If high fashion is dictated by Milan, New York and Paris, and hipster fashion by Portland, Melbourne and Montreal, then backpacker fashion is incontestably crafted by Bangkok’s Khao San Road.
Khao San Road is the centre of the backpacking universe. The Banana Pancake Trail (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) is one of the most popular backpacking routes on the planet, particularly popular among young people. Case in point: Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport was ranked as the most Instagrammed location on earth in 2012, beating out Times Square, Disneyland and the Eiffel Tower.
Khao San Road and the adjacent Rambuttri Street are arguably the most condensed backpacker districts in the world. Each night, Khao San Road is crowded to a festival-like density with travellers eating, partying and shopping as well as touts hawking cheeky, noisy and shiny gimcrack that appeals to the intoxicated masses.
Naturally, this is the place to purchase lightweight, flowing, comfortable threads equally suitable for a night out and a sleeper bus. This apparel is uniquely backpacker-centric in that it’s stylish (by quasi-hippie traveller standards, anyway), easy to cram into your overstuffed backpack, and cheap enough that when you lose it during an impromptu drunken dip in the ocean, it’s no big deal.
When I travelled through Thailand six years ago, trends included Alibaba pants with sagging crotches, Thai fisherman pants with their distinctive fold-and-tie fastening method and T-shirts silk-screened with tongue-in-cheek Banksy or Threadless designs.
So what’s hot this season? Alibabas are out and “elepants” (harem pants printed with elephant patterns) are in. In fact, it was nearly impossible for us to find a pair of pants that weren’t elepants. Brightly coloured graphic tees have been replaced by cream-hued tank tops with feather, arrow and owl motifs, echoing the hipster themes of stores like American Apparel (RIP)—although at a much more reasonable price.
One popular design is a black-and-white photo of a topless female model flipping the bird at the camera. (I attempted to google the name of the model, but when I typed in “topless model finger” all the results were… well, what you can probably imagine.) Too bad I lost my singlet during an impromptu dip in the ocean last time around.
Such clothing can be found imported in Canadian hippie neighbourhoods such as Toronto’s Kensington Market and Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, though it’s much more expensive. So if you’re passing through Bangkok, be sure to stock up—especially since the downside of backpacker garb is that it rips easily because, hey, you get what you pay for.