What Not to Wear: Religious Edition

Even before I came to Thailand, I knew that elephant harem pants are a thing. Like a huge thing. What are elephant harem pants, you ask? Well, they are these loose fitting pants (trousers for the non-American subscribers) that are cheap, lightweight, temple-approved and readily available with about 100 different variations of print and color with elephants on them.

I also learned that you are never to pay full price in a market (turns out they give you discounts in stores too, FYI) and, as a non-Asian, am a prime target for paying full price. So haggle! My elephant pants cost a whopping 100 baht (or $1) and for the photo opp aka the ‘gram, I bought some.

But as I perused for the least tourist elephants, I also noticed how in their lightweight glory, these pants were almost certainly see-through. Which brings back memories of another adventure and embarrassing story.

When I was in high school, I participated in the People to People Student Ambassador program which hails from the days of Eisenhower and promoting international relations, starting with the youth of America. Now, it’s really just a chance for kids to travel the world without their parents and say it’s for volunteering/school. But it is fun! And a good primer on what to do when you are away from home with 50 kids you don’t know at all.

Anyways, we went to Italy and part of that trip included a tour of the Vatican. Now the Vatican has a similar dress code to Buddhist temples: women must cover their shoulders and knees. So I borrowed a skirt from my mom’s closet that was appropriate–until I left the hotel and was politely informed by a friend that my skirt was 100% see-through. In retrospect, this is funny. The same thing happened to Princess Diana! In the moment, it was mortifying, especially to a self-conscious 15 year old who was trying to play it cool in front of her crush and the cool kids. So naturally I hid in a crowd of my friends until we could get to a market where I frantically went stall to stall until I found one that sold something that could serve as a slip and paid the full price of 15 euros for a pair of black pants to wear under my skirt, convincing myself that I could wear them again like a horrible bridesmaids dress and laugh about this encounter. Spoiler alert: I never wore them again.

I then scurried away to a public toilet to put them on. Except for the small fact that I had NO idea how to put them on. The contraption involved some kind of step into, unfold, refold, tie front, tie back situation which my rattled brain could not understand. So there I stood in my underwear while a friend (who I had met approximately 1 week prior) basically stitched me up into these trousers. And then I put my skirt on over it and away we went. The Vatican was lovely and ironically they stopped me because too much of my shoulder was showing. Rather than yelling “for the love of God!”, I wrapped up in my trusty cardigan (probably also from my mom’s closet…in fact I think the whole outfit was borrowed) and went with grace.

Now, this harrowing adventure, combined with another unfortunate incident in my impressionable youth involving light jeans and chocolate cake, have left me with an aversion for lightweight and light-colored bottoms. So beneath my trendy, airy, lightweight elephant pants are also tight, dark, yoga shorts. Because I don’t intend to make the same mistake twice.

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