Historical Influences on Southeast Asian Clothing

There are four major periods of Thai history: Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, Thonburi, and Rattanakosin. The Sukhothai period (1238-1377 c.e.) exhibited a very rich culture. The country was free from serious war, agriculture developed, and food was plentiful. In this prosperous climate, craftsmanship flourished and elaborate textile techniques and styles developed. However, garment fabrics for high-ranking people were imported from China, India, and Persia. The wrapping style, pha chongkraben, was adopted from Cambodia during this period.

The Ayuthaya period (1357-1767) is known as the golden period of textile trade. Ayuthaya, the ancient capital city, is located 50 miles (76 km) north of Bangkok.

Black Tai Vietnamese women. Elaborately embroidered head-wraps such as these are worn by the Black Tai, an ethnic group that lives along the Red and Black Rivers in northern Vietnam.

© Chris Lisle/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Black Tai Vietnamese women. Elaborately embroidered head-wraps such as these are worn by the Black Tai, an ethnic group that lives along the Red and Black Rivers in northern Vietnam.

© Chris Lisle/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

During this period Thailand was a major trading center. Agents from Holland, France, the Middle East, Persia, India, Japan, and insular Southeast Asia worked in the country to facilitate the textile trade. Fabrics were imported from many countries, including silk and satin from China, chintz from India, pha poon from Cambodia, and some fabrics from Europe. Fabrics used for high-ranking people were elaborate and often made to order. In contrast, textiles worn by common people were woven by villagers and exchanged in a barter system (Gittinger and Lefferts 1992).

During the Thonburi period (1767-1781), a short span of time between Ayuthaya and Rattanakosin, there was a decrease in the textile and fabric trade. Fashion and styles of the Thonburi period did not change substantially from the Ayuthaya period. The current period, Rat-tanakosin (1782 to present day), was established by King Rama I (1782-1809) in the royal house of the Chakri monarchy. King Rama V (1868-1910) initiated changes in clothing, and white, satin long-sleeved shirts became

Vietnamese family. While wrapped garments were the traditional clothing of choice on the Asian mainland for many centuries, by the early 2000s they were used primarily for special occasions, and pants, skirts, and shirts became the prevalent style. © Chris Lisle/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Lisle Fabric

Vietnamese family. While wrapped garments were the traditional clothing of choice on the Asian mainland for many centuries, by the early 2000s they were used primarily for special occasions, and pants, skirts, and shirts became the prevalent style. © Chris Lisle/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

popular. Similar to other mainland Southeast Asian countries, westernization emerged as the prevalent style of clothing. Methods of making textiles and apparel gradually changed from handicraft to manufacturing. Plain, dark blue silk replaced traditional elaborate fabrics. Royalty dressed according to their position, with color indicating rank and status (1910-1925) (Gittinger and Lefferts 1992).

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