Sambun: “I like women who wear patterned textiles. Look over there . . .[can’t make the rest out].”

Chan: “That’s right. I agree, if [she] wears Masakaatii patterned textiles.”

Masakaatii, true Indian patterned textiles. Each piece must have a mark like this –

When I copied this I thought I could see what the text says, but I can’t. What I have translated as “patterned textiles” is phalaai, which refers to the lower garments which the women are wearing. There were different kinds of textiles which women could use, and the phalaai had patterns on them. That’s what made this type of textile distinct (as far as I know).

In any case, what I like about this advertisement is the contrast between what the men are wearing with what the women are wearing. These are all supposed to be what the Thai call “good people” (phu dii). What is interesting to me though is the role that clothing played in marking someone as a “good person.” For men in 1939, this meant dressing in the Western style, whereas for women this mean dressing in a hybrid style of a traditional lower garment with a blouse and a Western-style haircut.

As many Asian societies Westernized there was a sartorial division of labor which emerged, as men took on the role of dressing like “modern” men, while women served as the preservers of culture and continued to wear some form of dress which signified “tradition.” Why and how this happened is a mystery to me, but the images make it clear that it did in fact happen this way.