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Thai Traditional Dress

A topic that will pop up especially during festivals, is Thai traditional dress. Chut Thai (Thai outfit) is a general term to indicate different kinds of traditional outfits worn on formal occasions by Thai people.

This colorful and elegant outfit can be worn by everyone. There are different outfits for men, women, and children, and there are some regional variations as well. Outfits for women are particularly elaorate and gorgeous, and there are up to eight different variations, one for every kind of occasion.

History of Thai 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.

With the raising of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, many styles followed. The main change was the adoption of chong kraben, a lower-body, wrap-around clothing worn mainly in Cambodia, and bare chest and bare feet were accepted in formal dress code.

Before the 18th century, both men and women kept their hair long. Then, women began to adopt a crew-cut short style which persisted as the national hairstyle until the 20th century. King Vajiravudh encouraged Thai women to wear pha sinh, a tubular skirt, instead of the chong kraben.

However, Thailand didn’t have a traditional costume until the 1960s. 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 was born.

Different kinds of Chut Thai

Chut Thai is usually bright, delicate, and modest. You will see many traditional dresses during festivals, celebrations, weddings, etc. Weaving is one of the many crafts in Thailand. Every ethnic group has its own tradition, with fabrics and patterns to distinguish ethnicity, and different colors to specify the purpose of the dress.

Men’s Traditional Outfits

The traditional shirt of men in Thailand is called phraratchathan. It was invented in 1979 for the rulers of the country, and it resembles the Nehru jacket, a button-up shirt with the so called “mandarin collar”. It has long sleeves and a sash for formal occasions.

Another traditional piece of clothing is the pakama, a large rectangular piece of fabric, wrapped around the waist. It can be used as a cloth, a towel, or a headdress.

In everyday life, men usually wear light-weight baggy trousers. They are multicolored and extremely comfortable, made of natural fabrics.

Women’s Traditional Outfits

Women’s outfits are truly beautiful, and they come in many different styles. There are seven different costumes for women, all developed by the Queen during the last century. The pieces that form the dress are the pha nung (a long rectangular cloth used as a wrapped skirt); sin (a tube skirt); sabai (a long piece of silk that covers the upper body); and chong kraben.

The different outfits are used for formal and informal occasions:

  • Chakkri outfit: the most used and most popular one. It consists of a sin, a top made from silk, and a sabai. Women usually wear gold jewelry as accessories.
  • Chakkraphat: similar to the previous one, it includes a sin, a top, and a sabai. The cloths are fully embroidered and thicker.
  • Boromphiman: it is used as an evening attire, that consists of a sin and a blouse with long sleeves and a round neck, made from fine fabric.
  • Siwalai: almost identical to the previous one, but with a sabai. It is mainly worn during royal ceremonies and formal functions.
  • Amarin: compared to the ones above, it is more casual. It consists of a brocade sin and a blouse, with sleeves to just below the elbow.
  • Chitlada: this gown is used for daytime ceremonies, and it consists of a sin and a silk blouse, which has five gold buttons at the front. It is used for funerals, or to welcome the official royal guests.
  • Ruean Ton: the most casual of the seven. It consists of a sin and a blouse without a collar. The blouse, with a row of buttons at the front and elbow-length sleeves, is tucked into the sin.

Chut Thai today

As said above, nowadays these traditional dresses are used mostly during festival celebrations. Each design has it own purpose, to be used at different occasions.

It would be common to see these dresses in upscale salons and massage parlors, and also in some restaurants, especially those offering high-end service.

Queen Sirikit Textile Museum

The museum in Bangkok is your chance to admire the many 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 bulding 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.

Getting one

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.

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