Traditional Thai Clothing

Clothing normally serves as protection from severe heat or cold. In ancient times, human beings must have clothed themselves with any natural materials available. Later, they must have made simple woven wear from certain fibrous plants such as flax, jute, or pineapple leaves, before knowing how to acquire threads and how to weave fabrics from cotton, wool, or silk.

After having learned to acquire silk thread and to make silk cloth, humans must have learned coloring with natural dyes from readily available plants such as the indigo dye from the indigo plant, the black dye from ebony fruits (Diospyros mollis), yellow from jackfruit wood or cumin, red from Sappan wood (Caesalpinia sappan), green from leaves of wild olive (Vitex pinnata, LABIATAE), light green from leaves of cork wood trees, and khaki from teak leaves

It has been hypothesized that humans must have developed weaving techniques from knitting. Weaving gradually became more sophisticated with the invention of percussion loom about 1,800 years ago. The tool had made weaving much faster. In Europe, this had led to a breakthrough in human history, the Industrial Revolution, when machines were invented to replace human hands in cotton mills in the mid-19th Century CE.

In Thailand, however, back-strap looms or handlooms are still in used for certain kinds of materials weaving, especially in some rural villages around the country.

Fabric Designs:Art Woven withThai Wisdom.

Rollers made from terra cotta unearthed at Ban Chiang indicate the printing (or rolling) of patterns on fabrics in solid colors. Certain archeological fragments discovered support the idea that early fabric designs may have been similar to those on pottery, such as spiral, saw tooth, coiled rope, or wave designs. After human communities had developed and become more complex, certain patterns for example, naga, serpent, hemsa, or peacock designs must have been invented to signify group identities.

Since the Sukhothai Period, the Golden Age of art, Thai artisans had invented many new designs from the surrounding natural objects, and from some mythical characters after their imagination, as reflected in unearthed pottery fragments. There were three methods to imprint these designs on to the fabrics: by embroidering, weaving, and painting. However, certain designs were reserved for nobility or dignitaries. Therefore, fabric designs were not simply artistic expressions but they also denoted subtle stratification in the fabric of Thai society.

Local Fabricsand Attire

The Siamese formerly dressed very simply, with “a piece to wear and another piece to wrap” themselves-as a Thai saying goes. Men usually covered the lower part of their body from the waist down. Women had something to wear and to wrap the upper part of the body. Most of their clothes were home spun. Wealthy people may have imported fabrics from abroad, but they were careful not to “emulate the lords and masters,” by wearing certain kinds of valuable and rare clothes reserved for nobility. As a matter of fact, in the late Ayutthaya Period, there was a decree to forbid commoners to use certain kinds of fabric and clothing reserved for dignitaries. The decree was repealed in the Fifth Reign (1868-1910), when western attire was adopted and widely used in the court as well as among commoners.

Local fabrics and dresses that commoners used in their daily life, however, reflected both ancestral wisdom and local belief systems. They can be regionally divided into four areas.