Weird. I am shorts wearer and probably would have to scale down to longer shorts or capris in Thailand. And no I am already conservative here in Canada –no midriff, no sport bras, running tank tops because I really don’t care to get more risk of skin cancer and hardened, wrinkly skin because I’ve biked a lot over the years. I tan easily and now throw on a lot of sun block.

    I actually stopped wearing makeup even to my jobs over the past 8 yrs. Yea, bold especially with imperfect skin. I have to search for my lip gloss..since I haven’t worn it in past 3 yrs. I doubt I would wear anything more than lip gloss in a tropical climate….it’s just too hot to wear makeup for me! My partner also is allergic to makeup…he gets a headache near any woman with make-up, by a store makeup counter.

    Believe me in the middle of Canaian prairies here, when I wear a sarong skirt to work, it is noticed. Yea, I tie skirt in a tasteful way and wear slingback dress shoes with pantyhose. Well, cycling legs does help …:) That’s my only concession to a flash of feminity in my mid-50’s right now.

    Clothing changes for me are due to my cycling lifestyle, some age matters and becoming more comfortable about myself as a woman.

    Thailand probably has a lot of reasonably priced skirts with lovely patterns. I’m not surprised by the conservative top cover-ups in Thailand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, getting older I think makes you more comfortable in your skin. And I’m certainly more comfortable which is why I feel like I can wear makeup now. When I was younger I hardly wore it or wore it akwardly. Now, I feel like I can wear it without it wearing me and it’s a nice feeling.

      Of course, I don’t wear it, but for work or rare going-out occassions. Part of the problem is my skin is oily and so I feel like I need powder so I’m not so shiny.

      If I still lived in the US, I’d probably dress sporty because the clothes are quality, comfortable and easy to wear. And you are right, Thailand has a lot of inexpensive clothes for someone of my size. I’m constantly giving things away and trying to manage the closet!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really find it distasteful when we’ve gone down for breakfast in several major hotels and some (younger) folks comes down in their PJs. It’s pretty pathetic and tasteless. A hotel is not a person’s home at all…not in the public spaces.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Okay, Lani, don’t hate me for treating Hawaii as if it is “abroad”. Haha. But I’ve started dressing down since I’ve been here.

    When I lived in Texas I loved to accessorize with earrings and bracelets and necklaces and wear all sorts of different fabrics and layers and such. I wore makeup just about everyday. I felt so put together.

    When I first got here dressing the way I used to, I felt so overdressed all the time. I noticed people opt for casual, cotton, loose beach-wear type stuff; and I hardly see anyone with makeup, as everyone seems to be so naturally beautiful as well as tanned.

    So I have yet to figure out which is the lesser evil for me: dressing down and feeling meh…or dressing how I’m used to and feeling overdressed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. Makeup and snazzy wear is rare in Hawaii. But if you like to do it up then by all means. Sometimes it’s nice to feel put together.

      I’m not really a jewerly person though I have a collection of earrings and necklaces. I can’t wear anything on my wrists or rings – I don’t know why, it just doesn’t work for me.

      And don’t worry, Hawaii is not really like any other state in the Union, so it’s like being abroad ๐Ÿ˜‰


  9. I’ve lived in Japan, France and the U.K. – but I’m not sure if travel has changed the way I dress. It probably hasn’t. But I must add that British university students fashion styles are a bit… distinctive (I obtained my Master’s in England). A lot of British guys would wear ridiculous tight jeans – and they definitely dressed differently from Americans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are three things we British people are ashamed of. Simon Cowell, the Amritsar massacre and men wearing tight jeans.

      All are stains on our national character.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The only American men to wear tight jeans would be cowboys. They have to wear things that fit when riding horses or working around the farm. A whole different world!


  10. It’s funny because in BKK a very style exists. It’s all leg and cleavage and mid-riffs. And no, not just in *those* areas.

    I wear fewer layers and can’t remember the last time I wore a rain coat. Otherwise I think I dress the same. I have to for work (forcing people to wear a tie in the tropics is surely a crime against humanity) so my day-to-day attire is identical.

    Can we get the word out to your fellow Americans that socks and trekking sandals with bum-bags (fanny means vagina is British slang – we giggle every time you lot say fanny-pack) isn’t cool. I’ll work on there being less Brits with horrific pasty white skin and football shirts straining to contain their massive gut wondering around.

    I might need a van of some kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought “fanny” was Aussie slang! That’s why I included the alternative. Ahhhh! I also thought “whinging” was from Oz as well. My goodness they do take credit for a lot of stuff you Brits have already said and done ๐Ÿ˜›

      Uh, socks with sandals? Sorry, you must mean the Germans.

      Deals off, daddy-o. Threre is NO way you can remove the pasty white skins from the streets of Thailand. Blinding. Don’t believe it can be done.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, the whinging Pom. A beloved stereotype deployed by former convicts. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I have seen plenty of Americans with the sock/sandal chic. But you’re right the Germans also go in for that look.

        You’re right. It was hubris on my part to suggest I could. I got excited. I’m sorry.

        Hope you’re well mate ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post, Lani. Now I feel I have to do a post on this too ๐Ÿ˜‰ Anyway, my answer is a resounding yes. Growing up in Singapore and Malaysia, I was a huge fan of bright colourful clothing, and clothing withe patterns or flowers. Each time my parents took me shopping, they’d champion my choices of these flamboyant clothes. Maybe it has something do with our culture – bright colours are usually deemed auspicious.

    These days I am a fan of dull blues and basically grey. Plain, basic T-shirts. And jeans. That is my attire when I am not working. When I go out for a fancy dinner with friends, I pull on the black skinny pants and maybe a nice shirt.

    I discovered makeup about two years ago. I usually wear foundation, some powder and concealer under my eyes. That’s it. I am very casual and laid-back ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Go for it! I would imagine you felt more comfortable in Singapore and Malaysia and that is why you dressed so colorfully, too. It sounds like you are dressing to blend in, but don’t listen to me! You do what feels right.

      Yeah, I don’t kwow why I’m wearing makeup these days. I used to wear it sometimes and other times I’d forgo it at work…but now, I feel like I should put in the effort. Maybe it’s because my coworkers are mainly male ๐Ÿ˜›

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hilarious. I love trying to figure out which nationality someone is by the way they dress. It’s getting harder and harder though, I have to say.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Good post! My husband is English, so the “S” word is banned (for football) and the American version is called, “American football.” Also, my brother lived in Maui for 15 years. He said that the native Hawai’ians dressed conservatively, especially for work, compared to “haoles” (read: white people).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I have to say American football in the classroom in order to have any understanding. I mean, my students understand “soccer” but I find it annoying. It’s funny when they think American football is rugby though.


  14. Living abroad probably made me a more conservative dresser in the long run. My first year in Korea, I got admonished for distracting my middle school boys by showing collarbone. I mean, I knew low-cut tops were a no-no, but I didn’t know I should be buttoned up to the neck. Conversely, I got used to wearing mini-skirts with leggings or formal dresses that felt far too short to teach in, which made me laugh because all the ladies at my first job, a department store in the US, shamed any sales associate with a skirt more than 1.5 inches above the knee. Plus, I just got used to just wearing skirts all the time. When I was in college, I really lived in jeans, tank top, and a hoodie. But now, I’m more of a longish skirt + boatneck top kind of girl, more into vintage-y styles, and a dress collector. At least, when I bother to get dressed at all; usually I’m just an American in pajamas and panda slippers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember my friend Marisa talking about being in Japan for the first time. It was summer and she was wearing a sleeveless top on the train and everyone was staring at her. She’s Japanese American so I’m sure they thought the worst of her.

      When my students share YouTube videos in class, I’m embarassed by American music videos. I know I sound like a prude, but my goodness, I wonder what my preteens think of American women.


      1. Haha! I was always embarrassed when my students showed Asian music videos in class – or worse, did that type of dancing! The sexualization seemed worse somehow. When my Chinese students had an English competition, each contestant did an introduction, usually showcasing some talent. One pair wore skimpy clothes and did some sexy club dancing right in front of us. . .awkward.


      2. Ha! Yes, we had a talent show at our school and one of the performances started with a student on her back with her head towards the audience…then she raises her legs and opens them. No, no, no.


  15. I definitely know what you mean about showing off your culture through your clothing. After living in Japan for three months I picked up a lifelong habit of taking off my shoes at the door. Also, in Venezuela, I’ve become accustomed to wearing jeans or capris in public despite the tropical heat because nobody wears shorts here.

    -Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. I don’t remember wearing shorts in Ecuador. Of course, I was either freezing or hot as heck over there. All the classy women wore high heels and tight jeans and how they managed to walk on those cobble stone streets is a mystery to me.


  16. Ha! I have indeed picked up some Chinese habits… for example this morning I went to walk the dog in my teddy bear pajamas ๐Ÿ˜€

    But apart from that, I don’t think my style has changed much. Chinese girls love shirts with shiny bits and ribbons, “cute little girl” style. And that is just not me, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thailand, too. Bows, lots of frilly stuff, but what gets me are the maternity clothes. They look like little cotton candy sweet costumes and considering the bump, yeah, we know they aren’t ๐Ÿ˜‰


      1. Oh maternity clothes are extremely ugly in China. They only wear overalls and a kind of apron that supposedly stops radiations from getting in the belly… whaaaaaat.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post! Although I have to contradict you on the salmon trousers! They are rampant here, especially on men. I will take photos for you this spring/summer. That’s when they come out. When I travel, I prefer to be incognito and not look like a tourist, so lots of neutral colors and basics. For sure here I can get away with things I couldn’t wear in SF and vice-versa.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Love this post. Now you inspire me to do a similar post in the near future about how my style has changed between the States, Taipei and Shanghai. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Lani

    What a great topic to discuss. I’m a middle-aged Australian, and I went (as many do) to the UK in my early 20’s. I worked in minimum wage jobs and nothing over there changed my perceptions around fashion. Nor did it really change my thinking about much else.

    A few years later, I lived in Japan. Maybe I’d done some maturing, because after about a month, I realised how well turned out many of the locals were – even though I was a long way from big cities. For the first time, I looked down at what I wore…and felt ashamed. Nothing I wore matched, and I had no idea about colour. If I liked the colour, I’d wear it, even if it didn’t actually suit my hair and eye colour. There was a mention somewhere of our clothing sending a message – well, at that stage, my messages were “I don’t really care about what I’m wearing” and “I have no idea what I’m doing with clothing”.

    So, when I got back home, I did something unusual for an Australian man; I got my colours done out of curiosity. Since that time, it’s been a long, slow climb to better understand how to dress better – and to understand how the broader context around fashion works.

    There is definitely a lot going on. I can often spot Australian men in a crowd overseas because (broadly speaking) many of them dress poorly and casually. Part of that, I think, was historical – clothing was relatively expensive, and society was conservative. Office clothes were for white-collar jobs, flannelette shirts etc for manual work, and suits for formal occasions. But as the world goes digital, many people now feel a need to market ourselves to a greater or lesser degree. Even if someone wants to wear casual clothing (which is fine), these days, I think it’s often taken as an active choice of not conforming….even if the man in casual clothes is actually just wanting to be comfortable and has put zero thought into it.

    I’m often mistaken for being European these days, now that I’ve found a retailer who gets it. And by “it”, I almost mean a kind of storytelling. Because I didn’t have the money to experiment with clothes as a teenager etc, I’m doing it now, mainly out of curiousity.

    The last frontier for me is hats. So many options, and because they are no longer worn daily, I have little idea about what goes with what. Homburg to a cricket match? Stetson on the bus? Panama with a sports jacket?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ๐Ÿ˜€ Ha! Love that this post opened up the topic for you. I can’t recall exactly but I remember hearing that men wear two colors – brown and blue. And after that I definitely noticed the lack of ‘color’ in many straight men’s wardrobe.

      One of my public debate Ss in Cambodia did a presentation on why men should wear pink. It was pretty good. He had slides of famous men rockin’ a pink tie or dress shirt. And basically the confidence that can come from dressing smart and taking a risk.

      Hats. I miss those days (not that I was alive mind you – hahahhaa) when men wore hats and ladies, dresses. We had class, now we have folks who literary rolled out of bed to go to the store. Sigh.


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