Beyond the Fabric: The Evolution of Men’s Thai Traditional Clothing

Teerin Julsawad




Thailand, with its rich tapestry of history and culture, has an unparalleled legacy that can be seen in its art, architecture, food, and, of course, clothing. Few things capture the nation’s heart and history as evocatively as the chut Thai or Thai traditional clothing.

Although chut Thai might already be a familiar term to many thanks to our previous deep dives into Thailand’s sartorial splendor, much of its narrative has celebrated the women’s attire. Now, we’re showcasing a less explored, yet equally captivating realm: men’s traditional outfits. While women’s chut Thai often garners global admiration, the style and rich legacy of men’s traditional outfits remain an untold story deserving of the spotlight.

There have been numerous variations and evolutions in Thai traditional costumes throughout its long history. But as we weave through this tale, we’ll specifically focus on the intricate patterns and profound tales behind the suea phraratchathan and the venerable Raj pattern.

Suea phraratchathan weaves an ode to Thai heritage

Suea phraratchathan
Source: Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles website

The year 1979 witnessed a sartorial renaissance in Thailand. With the introduction of the suea phraratchathan, a garment was born that was not only steeped in tradition but also embodied the nation’s stride into modernity. Its name, directly translating to “royally bestowed shirt,” offers a glimpse into its esteemed lineage.

Imagine a shirt that carries with it the weight of royalty. Designed by royal tailors for King Bhumibol and often worn by politicians during its early days, it radiates a sense of authority and reverence, particularly with its standing mandarin collar. The five distinct round flat buttons that adorn it are not mere embellishments; they’re a nod to the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail prevalent in Thai culture.

A man and woman wearing Thai traditional outfits
Source: Image Art /

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. The suea phraratchathan doesn’t falter in this regard. This shirt comes in multiple varieties:

1. Short-sleeved: For the casual yet traditional appeal.
2. Long-sleeved: Combining tradition with a more formal demeanor.
3. Long-sleeved with a sash: The epitome of formal and traditional elegance.

Whether it’s the breezy short-sleeved version, ideal for the balmy Thai afternoons, the more formal long-sleeved variant, or the pièce de résistance, the long-sleeved version with a sash, there’s a style befitting every occasion. Yet, what sets this attire apart is its harmonious blend with the West. Paired typically with Western-style suit trousers, it represents Thailand’s ability to marry its deep-rooted traditions with the evolving global fashion landscape.

The birth of the suea phraratchathan wasn’t just a fashionable affair; it was symbolic. At a time when nations were rapidly evolving, Thailand, with this outfit, subtly proclaimed its respect for the past while confidently striding into the future.

Raj pattern embodies royalty in fabric

When speaking of the Raj pattern, we’re delving into a historical narrative that spans eras and kings. This attire was a testament to King Chulalongkorn’s visionary spirit and echoes the whispers of a time when Thai culture began embracing global influences. Originating from his 1871 journey to British India, it tells a story of curiosity, adaptation, and cultural melding.

A man and woman wearing Thai tradition outfits
Source: Chun photographer /

The Raj pattern is often likened to the Nehru-style jacket, a design reminiscent of the regal Indian sherwanis. King Chulalongkorn’s vision was to create an outfit that retained the essence of Thai traditions while accommodating elements from other cultures. With its standing collar and unique buttoned vertical opening, the Raj pattern jacket emerged as a result of this vision. When paired with the traditional chong kraben (a wrap worn with fabric folded back between the legs, symbolic of Thailand’s age-old dressing style), knee-length socks, and dress shoes, the attire was the epitome of comfort, style, and cultural symbolism.

Beyond its design, the Raj pattern played a pivotal role in the Thai societal fabric. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became the chosen attire for government officials and Bangkok’s upper echelons. Donning the Raj pattern was not merely about fashion; it signaled status, education, and a connection to the world beyond Thailand’s borders.

While its everyday usage has waned over time, its significance hasn’t. The Raj pattern is now a treasured relic for special occasions, cultural events, and ceremonies. For many Thais, it serves as a nostalgic bridge to a bygone era, evoking memories of grandfathers and ancestors who wore it with pride.

Modern designers, recognizing its timeless appeal, have occasionally reintroduced the Raj pattern (along with other classic Thai-style prints and designs) in contemporary fashion collections, blending traditional motifs with modern fabrics and cuts. This renewed interest ensures that while the Raj pattern might belong to history, its legacy continues to thrive in the present.

Chut Thai in the modern milieu

The essence of chut Thai isn’t confined to the walls of history museums or the pages of old books. It’s alive, beating with the heart of contemporary Thai society and fashioning new tales every day.

From the streets of bustling Bangkok to international red carpets and beauty pageants, chut Thai makes appearances in various avatars, courtesy of innovative Thai fashion houses. These designers, by weaving in traditional elements with modern aesthetics, ensure chut Thai remains not just relevant, but aspirational.

Today, chut Thai still holds a prominent role in Thai weddings. While global trends have introduced Western customs and practices to Thai matrimonial ceremonies, many couples still cherish the elegance and sentiment of chut Thai. Grooms often don the refined suea phraratchathan or the classic Raj pattern, honoring their heritage while celebrating their future.

In the realm of entertainment, Thai dramas have played a pivotal role in rekindling the nation’s love for traditional attire. “Love Destiny,” a historical comedy time-travel drama, is a prime example. The drama didn’t just enthrall viewers with its compelling storyline; it elevated traditional Thai outfits into contemporary fashion icons. Its wildly profound influence led to a surge in Thai traditional outfit-themed events, and people started embracing them as daily attire. This nationwide trend grew so popular that even government officials approved these traditional attires for ID card photos.

In essence, chut Thai’s journey from the royal courts of yesteryears to the Instagram feeds of younger generations is a testament to its timeless allure. Through its adaptability and the nation’s undying love for it, chut Thai promises to remain a cherished part of Thai culture.


Teerin Julsawad

An NYU and Columbia alum, Teerin spent a vibrant decade immersed in NYC life, with a stint at The New Yorker for good measure. Now he stirs his creative pot in Bangkok, mixing journalism, design, and digital marketing into an enticing concoction, always keen on forging meaningful connections through his craft.

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