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Thailand Traditional Costumes

Thai classical costume is quite unique to the nation. Modern Thai men invariably have two suits when dressing up for celebrations or formal ceremonies: a western suit and a Thai suit. Women have as many as six Thai classical dresses to choose from. Nowadays, Thai people wear Thai classical costumes for special occasions only, such as wedding ceremonies, temple visits or informal ceremonies.

An Overview of Thai Costumes

Evidence of early Thai costumes can be found in ancient sculptures and literature. The Thai people believed that dressing up in the right color would bring them good luck. This belief can be found in the poems of the Thai poet Soonthornphu, who lived in the Ayutthaya period. His poem entitled Sawatdiruksa, said that the color of clothing should be red on Sunday, white on Monday, violet and dark indigo on Tuesday, bright orange on Wednesday, green and yellow on Thursday, gray like the color of a rain cloud on Friday and black on Saturday. These colors were favorable both for daily wear and when going to war.

Thai costume has been influenced by the styles of neighboring peoples such as the Khmer, Lao, Burmese, Malays and Indonesians. Later, these styles were adapted to create true regional Thai identities.

During the Dvaravarti period, evidence from sculptures shows that costumes were very simple. Incorporating features of Mon and Khmer clothing, the people at that time wore a simple piece of cloth around their bodies, between waist and knee. Men wore a loincloth while the women occasionally draped a piece of clothing over the shoulders. The high bun was the fashionable hairstyle at the time. Ornaments and jewelry were made from stone and metal, and worn at the wrists and arms.

In the Srivijaraya period, costume followed the styles of Dvaravarti but with more ornamentation at the neck, wrists, arms and ankles. The women held their hair in a high bun while the men wore their hair in pigtails at the ears.

Costume in the Lopburi period was influenced by the Khmer to a greater degree. Upper bodies of both men and women were naked. Sometimes the women wore a 'sabai', a piece of cloth hung across one shoulder.

In the Chiang Saen period, tribes from northern Thailand brought new ideas to costume. Men wore three-quarter-length pants with their upper bodies bare. They wore a turban-like head-cloth and tied the pants at the waist in various ways. Women began to wear ankle-length tube-skirts for the first time, with jewelry at the neck, arms and wrists.

The Sukhothai period saw the emergence of the 'jong krabane', a skirt with the cloth gathered together and threaded between the legs, over three-quarter-length pants. 'Jong krabane' were similar to Khmer-style garments called 'yak rung' or 'tok Khmer'. Over the upper body, men wore short-sleeved shirts. The women wore long-sleeved blouses and a tube-skirt with front-pleated lengths of cloth. Sometimes the women wore the 'sabai' over their shoulders and generally wore their hair high. Members of the aristocracy wore jewelry or even a crown.

In the early Ayutthaya period, during peacetime, men wore long-sleeved shirts and 'jong krabane' with a cloth wrap at their waist. Women wore a tube-skirt with front-pleated lengths of cloth. At the top of the body, they wore a long-sleeved blouse or draped a 'sabai' over one shoulder. At home, women wore a 'par tap', a long piece of cloth wrapped around the breasts. Men began wearing their hair short in the 'mahard thai' style. Women kept their hair high on the head, held in place with an ornament, or loosely. During wartime, the men wore long-sleeved shirts or waistcoats and 'jong krabane'. Women wore 'tabang marn', a piece of cloth wrapped around the back and breasts and tied at the neck, and 'jong krabane'. Short hair was popular among both men and women.

At the beginning of the Rattanakosin period, costume followed the styles of Ayutthaya. From the reign of King Rama V, western costume styles became more popular, with the influence of the European powers. Men wore shirts called 'ratch patan', colorful 'jong krabane' called 'pha mueng', and hats whenever outdoors. Women wore long blouses in the European style and carried a piece of cloth on one shoulder.

During the reign of the present monarch, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional costume and fabrics. HM Queen Sirikit prefers to wear Thai classical costume for ceremonial occasions. Modern dresses such as 'Thai Ruan Ton', 'Thai Chakri', 'Thai Boromphimarn', 'Thai Dusit', 'Thai Chitlada', and 'Thai Siwalai', were adapted from ancient costumes. The men's national suit is called 'sua phra ratch tan', a short or long-sleeved shirt with a piece of cloth knotted in a bow at the waist.

The basic costume can be seen everywhere, especially in rural areas. Men wear the 'pa kao ma', a wrap-around, which doubles as a swimming suit, blanket, bath towel, dress or hammock. Women wear the ubiquitous tube-skirt at home, or sometimes for swimming and bathing.

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