Fun attire for some, pain for others

Fun attire for some, pain for others

Netizens are divided over whether Chinese tourists should wear student uniforms. Some claim foreigners want to wear them like cosplay and they are just tourists trying to enjoy themselves.

Some local students, however, say the fashion trend should not be confused with the compulsory donning of uniforms, which they oppose.

When Ju Jingyi, a Chinese actress and former member of SNH48, drew attention to the trend of Chinese tourists wearing Thai student uniforms by posting herself wearing one on her Weibo account, Thai news outlets and netizens paid close attention.

Apart from the tourism opportunities cited by the Education Ministry and Tourism Authority of Thailand, some internet users noted that while foreign tourists are happily donning the uniforms, some Thai students, including the Bad Student movement, are protesting against their mandatory use.

The Bangkok Post spoke to Anna, a 17-year-old member of the movement. “Actually, the group is not opposed to uniforms as such, but being forced to wear them,” she said.

Anna considers student uniforms to be the same as any other clothing, and students should be allowed to mix and match. Uniforms, she said, should be a matter of personal preference, with students allowed to exercise freedom of choice.

While people are welcome to wear uniforms as a fashion statement, school uniforms should be voluntary for all, she said.

Role of media

The school uniform trend is also aligned with the cosplay culture in China, where wearing school uniforms, particularly Japanese ones, is prevalent, said Pagon Gatchalee, lecturer in marketing at the Chiang Mai University Business School.

Mr Pagon, an expert on China and administrator of the Facebook page “Ai Zhong” (Love China), said the Chinese have been exposed to Thai entertainment media for a decade.

Movies such as Love of Siam and First Love cast young actors wearing Thai student uniforms, and Chinese fans grew to like them.

Other Thai films popular in China feature high school students as protagonists. Examples include Bad Genius and several series in the boy love genre, where the characters wear school uniforms, he said.

Mr Pagon said the Chinese might find Thai school uniforms different from their own, which could explain their interest.

“In China, elementary and middle school students typically wear a type of tracksuit as their uniform, which can be worn with any shirt underneath. At the university level, casual attire is mostly worn instead of a uniform,” he said.

Cosplay culture

Chinese netizens have spoken out on social media platforms such as Douyin (the Chinese name for TikTok) and Xiaohongshu regarding the trend.

Many use the term “JK,” which is an abbreviation of the Japanese word Joshi Kousei, meaning high school girl. This term can be used in a regular or explicit context, adding the Japanese uniform is frequently worn for fashion or cosplay.

When referring to Thai student uniforms, Chinese netizens use the phrase “Thai version of JK,” implying Thai uniforms are seen as cosplay attire in the same way that Japanese uniforms are, said Mr Pagon.

He added the Thai school uniform trend is currently smaller than the Japanese school uniform trend, which is supported by search and sales data from Baidu and online selling sites.

This trend actually peaked in late October 2012, when “Thai student uniform” was the most searched term on the website, he said.

Mr Pagon said this was the same period when the film Lost in Thailand was screening in China.

Chinese friends had told him the Thai school uniform is an online trend and not commonly worn in public places in China.

Japanese school uniforms are more common, while Thai uniforms are worn only occasionally by Chinese tourists visiting Thailand, he said.

Student uniform legality

While the public has reacted positively to the trend, some experts have raised legal concerns about non-students wearing the uniform as a fashion statement, leading to mixed reactions among the Chinese community.

The secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission, Amporn Pinasa, warned people must avoid wearing student uniforms that have school names sewn into the label as it may lead to problems with those schools.

Similarly, lawyer Rachapon Sirisakorn warned against wearing student uniforms with a logo or abbreviation of the school’s name, as that may breach the Student Uniform Act 2008, which carries a fine of up to 1,000 baht.

Non-students should wear the uniform solely with the wearer’s name sewn in and without the school logo.

According to Mr Pagon, who is currently in China, after legality concerns were raised, “opinions divided into two camps”.

Some Chinese tourists believe that countries have different laws that must be followed, while others wonder why it has been made illegal.

In contrast to Thailand, Japanese uniforms are often worn by others as a fashion statement without any consequences.

Despite the mixed reactions to this from the Chinese, Mr Pagon maintains that “this is a good opportunity for Thailand to promote tourism, trade, and awareness of the country”.