Abstract: Fashioning Thai Silk: Queen Sirikit, Jim Thompson, and the Silk Business in Thailand, 1950s-1960s

Villa Vilaithong


This paper explores the roles of two important figures, Jim Thompson (1906-1967) and Queen Sirikit of Thailand (1932- ), in the revival of the Thai silk business during the 1950s and 1960s. It argues that both Thompson and Queen Sirikit turned Thai silk into a commodity that was modern yet embedded traditional value. They refashioned it to suit the international standard, market, and audience. Thompson established the Thai Silk Company in 1948 to market silk products inside and outside Thailand. He worked with local weavers, guided them about the color and designs, and provided them with new techniques that improved the silk quality. In contrast, Queen Sirikit promoted Thai silk through her person by wearing both Western style costumes and the newly defined Thai national dress. With her silk signature, she was internationally recognized as a fashion icon and one of the most beautiful queens in the world. Besides, the Queen's silk dress greatly attracted the attention of the Thai people, especially middle-class women. By the 1960s Thai silk became one of the most sought after souvenirs, which indirectly helped the emerging local tourism.