The question of whether it is possible to look good while exploring the globe is one that has long vexed the more fashion-inclined traveler.
As any idiot who has sweated and stumbled around Angkor in a pairing of jeans and Cuban heels will know, the vagaries of adventure are none too forgiving of an outfit more suited to Wall Street than a crumbling World Heritage Site.
Traveling demands a practical approach to dressing, and that doesn’t tend to win much in the way of fashion kudos.
Yet if hipster chic is a no-no for obvious reasons of comfort, it is somewhat less clear why some of the following missteps have established themselves as acceptable travel accouterments over the years.
1. Thai fisherman’s pants
What: Lightweight cotton unisex pants made wide in the waist so can be worn by anyone.
Come in many different colors and patterns ranging from plain black (almost, but not, forgivable) to luminous orange and tie-dye. Not worn by Thai fishermen.
Who wears them: Mainly the preserve of Israelis and impressionable young British backpackers and most prevalent on the party islands of southern Thailand.
For prime fisherman’s pant-spotting, head to a beach bar after nightfall where you are guaranteed to find young girls and blokes with ratty beards twirling fire-sticks to interchangeable Euro techno.
Redeeming feature? Excellent joke material for future years if any of your friends fall into the trap of wearing a pair.
2. Socks and sandals
What: Self-explanatory. The wholly ill-advised pairing of a pair of socks (usually white, but often brown, black or even flesh-colored) with a chunky pair of sensible sandals with ample strapping.
Who wears them: Once the preferred footwear of elderly Brits uncertain of what to do with their feet in warmer climes, this unholy combo has inexplicably wormed its way into favor with fashion experts who are quite clearly having a laugh at our expense.
It’s true that bare feet aren’t the most attractive item in the anatomical arsenal, but they generally look far better in sandals — the jury’s out on them too, by the way — when they are unclad.
Redeeming teature? Reduces the likelihood of ant or mosquito attacks making your feet even more ugly.
3. Bad travel tattoos
What: Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny the merits of a really good tattoo.
These designs, however, are generally painstakingly planned and executed by expert artists, not hatched at the tail end of a vodka bucket and branded indelibly onto your person in a hut by an off-duty fisherman.
It’s the second variety we are talking about here.
Who gets them: Travelers who get most inebriated, so Australians, Irish and Brits. Many Americans, too, seem to have a gene that makes them susceptible to vandalizing their body with unintelligible Oriental scrawls and badly rendered dragons when traveling Asia.
Redeeming feature? You’ll never forget that night you forgot the following morning.
4. Slogan T-shirts
What: Let’s be fair, some of the classic travel tees are actually pretty natty. Beer Lao is a fine beverage and its label looks pretty cool emblazoned on cotton.
Mostly, however, this fashion niche — most prevalent on the southeast Asian circuit — is an exercise in depressing uniformity. Getting inebriated in a tube on a river in Vang Vieng in Laos may have been riotous but does it really have to be commemorated ad nauseum on your chest?
Also, it’s not being overly judgemental to say that anyone who still thinks the slogan “same, same but different” still has mileage for humor should probably be avoided.
Who wears them? A young person’s game, which is understandable given that a) the items are cheap and durable and b) baby backpackers tend to hunt in packs and can be forgiven for being swept up in the excitement of being away from home for an extended period for the first time.
Redeeming feature? Good way of striking up a conversation with the opposite sex. “Ah, so I see you’ve been tubing in Vang Vieng. Awesome.” Or “Ah, Beer Chang eh? Isn’t Thailand awesome.”
What: Similar to Thai fisherman’s pants, in that they are the ultimate example of what happens when practicality supersedes normal boundaries of taste, these garish foam clogs are rightly reviled.
Ugly in every way, it’s a well-established fact that it is impossible for anyone to look good, even acceptable, in Crocs.
Proponents would have it that their hideousness is outweighed by comfort, but babygros are comfy too. You don’t feel the need to parade around in them, do you?
Who wears them? Crocs, thankfully, have been shunned by most of the world leaving it up to mostly middle-aged North American men to spread the tarnished gospel.
Fittingly, born-again Christian and former president of the United States, George W Bush, was known for his penchant for Crocs. Paired with socks. Also popular among Eastern European and Russian men -– a demographic not generally held to be the most fashion forward.
Redeeming feature? This 2002 invention can be used in the future as an example of post-millennial trauma.
6. Bum bags/fanny packs
What: Humans have managed just fine without pouches for millennia, but this strap-on receptacle for loose change, bus tickets and that crappy bracelet you were somehow convinced to buy became quite the thing for a certain breed of traveler from the late 1980s onwards.
Despite being susceptible to any half-competent thief with a knife or a pair of scissors, bum-bag wearers labor under the smug misapprehension that their style crime is offset by the fact that they’re a walking Fort Knox.
Who wears them? The name sounds like a colostomy bag whichever way you spin it so it’s perhaps appropriate that the scared and the elderly favor this item. Also occasionally sported by browbeaten exchange students badgered into compliance by their worried mothers.
Redeeming feature? Watching a sweaty youth pawing at his crotch for five minutes as he seeks change for a beer is always a compelling sight.
What: As an expression of deeply held religious sentiment or as adherence to centuries-old tribal traditions, dreads are fine. Not particularly attractive, but fine.
As a fashion statement, sporting dirty matted coils of hair is as bewildering a phenomena as the Black Eyed Peas.
Who wears them: A wide cross section of nationalities. Once almost exclusively the preserve of New Age types, dreads, and near cousin braids, have spread their stinky tentacles far and wide to everyone from gap-year trustafarians to long-term beach bums.
Often found in conjunction with fire-sticks, didgeridoos and Thai fisherman’s pants.
Redeeming feature? Can provide extra cushioning on long and bumpy bus journeys to Indian pilgrimage sites.