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Traditional costume fever grips Thailand

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A woman dressed in traditional costume smiles at the Royal Plaza, as interest for historical clothing rises within the country, in Bangkok, Thailand April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Business is booming for Siri Seatea’s traditional dress shop in Bangkok.

“Out of the 30 years I’ve been running this shop, this is the peak for us,” 53-year-old Ms Siri told Reuters as she stitched a Thai sarong for a client.

History fever is gripping Thailand and a growing number of Thais are wearing traditional dress, a phenomenon encouraged by the junta and the palace, and fueled by a popular television soap opera.

But the trend, which began with a ‘winter fair’ initiated by King Maha Vajiralongkorn in February, has also been criticised by some as an attempt to glorify an era of absolute monarchy and gloss over the junta’s shortcomings nearly four years after it took power.

“History has long been used by the elite to maintain their status in politics,” said Anusorn Unno, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University.

“Right now the junta is facing new challenges from a new generation of people so they have retreated to history to say that the past is better and more suitable for Thailand.”

Among the popular costumes are those worn during the reign of former King Chulalongkorn, known as Rama V, who ruled from 1868 to 1910 and is credited with saving Thailand from Western colonialism.

Television has also played a part.

“Love Destiny”, a soap opera set during the 1656 to 1688 reign of King Narai the Great, has taken Thailand by storm.

Many Thais are visiting the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, where scenes from “Love Destiny” take place. They pose for “selfies” dressed in traditional garb against the backdrop of the ruins.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha met with cast members this week at Government House and hailed the series as an example of the government’s longstanding policy of promoting ‘Thai-ness’.

Mr Prayuth’s own cabinet has held some recent meetings in the traditional dress of a 19th century elite. He dressed in a buttoned up silk jacket, breeches and a wide sash.

In Ayutthaya, 80 km north of Bangkok, visitor numbers have nearly tripled since “Love Destiny” began, according to officials quoted by local media.

Wearing traditional clothes can get you a discount at the cinema. The country’s Major Cineplex Group announced a buy one, get one free promotion.

Flight attendants for national carrier Thai Airways International are also dressing up in national costumes from the reign of King Rama V this month to mark the Thai New Year festival known as Songkran.

Last weekend, Thais flocked to an event initiated by the king ahead of the Thai new year festival of Songkran – which for many has become a rowdy water-soaked affair.

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