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Western Clothing Sizes for Expat Women in Thailand

Updated on July 3, 2015

Clothes and Shoes for Expat Women - you won't find this in other guides!

Guide books for expatriates living or working in Thailand tend to be for men. None of them discuss the fact that a foreign woman will have trouble finding a bra or swimsuit that fits! This lens gives a foreign woman in Thailand help with that plus a few more items that are easy to overlook to make her stay far more pleasant.

Shopping for Clothes in Bangkok

And what you should bring from your home country

Bangkok is a mecca for shopping, as you well know. There are shopping centers and malls that carry upscale designer goods and malls and markets with trendy cheap clothing for teens and young adults. And everything in between!

Asian style is different from western style, as you will see as you walk the markets and look in many window displays. I liked much of the clothing, and was horrified at many other kinds. My (Thai) husband has told me that Thailand is a homogenized market, that is to say that clothing styles are the same for both young women and those, for example, in their 40s. I have to say that this is more or less true.

Thai women do have the advantage of being able to stay petite and lithe during their lifetime, so almost any style of clothing looks good on them. This could pose a problem for a western woman, though, especially if you're over 30 and don't want to necessarily dress like a teenager.

What if I'm bigger than most Thai women?

Another problem is sizing. If you are larger than a US size 6, you will have problems finding clothing off the rack at most stores. I'm not a large person by western standards - I'm probably considered average body type, not overweight. But by Thai standards I'm a tight fitting XXL. Nice, huh? I'm 5'7" and a healthy weight, not skinny (I lost 10 pounds quickly after moving to Thailand and effortlessly kept it off) and so I'm considered curvy, but by no means fat.

Still, most clothing was a challenge to find that fit, that looked good on, and that I found to be my taste. I sometimes visited the export shops found in some of the suburban malls - they carry brand name western clothing like The Gap or Old Navy for a fraction of the cost of what you'd pay back home and they come in western sizes (bigger). The problem with these export shops, though, is that it was mostly men's wear. As a matter of fact, most shopping malls carry all different sizes for men and they can be utterly HUGE.

However, this is all beginning to change. Some of the markets and "market stalls" in shopping centers now cater to 'big size' with aptly named shops such as "Big XXL". If you can get past the name of the shop, larger women will find clothes to fit and they will remove the labels if you ask. No one wants to walk around with a jeans label announcing that you're a Big XXL! It's also been reported that Seri Center shopping mall has one such outlet that carries a women's selection. Other regional centers near Hua Hin and Pattaya also carry women's western size clothing, but in Bangkok, your options are few.

What ARE those options, however few?

Fortunately, in recent times, department stores (Emporium and Central), hypermarkets such as Tesco and even Thai fashion labels are beginning to recognize that not everyone is a US size 2 or 4. Not even all Thai women are that small! Particularly with the current influx of British chain stores such as Marks & Spencer, TopShop, Dorothy Perkins, Next and the European store, Zara, it is becoming more and more possible to get clothes in "normal" western sizes. It is now quite common to be able to find clothes in a British size 14 or 16 - even an 18 (US size 16) if you shop at the right stores.

Other clothing items I brought from home were bras and panties. Finer department stores do carry larger size bras and panties, but just to make sure for comfort's sake, bring enough undergarments to last you until your next visit to your home country. If that isn't possible, Wacoal brand bras come in larger sizes, but one cup size up: if you normally wear a B cup, then your Wacoal size will be a C. You might try Vanity Fair brand as well, which goes up to a DD but only in a very few stores.

You should also buy a bathing suit before coming to Thailand. There are vendors at the touristy beaches selling bikinis, but they are, of course, Thai size and the swim wear sold at the fine department stores that would fit cost a small fortune.

Can I Find My Shoe Size in Thailand?

If not finding clothing isn't enough of a challenge, if you have feet larger than a size 8 (38) then you are out of luck finding shoes. This was SO frustrating for me because I saw loads of adorable shoes at very good prices, but I wear an 8½ or a 9, sometimes even a 9½! It is very difficult to find any shoes larger than a 40 (8½). Thailand uses European sizing for shoes, and unsurprisingly, Thai women have small feet.

If your shoe size is similar to mine, do your shoe shopping before coming to Thailand; get your workout shoes, several pair of work shoes (Thais prefer closed toe black leather), going-out-to-some-place-nice shoes, sandals, whatever you can think of that you will need before your trip back to your home country. You can get away with purchasing and wearing flip flops (called slippers in Thailand) a size or two smaller. And house slippers can be bought here - you might need a pair for your work or at home, where the tiles can be harsh on your feet.

Artfully drawn, the Nancy Chandler's Map of Bangkok is also highly useful as it has nice descriptions of places as well as off-the-beaten-path attractions you wouldn't know about otherwise. The little orange guide book goes into even more detail for categories such as entertainment venues, restaurants, sports and fitness centers, shopping, hotels and transportation.

Popular for tourists, the Map of Khao San and Old Bangkok can also be great for newly arrived expats who want to go sightseeing as they explore their new home. It's great fun to sit back at a restaurant and watch all the hippie backpackers go by, and all the crazy stuff that's sold down Khao San.

Lonely Planet Bangkok (Travel Guide)

Using this along with your Nancy Chandler maps is helpful as you get to know Bangkok. What What new favorite restaurants, art galleries or cocktail lounge will you discover?

Thailand - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

From one expat review: Having lived in Thailand for several years, I have been searching for a book that captures the unique culture of Thailand. THIS IS THE BOOK. Culture Shock: Thailand explains the obvious and not so obvious aspects of Thais and their culture. For any one visiting or living in Thailand, read this book before going. The culture quiz at the end of the book has also been helpful when I have taught Thai culture to groups preparing to visit Thailand.

Bring several sets of sheets if you know the size of bed you'll have. Thailand does not have flat sheets - the Thai people usually outfit their beds with a fitted sheet and a comforter. The flat sheet is a western concept, I guess. Any decent sheets will also be very expensive, especially sheet sets with a flat sheet included. You'll be able to find them in the finer department stores, but if you don't want to spend that kind of money, bring a set or two from home.


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