Today is National Dress Day, so it’s only fitting we highlight the exquisite and traditional dresses from Thailand! While there is no official national dress, vibrant and culturally diverse Thai dresses are common attire worn to festivals and celebratory occasions. Men, women, and children all don this form of Thai fashion, with various dresses for different occasions.
History of Traditional Thai Dresses
From the 6th to 13th century under the Dvaravati Kingdom, Thai clothing was greatly influenced by India. Loincloths, gold necklaces, and metal belts were amongst the styles that influenced fashion within Thailand.
During the 7th century, fashion in Thailand was influenced by the Khmer, with clothing styles such as shorter dresses.
Traditional Thai Dress by Region
The Ayutthaya Era has influenced the fashion of Central Thailand for nearly 200 years. The most popular style amongst women is the ankle-length tube skirt. However, older generations of women wear the traditional ‘jong krabane,’ a style of skirt made of hand-woven cotton gathered, rolled, and threaded between the legs.
Tribal groups Thai-Lue, Thai Kern, and Thai Yai greatly continue to influence the fashion of Northern Thailand. Styles include indigo-dyed blouses fastened on the side and ankle-length tube skirts. The tube-skirts are designed more elegantly for formal occasions with colorful weaving down the middle and decorated hems.
Across the Southern region of Thailand, men and women don brilliantly colored batik-patterned sarongs. Women pair their sarongs with loosely fitted lace blouses, worn outside of the sarong and an open front. The Malaysian ‘yaya’ style influences this popular look. Women will also wear a shawl that covers both the head and shoulders in compliance with Muslim beliefs.
Types of Traditional Thai Dresses
Men and women alike wear Chong Kben, a lower-body silk wrap-around garment adopted from Cambodia. This pant-like garment resembles loose breeches and is tucked between the legs. From 1350 to 1767, Chong Kben was worn with a bare chest for men and bare feet, an acceptable formal dress code.
Thai women are commonly seen wearing a full-length ‘pha sinh,’ a tubular skirt wrapped around the waist generally made of Thai silk. Pha sinhs come in many colors with contrasted bands around the hem, paired with long-sleeved silk blouses.
Worn by women, a ‘sabai’ is an elegant shawl-like garment covering just one shoulder that wraps around the upper body and trails to the ground. The garment can traditionally be worn on its own; however, today, it is customary to wear an item of clothing underneath.
Women in Traditional Costume at Wat Putt Thai Sawan, Ayutthaya Province, Thailand | Thailand Insider
Before the 1960s, Thailand did not have a traditional dress to wear to formal occasions. In 1964, Queen Sirikit designed the traditional Thai dress, Chut Thai, meaning ‘Thai Outfit.’ Her Majesty wanted to create a modern national outfit for formal events and meetings. This charming traditional dress is bright, delicate, and modest and donned at the most celebratory occasions, including weddings, festivals, and other special events.
There are several types of Chut Thai dresses, all impeccably designed and unique in style, pattern, garment, and accessory.
Types of Chut Thai Dresses
Beginning with the most casual dress, the Ruean Ton is often worn during non-official functions, such as religious ceremonies. The outfit consists of a tube-like skirt made from silk with a striped or plain design and embroidery at the hem. The skirt is paired with a collarless blouse with a row of buttons on the front and elbow-length sleeves. The Ruean Ton is a two-piece dress; therefore, the blouse and skirt are separate.
As one of the most famous and elegant traditional dresses from Thailand, Chakkri boasts a grandeur appropriate for any formal occasion. The outfit includes a long tube skirt with two front pleats and a sabai. A sabai is a top made from silk that wraps around the shoulders and trails to the ground on one side.
The fabric for the sinh is made with a traditional weaving technique called yok for a thicker fabric. This special technique creates an additional thickness without adding extra threads to the fabric. In some cases, craftsmen will add fine threads of gold or silver to the weaving for an elegant finish.
For more formal evening attire, Siwalai is seen at events such as royal ceremonies or functions. The Thai dress is a one-piece gown made from two garments of clothing sewn together: a long tube skirt with two front pleats and a blouse with buttons on the front and elbow-length sleeves sewn together. The formal look is complete with a sabai draped over the shoulder.
Traditional Dress in Thailand for Men
There are multiple different outfits in Thailand worn by men. However, the one formal attire is Suea Phraratchathan. This traditional Thai dress was invented in 1979, designed with buttons fastened up the front, a long collar, and sleeves of varying lengths. For formal occasions, men wear long sleeves and a sash. The Phraratchathan is usually paired with Western-style suit trousers.
Thai Dresses Today
In 2003, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother revived the Thai fashion industry by opening the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok. Located within the Grand Palace grounds, the museum showcases a stunning collection of Her Majesty’s most prestigious textiles and works handcrafted by the Thai locals. While in Bangkok, don’t forget to explore this historical museum!
Fashion in Thailand has changed over the years, yet you will still see traditional Thai dresses at formal occasions or festival celebrations. Through the craft of weaving, ethnic groups across Thailand use their weaving techniques to produce beautiful dresses with differentiating colors, patterns, and designs.
Finding Thai garments throughout Thailand is super easy, but some of our favorite places include weekend markets like Chatuchak and the Sunday walking street in Phuket and Chiang Mai. But if you are only in Bangkok and looking for something more extensive variety or something refined – the best place to search for Thai garments is The Old Siam Shopping Plaza. It’s in the old part of Bangkok, and there are vendors beyond this shopping plaza who sell material and pre-made outfits. It’s a treasure trove for traditional Thai outfits and beyond!