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Fashions of Northern Siam

Whoever said that “Clothes do not make the man” may not have been familliar with ancient Siamese culture. From the very beginning of Siamese civilization in the 5th century A.D. - the Dvarati Period - the hierarchy of society was clearly defined; rank and social position were all-important. Kings, princes, nobility, merchants, tradesmen and slaves each had their own place in society and were accorded specific worth as well as rights and privileges commensurate with their individual status. The levels of social srata were quite distinct and those of lower classes deferred to the higher classes in every respect.

The separation of social classes was even more clearly established in the manner and style of dress. There was never any uncertatinty identifying nobility from commoner; tradesman from slave; princess from housewife. Each social class had its special mode of dress and certain types of apparel were exclusively for royalty and the upper classes.

Noble Costume

These mural paintings portray the popular costume of both the nobility class of the Chiangsaen _ Lan Na Period : 11th to 13th Centuries A.D.
Nobleman: The main garment, the poo-sa, was a long piece of beautifully handwoven cloth with intricate designs. If interwoven with gold or silver, it was worn only by royalty. The Poo-sa was carefully folded, wrapped around the waist and tied at the front and topped with a gold or silver belt with a jewelled clasp. Jewelled arm, wrist and neckbands were an indication of rank. Noblewoman: The main garment, the poo-sa, was a long piece of beautifully handwoven cloth with intricate designs. If interwoven with gold or silver, it was worn only by royalty. The Poo-sa was carefully folded, wrapped around the waist and tied at the front and topped with a gold or silver belt with a jewelled clasp. Jewelled arm, wrist and neckbands were an indication of rank.

Ceromonial Costume

In many societies, national dress has become largely formal or ceremonial wear, examples can still be found where this historic costume is still in everday use. Northern Thailand, Lanna, the land of a million rice fields, is such a place.


A man would wear a long sleeve shirt made of cotton or silk with fresh or average colors. The upper part is roundneck meanwhile the lower part spreads down and passes from the waist about 8 inches. Five buttons are heavily lined from upper to lower part and look more noticeble. “Pah Pook Aew” is a waist wrap _ around garment made of cotton or silk, 10 inches wide and 2-2.2 meter long. Also, the dark pants are neatly designed.

A woman would wear a long sleeve blouse made of cotton or silk in soft or bright colors. Her blouse could be similar to the man’s, except the buttons are smaller and body is close fitting. “Pah Sabai” is a shoulder wrap _ around garment, cotton or silk, 10 inches wide and 2.5 meters long.

Casual Costume

A man would wear short sleeve shirt, made of cotton or silk with attractive plain color, roundneck, 2-3 pockes. A heavy pattern is designed for shirt’s 5 buttons, meanwhile the trousers are kept simple.

A lady’s blouse would be roundneck, short or sometime long sleeve, and light pattern of 5 buttons. The material could be cotton or silk in light or bright color. Her cotton or silk sarong should have a very attractive pattern.

Work Costume

The mural paintings of men and women portray the popular costune of the working class of the Chiangsaen _ Lanna Period: 11th to 13 th Centuries A.D.

The main item of apparel is the pareu or loincloth _ a long strip of woven fabric wrapped around the body, the ends twisted, passed between the legs and secured behind. He kept his head almost completely shaved, leaving only a ‘tuft’ at the front. Most men were tattooed from the waist to the knees.

Women wore their hair long and twisted in a knot secured with a decorative pin. The primary garment, the pa-zin, was handwoven cotton in shades of red, pink or yellow and secured by a braided red sash. Some women wore a halter tied tightly about the breasts. Metal or bone ear plugs were popular with the common folk.

Before the advent of machine processed fabric and synthetic dying techniques, the “Maw Hom” clothing pieces were all woven on hand and pedal looms in small textile workshops or in homes. The cotton was woven white or offwhite and then dyed using leaves from the local northern “Hom Tree” (Baphicacanthus Eusia Brem., Acanthaceae). The Hom leaves were placed in large stone pots along with lime and alkaline ash from burnt banana trees. This concoction was left to ferment for three or four days and resulted in an indigo dye. The white or off-white cotton garments were then dyed with the indigo and left to dry. After a number of first washings, the residual color in the “Maw Hom” was the unique slightly faded indigo blue of the northern Thai, or Lanna, dress.

The actual names of the garments have changed down through the centuries. The term “Moh Hom” was originally just the name of the dying process. After a while, the most common Lanna grament, the shirt, came to be called a “Maw Hom”, skipping over the technical word for shirt or blouse; and eventually the entrie outfit came to be known as a “Maw Hom”, skipping over all the individual names for the garment pieces. For example, the three-quarters-length pantaloons are technically called a “Sador”, and of course the women’s sarong is called a “Pha Zin”.

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