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Tourists wear ‘elephant pants’ in front of a tuk-tuk in Bangkok. Photo: DPA

Want to look like a local in Thailand? Don’t wear ‘elephant pants’

  • When in Bangkok, you’ll likely be able to spot tourists from a mile away by the trousers they’re probably wearing
  • And there’s no better choice, if what you want is for your outfit to scream ‘I’m a foreign backpacker’ at the locals

Fashion is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to elephant patterned trousers.

The so-called elephant pants are rarely worn by local Thais, but these light and breezy trousers can be found in abundance in tourist areas such as along the pubs and hostels of Bangkok’s Khaosan road, once made famous by the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

There, they’re a phenomenon worn by a near majority of tourists during the day, when they are sold on the sides of the street for as little as 150 baht each (US$4.90) each.

Shopkeeper Sawat Daengurai said he has been selling clothes on Khaosan road for about a decade, however. Sales only started picking up when he began to sell the elephant pants around three years ago.

So-called elephant pants can often be found throughout Thailand's capital Bangkok in shops and markets. Photo: DPA

“I used to sell tank tops here but the elephant pants are more popular,” he said. “I started selling them later than everyone else.”

Marissa Arranz, 50, from Spain said she has been to Thailand three times and has never failed to buy a pair on each visit. “They’re really comfortable to wear. They feel so fresh,” she said.

The wild patterns on the trousers resemble the designs of stitches that can be found in apparel made by hill tribe villagers. But the elephants that intersect the patterns mark the trousers with a distinguished Thai identity.

Elephants are the official national animal for Thailand and are deeply rooted in its culture and literature. The animal once featured prominently on the national flag.

Thailand's naval ensign still features an elephant. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Foreigners like the pants because when they see the elephants they think of Thailand,” says Mantana Kernkangpu, a 44-year old merchant of elephant pants at MBK shopping centre in Bangkok, another major tourist destination for its cheap products.

Although the trousers may look Thai, Mantana said “I wouldn’t wear them myself. I’m too old. They’re not my style.”

Cultural scientist Adam Geczy from the University of Sydney said the elephant pants have a clear resemblance to harem pants from the early 20th century.

“However, there is a hippie edge to them which we would now call hipster,” Geczy said.

“These are not pants for the gentleman’s club,” said men’s grooming expert Bernhard Roetzel, author of the “Gentleman’s guide to grooming and style.” “Whoever wears them doesn’t want to go there at all.”