Modern National Dress Styles in Thailand

Queen Sirikit in 1962, wearing a form of 'new' Thai national dress. Queen Sirikit in 1962, wearing a form of 'new' Thai national dress.

In 1960, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand embarked on an extended tour of the world. As part of this trip the Queen wanted to wear Thai as well as Western style garments. It was soon realised, however, that the Thai court dress for women, especially that worn from the early twentieth century, was a mixture of Western and Thai elements and this dress was regarded as unsuitable, because visually it was not Thai enough.

So the Queen decided to create a new national dress that would properly represent Thailand. A committee was organised that included the Queen, court officials and the French couturier Pierre Balmain (1914-1982). Following various ‘experiments’, some of which were worn by the Queen in public, eight distinct styles (Phra Rajaniyom, ‘Royal Favour’) were eventually selected. These styles were all based on traditional Thai wrapped and draped garments (skirt, top and shoulder cloth), but incorporating the fashionable slender silhouette of the early 1960's and constructed according to Western cutting techniques to which many Thai women had become accustomed. The result was a series of new national outfits that were regarded as honouring the past while at the same time being practical. Each of the eight styles was named after an important royal palace in Bangkok.

Pierre Balmain and François Lesage also developed a style of surface embellishment that combined European materials and techniques with the three-dimensional embroidery popular in Thailand. Most of the embroidery was added to the eight outfits of the Phra Rajaniyom, notably the Thai Dusit with its embroidered top; the Thai Chakri and Thai Chakraphat that have embroidered blouses and shoulder cloths, and the Thai Siwalai with an embroidered skirt, top and shoulder cloth.

These ‘traditional’ styles are still, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, worn by many women throughout Thailand, although people do not always realise that these garments date from the early 1960's.


  • TEEKARA, Piyavara, Alisa SAISAVETVAREE, Melissa LEVENTON and Dale Carolyn GLUCKMAN (2014). 'Women’s fashions at the Thai Court: Tradition and Modernisation,’ Arts of Asia, May-June, pp. 78-88.
  • (retrieved 28 March 2017).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 28 March 2017).


Last modified on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 17:59
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