Among business travelers, nothing else from Bangkok has had the universal acceptance as the suit. It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of The Big Mango – golden buddhas, bucket cocktails and street food tend to dominate. However, commute from Sathorn to the suburbs of Sukhumvit on the BTS in summer (or rainy season), and you’ll realize how important your choice of clobber is.
While Bangkok might not have the same storied history as London’s Savile Row or Florence’s Pitti Uomo, high-quality tailoring and bespoke suits have been part of the city’s fabric (excuse the pun) for hundreds of years. And while Thailand was never colonized or occupied by any European country, it did embrace aspects of English culture, notably the suit, an invention largely credited to Beau Brummell, the spiffy toff of Regency England.
A quick rewind to the late 1700s, the beginning of Modern Rattanakosin period: it was then that the adoption of a more Euro-leaning appearance began to form, firstly within the Royal family, and then into the wider Thai population. From around 1860, Thai royals selectively adopted Victorian corporeal and sartorial etiquette to fashion contemporary personas. Almost 100 years later, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram issued a cultural mandate to westernize Thai dress. Until the early 20th century, men primarily dressed in either a pakama, a large rectangular piece of fabric wrapped around the waist, or a phraratchathan, the traditional shirt and sash.
By the 1960s and ’70s, Thailand had begun to open up to international travelers, including visiting politicians and diplomats. The suit traveled with them, crinkled and crumpled out of the suitcase. Savvy Thais and industrious Chinese and Indian immigrants recognized the opportunity and looked to service men with bespoke tailoring and a quick turnaround. Fast forward to the present, and fashion in Bangkok rivals the best in Asia — a “Made in Thailand” label gaining a global following and securing the respect of tailors and fashionistas worldwide.
The Bangkok tailoring scene also continues to increase with options in an already competitive industry. Thattaworn “Vvon” Sugunnasil of his eponymous store is considered to be one of the city’s best. His tastes lean towards luxurious French tailoring, influenced by time spent apprenticing at a Parisian couturier.