Saturday, December 13, 2008

Helmet hairstyles no longer hi-so

Thai Takes

TYPE “hi-so” in The Nation’ – search box, and you’ll find some 160 entries.

The page features “New, mega rich hi-so superstars of the Thai economy”, “Hi-so wives and mia nois (Thai for minor wives)”, “Hi-so crowd”, “Hi-so denizens” and “Hi-so parties”.

What’s hi-so?

“Not that easy to define any more,” says Thailand Tatler editor-in-chief Naphalai Areesorn.

“In the past it used to be the family you come from which set your social status,” she explains. “And in Thailand – which is a country with a royal family – we have established families that can trace their line way back to the initial days of the Chakri dynasty.”

Now, Naphalai continues, there’s new money – especially during the Thaksin Shinawatra days when many Thais became rich.

And there’s the social climber.

Usually they are the wannabes who incessantly patronise high society functions and get themselves photographed ceaselessly (because they are eccentric or dress outstandingly) and then sort of get themselves into the hi-so circle, although their “background is not quite what it should be”.

For a description of a hi-so, return to the first page of The Nation’s search result and click on the article “Two women take over husbands’ political roles”, which was published on Jan 12.

Towards the end, the article states: “Pojaman (Damapong – her maiden name, which she reverted to after divorcing Thaksin Shinawatra) might look like any rich madam with her big hairstyle, neatly cut dress and designer handbag.

“She also loves to shop at upscale department stores. But what makes her stand out from the hi-so crowd is the strong political network she has built since the premiership of her husband.”

Well, the days of big hairdos are gone. The khunying (Thai slang for a woman which Lonely Planet characterises as having “Imelda Marcos helmet hairdos, jewel-toned Thai silk and thick pancake make-up”) has now gone modern.

“The khunyings have lowered the height of their hair,” adds Naphalai, who joined Thailand Tattler as a contributing editor when the magazine was launched 17 years ago.

Being a hi-so comes with a certain look.

“Don’t forget, within this crowd, there is a lot of keeping up with the Joneses. If you – especially a hi-so wannabe – want to be accep- ted by them, you have to look like them,” explains Naphalai, who is the perfect source to give the low-down on Thai high society.

Designer dress is a must. “If it is not designer wear, then it must be (made of) Thai silk,” she adds.

A must-have accessory is designer handbags – at the least, Hermes’ Kelly or Birkin.

But it is not all about international designer labels. The in-thing is high-end made-in-Thailand labels such as Asava (a new brand by a designer who is in the hi-so circle), Disaya or Munchu’s.

Ostentatiousness separates the Thai hi-so from her southern counterpart, the Malaysian socialite.

Thai hi-so tends to be more ostentatious, observes Naphalai, who is familiar with the Malaysian social scene as she lived in Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s when her father was Bangkok Bank manager.

“Thais tend to show off. Malaysians – and I know some very wealthy Malaysian Chinese – don’t seem to care so much about having to put up with appearances,” she observes. “The wealth is there but Malaysians do not have the need to display their wealth.”

How ostentatious is the Thai hi-so?

She’s dripping with the biggest stones in a social function that does not require her to wear all the jewellery in her safety box.

“When one piece of jewellery is enough to draw attention, there are people who wear jewellery on their ears, neck, wrists, fingers … everywhere,” laments Naphalai. “In Thailand being frugal is not always considered a positive value.”

Eeeem, sounds like the Mak Datins (who are Malaysia’s equivalent of the khunyings).

The other difference is that Malaysian socialites are less fashionable than their Thai counterparts.

KLites tend to dress more simply than Bangkokians, notes Naphalai, who does not consider herself a hi-so.

A hi-so, she adds, is very quick to own the latest trend so that she can wear it and show it off.

(Published in The Star on December 13, 2008)


Anonymous said...

Most Thai hi-sos are morons who be living in penury if they actually had to compete for their privilege.

They have no talent, style, ability nor any originality.

Awful bunch of people.