Impressed by the beautiful Thai traditional clothing? Look through this article to find out about traditional Thai clothing for males and females, formal Thai national costume, and Thai wedding dresses/clothing.
Traditional Thai Clothing: Chut Thai
Traditional Thai clothing is best known as chut Thai (Thai: ชุดไทย), which literally means 'Thai outfit'. It can be worn by men, women, and children.
Chut thai for women usually consists of a pha chung hang or a pha nung, a blouse, and a pha biang.
Chut thai for men is known as a Raj pattern costume, which includes a pha chung hang or pants, a shirt, with optional knee-length white socks and a pha biang. (Confused? Continue to read!)
Let’s explain every part of a chut Thai for women and men.
Pha Chung Hang (or Chang Kben)
A pha chung hang or chang kben is a lower-body, wrap-around cloth. It can be worn by men or women. This pant-like garment resembles loose breeches and is tucked between the legs.
Pha Nung (or Pha Sinh)
A pha nung, also known as a pha sinh or pha thung, is a tubular skirt wrapped around the waist. It is generally made of Thai silk.
Pha Biang (or Sabai)
A pha biang or sabai is a shawl-like garment or breast cloth. It is a long piece of silk that's about a foot wide and is draped diagonally around the chest by covering one shoulder while its end drops behind the back. It can be worn by both women or men.
A Raj-pattern costume is Thai men’s traditional clothing. It consists of a white Nehru-style jacket with five buttons, a pha chung hang, knee-length socks, and dress shoes.
Nowadays, these traditional dresses are used mostly during ethnic festivals, celebrations, weddings, and other special occasions.
Formal Thai National Costume
The formal Thai national costume, chut Thai phra ratcha niyom, literally 'Thai dress of royal endorsement'), includes several sets of clothing, designed for use as national costume on formal occasions.
It was born in the middle of the 20th century. Before the 1960s, Thailand did not have a national costume to wear to formal occasions. This problem became evident when King Bhumibol Adulyadej was visiting Europe with his wife, Queen Sirikit. The royals didn't have a formal outfit to wear for the many meetings and parties. Back in Thailand, the Queen worked to establish one, and finally, in 1964, chut Thai phra ratcha niyom was born.
There are eight types of national costume for women for different occasions, and there is only one formal male national outfit.
Formal Chut Thai for Men
There are multiple different outfits in Thailand worn by men. However, the one formal attire is a suea phraratchathan.
Suea phraratchathan literally means "royalty-bestowed shirt". It was invented in 1979 for the rulers of the country, and it resembles the Raj-pattern jacket. A suea phraratchathan is specified as having a standing mandarin collar, five round flat buttons, and two outer pockets.
The shirt comes in three varieties: short-sleeved, long-sleeved, and long-sleeved with a sash, which range from the least to most formal, respectively. A suea phraratchathan is usually paired with Western-style suit trousers.
Suea Phraratchathan, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Formal Chut Thai for Women
There are eight types of formal Thai national costume for women, all developed by Queen Sirikit during the early 1960s. The different outfits are used for formal and informal occasions.
1. Chakkri — one of the most famous Thai traditional dresses
A chakkri is one of the most famous and commonly worn traditional dresses of Thailand. It is considered to be elegant and formal attire. It consists of a sinh (a long, tube-style skirt), a top made from silk, and a sabai. Women usually wear gold jewelry as accessories with it.
Chakkri, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
2. Chakkraphat — formal dress for royal ceremonies
A chakkraphat is a chut Thai with a shawl like a chakkri’s. However, it is more conservative and considered more official. This can be seen from its name, which means ‘emperor’. It includes a pleated shawl cover and another thicker shawl with lots of detailed embroidery. It is one of the most elegant and formal types of chut Thai for women and is usually worn for royal or national ceremonies.
Chakkraphat, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
3. Boromphiman — evening attire
A boromphiman is used as evening attire. The costume consists of an ankle-length tube skirt called a sinh and a long-sleeved round-necked blouse, buttoned at the front or back. The blouse and skirt are sewn together to make a one-piece dress. It is made from fine fabric, which gives it an elegant and luxurious look. It can be worn for formal and semi-formal functions.
Boromphiman, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
4. Siwalai — formal evening attire
A siwalai almost identical to a boromphiman, but with a sabai. It is a formal evening attire mainly worn during royal ceremonies and formal functions.
Siwalai, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
5. Amarin — evening dress for royals
An amarin is a luxurious evening dress often worn by royals. It consists of a brocade sinh and a broad almost square-like blouse, with sleeves extending to just below the elbow and buttons all the way up the front to the throat. It is usually worn during royal events with all the requisite royal ornaments.
Amarin, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
6. Chitlada — formal dress for daytime ceremonies
A chitlada is used as formal ceremonial wear for daytime events. It is usually used by Thai officials, for instance, to welcome official royal guests. It consists of a long sinh and a long-sleeved silk blouse, which has five gold or silver buttons at the front.
Chitlada, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
7. Ruean Ton — the most casual Thai female outfit
A ruean ton is the most casual of the eight outfit types. It is usually worn for non-official functions where a smart standard of dress is required. It consists of a sinh (a long, tube-style skirt) and a long-sleeved blouse without a collar. The blouse, with a row of buttons at the front and elbow-length sleeves, is tucked into the skirt. The skirt is plain-colored or striped.
Ruean Ton, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
8. Dusit — a Westernized form of traditional Thai dress
A dusit is a more Westernized form of traditional Thai dress and is usually worn at international events or less-formal evening events. The garment features a round neck and no sleeves. It can be a one-piece dress or a skirt and blouse.
Dusit, Photo by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Traditional Thai Wedding Clothes
While some modern couples choose to wear a Western-style white dress and suit, most prefer to wear traditional Thai garments.
The Bride’s Dress
Thai brides don't have a standard wedding dress. A traditional Thai wedding dress can be chosen from the eight different styles of national costume for females.
Thai brides tend to wear a traditional, close-fitting, brightly colored Thai silk ensemble during their wedding ceremony. The gowns are made purely from cotton or silk. An eye-catching over-the shoulder floor-length shawl is an optional extra for brides. Gold jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, belts, and brooches, are usually worn to complete the look.
The Groom’s Wedding Attire
Thai grooms usually wear traditional suea phraratchathan costumes. Many grooms opt for a white ensemble. Some modern grooms choose to pair their traditional pants with a stylish Western suit jacket and tie.
History of Thai Traditional Dress
The history of Thai clothing cannot be separated from the history of its ancient kingdoms. Under the Dvaravati Kingdom (6th-13th century), the clothing style was influenced by India, with loincloths, golden necklaces, and metal belts. During the Lavo Kingdom (7th century), fashion was influenced by the Khmer, with shorter dresses.
Visit a Museum to Get to Know Thailand Traditional Clothing
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok is your chance to admire the many Thai traditional outfits. It was opened in 2003 inside a then-vacant building on the grounds of the Royal Palace built by Rama I in 1870.
The building was renovated to become a museum, and now the many rooms host an education studio, a library, a lecture hall, and Thailand's first dedicated textile conservation laboratory.
The exhibitions tell the story of how Queen Sirikit developed the traditional outfits, transforming Thai silk into a symbol of Thailand. The highlight of the museum is the personal collection of dresses of the Queen.
Where to Buy Quality Traditional Thai Clothing
If you are visiting Bangkok and you wish to buy a traditional Thai dress, there are dozens of places around the city selling silk and making handwoven dresses on request.
Among the many, we recommend heading to Queen Thai Silk, who uses 100% pure Thai silk to make beautiful dresses in just a couple of days. You can choose the fabric and have your tailored dress.
Exotic Thai, on the other hand, offers any kind of souvenirs, but they are specialized in Thai silk. Here you will find any kind of quality of silk, suitable for the every budget.
Narai Phand, opened 72 years ago, has some of the best Thai handicrafts in the city. These handicrafts come from villages and regions across the country, and its aim is to aid villagers who produce them. The silk is handmade and hand-painted, and beside dresses, you will find bags, skirts, scarfs, etc.