11 July 2024

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s unconventional fashion statements have drawn criticism after he wore bright-colored socks to meetings with world leaders last week.

The Thai PM appeared in bubblegum-pink socks and tie in Beijing last Wednesday (Oct 19), when he met separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Thai PM Srettha Thavisin meets with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Beijing in October.

On Saturday, he changed into bright red socks for an audience with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh.

Thai PM Srettha Thavisin talks to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Question of appropriateness

This is not the first time the prime minister has worn colourful socks and ties while attending official functions, standing out among the drab attire of those around him.

However, his flamboyant clothing in meetings with world leaders has earned a wave of criticism in Thailand, with critics saying he needs to adopt a more appropriate tone on the global stage.

In September, Srettha wore matching red socks and tie to attend the 78th UN General Assembly in New York. A week earlier on Sept 13, he had chaired his first Cabinet meeting at Government House in hot-pink socks.

During his meeting with Putin in Beijing, the pink socks were spotlighted by Russian media and became a hot topic of debate among Russian social media users and journalists.

Some pointed to his background as a top business executive, noting that bold fashion statements are more accepted in business circles.

Srettha was president and CEO of Thai property giant Sansiri Plc before entering politics early this year, just months before the May 14 general election. During his time as a business mogul, he was often seen wearing socks in bright colors – particularly red.

Wearing red socks for decades

Soon after becoming PM in late August, Srettha confessed that his favorite color is red – along with similar shades like orange and pink. He said that as a fan of Liverpool Football Club (“The Reds”), he had worn red socks for the past “20 to 30 years”.

“I have socks in many colors – dark blue, light blue, green, yellow, and orange. But I wear red ones more often because it’s my favorite color,” he explained.

However, many Thais are now expressing dismay that Srettha has insisted on maintaining his eccentric fashion habits while representing the nation as prime minister. Some critics complain it is “improper” to wear red or pink socks at international summits and meetings with world leaders, while others are describing his fashion choices as “ridiculous” or “clownish”.

Srettha’s colleagues in the ruling Pheu Thai Party have come out strongly in his defense. Government spokesman Chai Wacharonke and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama said the focus should be on the essence of the prime minister’s work during his overseas trips, not his clothing or body language.

“I’d like the focus to be on the content of the discussions and potential benefits for the country, rather than the prime minister’s body language. … His talks with other leaders often involve genuine benefits for the country and its people,” the government spokesman said.

Following in their footsteps

However, Srettha is far from being alone as a government leader who is fond of colorful socks. Other prominent politicians have opted to send symbolic messages through their clothing choices.

Government leaders have even highlighted their flamboyant socks to break the ice during formal meetings with their counterparts.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is famous for so-called “sock diplomacy” and is known for deploying an arsenal of fun pairs for different occasions.

A fan of Stars Wars, the style-conscious leader wore a pair of Chewbacca socks at a global business forum in 2017 and a pair of mismatched R2D2 and C3PO socks to meet with the prime minister of Ireland. He also showed off his Nato-branded socks to then-German chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting.

A few years ago, he joined the Toronto Gay Pride Parade in a pair of rainbow-striped socks with the Arabic words “Eid Mubarak” (“Blessed festival”) sown into them. Ramadan, the end of the Muslim month of fasting, coincided with Gay Pride that year.

‘Battle of the socks’

Trudeau was also involved in a “sock war” with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Bangkok last November, both leaders flashed their printed socks at each other.

 

“Meanwhile, there seems to be a battle of the socks at the sidelines of the Apec Summit!” Marcos Jr tweeted, sharing several photos of himself and Trudeau comparing cotton footwear. He also put up a Twitter poll for people to vote on which leader had the best socks.

The battle continued when both leaders met at the sidelines of the Asean Summits in Jakarta early last month. Trudeau and Marcos again flaunted their colorful socks during the event.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk