I recently visited the Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (SACICT) in Bang Sai, Ayuthaya for the Arts & Crafts Exhibition. About 1 hour drive from Bangkok, the Center was built in 2003 to promote and support Thai folk arts and crafts. It is also one of HM Queen Sirikit projects.
The exhibition that was on display on the day I visited was the Golden Heritage of ASEAN Textiles. It was organized by SACICT and a private collector, Mr. Paothong Thongchua, who owned most of the textiles and fabrics exhibited here. This exhibition, which showed textile and traditional costumes from Southeast Asian countries, was organized in line with the start of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) this year. Actually, Thailand and other AEC member countries have had long relationship and shared some traditions for centuries. In this article, I will not write about the characteristics of the dress of each country exhibited here since you can search for in-depth information from various sources.
As I always admire beautiful cloths and textiles, it is the reason I visited this exhibition. The dresses and fabric here are from ten AEC member countries which include Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and ethnic minority groups in the region. Each country has different tradition in design and textile making technique. The style is so unique that, in some case, you can tell where the dresses are from.
The dresses from Thailand, Cambodia and Loas have similar style and patterns. People of the three nations wear Pah Sinn or Sarong with long sleeves blouse, sometimes decked with a long cloth or Pah Sabai wrapped around the upper body. The patterns on the dress often tell the place where it is made.
However, the dresses in some countries in ASEAN are influenced by European countries. For example, the attire from the Philippines has several elements of Spanish fashion since it was ruled by Spain from the 16th to the 19th century. Singapore is another country whose traditional costume got an inspiration from foreign culture. This small island country has embraced cultural diversity from Malay, Chinese, Indian and European. Therefore, each group wears its own traditional costume. You may see Singaporean-Indian women wearing Sari in the Little Indian and the Singaporean-Chinese ladies donning Chinese gown on the street here. It is a truly a melting pot of Southeast Asia in my opinion.
It is regrettable that we hardly see Thais wearing traditional attire in the daily life. It is known that Thai fashion was modernized during 1938-1944 when the government of Gen. Plake Pibulsongkram encouraged local people wear dresses like westerners. Since then, the traditional dress began to disappear from the street and can only be seen on special occasions like wedding, merit making or religious events.
As time goes by and fashion always evolves, most of these magnificent cloths and dresses have faded away from our lives. With support from HM the Queen Sirikit and the SACICT, Thailand’s cultural heritage and craftsmanship like this are preserved and can be studied by future generation.
There are more exhibitions about arts and crafted on display at the Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. Please visit its website at www.sacict.com