Chut Thai: Thailand's Traditional Dress

The Origin of Thailand's Traditional Dress

Chut Thai (ชุดไทย) which directly translates to “Thai outfit” is the name of the traditional Thai outfit worn in Thailand. There are many types of chut Thai, while each style is used for different occasions, the more modern garments were established as the nation’s official clothing by Queen Sirikit. If you're thinking of buying a traditional Thai dress, or are just curious about its history, continue reading! We will take a look through time to explore the fascinating history of Thai clothing, ending with a particular focus on traditional Thai dresses.

Traditional Thai Clothing Throughout History

Long before the chut Thai, approximately 900 years ago, ancient Thai clothing was greatly influenced by the Dvaravati and Khmer civilizations. Dvaravati was an ancient Mon kingdom that was located in the area that is now known as central Thailand, while The Khmer Empire ruled the majority of mainland Southeast Asia between the 11th and 13th centuries. During this time, both Thai men and women wore a unisex wraparound cotton loincloth, called a pha chung hang (ผ้าจูงหาง) or chong kraben (โจงกระเบน), with their bare feet and chests exposed. This article of clothing is a rectangular piece of cloth that is worn by wrapping it around the waist, pulling the corners between the legs and tucking the garment in the lower back.
Chong kraben on Siamese manSiamese [Thai] boatman. Photograph by John Thomson

Influence of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767)

The Ayutthaya Kingdom played a pivotal role in shaping traditional Thai clothing. Thai outfits began to take on more elaborate styles and designs as Thai silk became an integral part of traditional Thai clothing. The silk industry thrived during this time, and Thai silk soon gained recognition for its exquisite beauty and quality.
Feminine elegance was also accentuated with the introduction of the pha nung (ผ้านุ่ง), also called a pha sin (ผ้าซิ่น) or pha thung (ผ้าถุง), a long wrapped skirt worn optionally with a sabai (สไบ), a simple shawl that is wrapped around the chest and thrown over one shoulder. These pieces were mainly popular amongst royalty and nobility, as the use of intricate embroidery and gold or silver thread in clothing symbolized status and wealth.


Ancient Thai outfits for women

The Nineteenth Century

Thailand’s basic attire really didn’t change up until the mid nineteenth century when public dress codes were implemented to make clothing more modest by the Thai Royal Court. The dress codes forced men and women to cover up their chests. This made Thai clothing much less revealing than it used to be. This government-sponsored change had a devastating impact on the demand for customary Thai silks and fabrics. Imported Western clothing became favored over the traditional wrapped Thai cloth. By the 1940’s, hand-woven Thai silk became ancient history. The skills and knowledge stopped being passed down and were being forgotten by entire villages.

Queen Sirikit & The Revival Of Thai Textiles

Traditional Thai Dresses shown at Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
There is no one more significant in the history of Thai fashion and Thai fabrics than Queen Sirikit. The Queen had a perceptive sense of fashion. She was the only person to revolutionize and revitalize Thai fashion, not just for the upper class society, but much more importantly, the poor and middle class. She understood that as the Queen of Thailand, how she chose to dress would have a significant impact on Thai culture and fashion. She desired an extensive wardrobe that was both fashionable and Thai, traditional yet modern. As a result she, along with her team of designers, began to craft her wardrobe using traditional hand-woven Thai fabrics.
By the late 1950’s, she had visited rural villages that still practiced silk weaving; these poor communities created what many textile connoisseurs would consider to be the finest fabric in the world. The women had passed down their complex craft from grandmother to mother to daughter over generations; the patterns woven were the village patterns from Thai traditions many years ago. After rallying the villages to continue weaving their silk, she persuaded farmers to cultivate and harvest valuable silk yarns for the weavers to utilize.
Beginning in 1960, Queen Sirikit had single handedly formed a world market for Thailand’s exquisite silk. The remarkable Queen had brought pride, appreciation and support to the Thai weavers by wearing her contemporary Thai dresses and gowns on extensive international tours and official meetings. Her Majesty’s involvement in Thai fashion and Thai fabrics breathed life back into the Thai silk trade. She would even humbly wear mudmee silk, which was believed to be a fabric for underprivileged, rural women. As a result, the foundation of traditional Thai dresses made from Thai silk and cotton were created for ordinary Thai women.

The Traditional Thai Dresses Created For Thai Women

Queen Sirikit, along with her team of designers, created a set of traditional Thai dresses for Thai women to wear to attend weddings, celebrations, funerals, religious events and other important occasions. The collection, referred to as chut Thai phra rajaniyom or chut Thai for short, was designed in the 1960’s and consists of eight diverse styles of traditional Thai dresses; with some that can be worn at any ceremonial event, while others that are typically associated with certain events.
Ruean Ton
The Ruean Ton is a casual and comfortable traditional Thai dress used for non-official occasions in Thailand. It comprises of a long-sleeved collarless blouse and an ankle-length, embroidered skirt, known as a sinh. The Ruean Ton is worn for informal occasions such as Thai holidays, religious ceremonies, temple visits, and hospital and hospitality uniforms.
The Chitralada is slightly more formal than the Ruean Ton. This Thai outfit’s blouse has a small, standing collar, five gold-plated buttons, and is worn with a long embroidered sinh. This fit is customarily worn during daylight ceremonies, royal observances, and official meetings. The black Chitralada dresses are worn at funerals or during phases of mourning.
The Amarin is a formal Thai evening gown constructed of luxurious silk and may also integrate gold thread in the embroidery. The neck of this long-sleeved shirt is generally tight, with buttons sewed up to the throat. This traditional Thai outfit is not worn with a belt but instead adorned with extravagant jewelry. Thai women wear the Amarin during royal gatherings with the appropriate royal jewels. In addition, this ensemble is also worn during evening functions, receptions, theatre visits and any other occasion that calls for full-formal attire.
The Boromphiman is another formal Thai dress that incorporates silk fabrics, similar to the Amarin. The key differences are that this top does not have buttons. Additionally, the outfit is also sewn as a single piece and accessorized with an ornamental belt. This traditional Thai dress is worn to formal evening functions, celebration dinners and by royal brides.

The Dusit is a more westernized version of the traditional Thai dress; comparable to a formal western evening gown. This sleeveless dress is bejeweled with pearls, beads, glitter and sequins. It is worn with a belt to shape the body and waistline. This Thai outfit is typically worn to less-formal gatherings, festivals, cultural events, and Thai weddings.
The Chakri is what everybody pictures when they refer to a traditional Thai dress. It is Thailand’s most famous article of clothing for a reason, this very formal dress features an elegant skirt with a silk sabai, which is wrapped around the chest and draped over one shoulder, resulting in the other shoulder exposed. This beautiful traditional Thai dress is decorated with a belt, body chain and gold jewelry; normally worn to weddings and engagement ceremonies by Thai brides.
The Chakraphat looks similar to the Chakri except it uses two sabais layered across the chest instead of one. This formal attire is comprised of detailed embroidery patterns and intricate designs; it is often extremely accessorized with a tiara, belt, necklace, bracelets, arm cuffs and earrings. Thai women wear the Chakraphat to royal banquets and formal dinners.

The Siwalai is an elegant and high-class traditional Thai dress. It is typically seen at royal ceremonies and very formal events. It is very similar to the Boromphiman, apart from the sabai draped over the shoulder to characterize its elegance and grace.

Fashion Fit For A Queen

Traditional Thai dresses were originally intended for the royal family, but the Queen’s elegant style and contribution has allowed these customary garments to become a source of national pride and identity. Thai people take immense pride in wearing their traditional Thai clothing. It is a reflection of Thai traditions and customs, and it is rooted in their history and heritage. The traditional Thai dress helps to preserve Thai culture by giving people a sense of unity and community. When Thai women wear their Thai outfits, they feel proud and connected to their culture.

Thailand's Traditional Dress In Today’s Media

Today, the traditional Thai dress is worn differently than in the past, particularly with a larger emphasis on being fashionable. For example, in Lisa Manoban’s LALISA music video, the artist stunned in a custom traditional Thai outfit. Her Thai outfit featured an embellished crop top sabai that also resembled a cape, and a matching wrapped mini skirt. The costume was designed entirely for Lisa and was exclusively made with traditional Thai brocaded silk.
Lisa Manoban wearing her Thai dress in LALISA music video
This iconic Thai dress became an influential fashion statement causing it to rise in demand in not only Thailand, but around the world. There is a rapidly growing market for traditional Thai clothing, both within Thailand and abroad. With the rise of social media and the growing interest in cultural diversity, Thai dresses have become a must-have item. Many women wear variations of the traditional Thai dress to their wedding and engagement ceremonies, while younger women prefer to show theirs off at graduation ceremonies and school dances, such as prom.

However, finding these dresses is not an easy task.

Despite the growing popularity of Asian fashion worldwide, traditional Thai dresses are still relatively hard to find online and in stores. They are often only available in Thailand at highly specialized shops and boutiques.
That is why I have created this online store, for Thai women around the world to have access to these beautiful garments without having to travel to Thailand. Our dresses are made in Thailand using authentic Thai silk and cotton, making them an excellent investment for anyone looking to incorporate Thai culture into their wardrobe. So, if you're looking for a unique and elegant dress that will make you stand out from the crowd, check out our collection online.