They wear few cloaths, not so much by reason of the heat, as the simplicity of their Manners; The Pagne, the Habit of the Siameses; A Muslin Shirt serves them for a Vest; A Scarf against the Cold; How the King wears Vests of Silk; A sort of Military Vest; The Red Colour for War and Hunting; The high, and pointed Cap; Babouches; The Neatness of the Palace of Siam; Hats for Travelling; The Habit of the Women; A Nakedness almost entire; Modesty in this Nakedness; Why they chastise with the Cudgel; Modesty in the Bed, and also in the Bath; Other Proofs of their Modesty; What Pagnes are permitted; Rings, Bracelets, Pendants; Their Nakedness surprizeth not; The Stature of the Siameses; Their Meen; A blue Colour laid on the Body; The Nose and Ears of the Siameses; Their Hair; The Fancy of the Siameses for white Women; The Siamese are very neat; Two ways of Bathing; The Neatness of their Teeth and hair; An Affectation for long Nails. Of the Habit and Meen of the Siamese.
They hardly cloath themselves. Tacitus reports concerning the German Infantry in his time, that it was either all naked, or cover’d with light Coats; and even at this present there are some Savages in the Northern America, which go almost naked; which proves, in my opinion, that the simplicity of Manners, as well as the Heat, is the cause of the Nakedness of the Siameses, as it is of the Nudity of the Savages. ‘Tis not but that Cloaths are almost insupportable to the French which arrive at Siam, and who know not how to forbear acting and stirring; but it is unhealthful for them to uncloath themselves, by reason that the Injuries of the excessively hot Air are not less dreadful, than those of the extremely cold Air to which one is not accustom’d; yet with this difference, that in very hot Climats ‘tis sufficient for health, to cover the Stomach. The Spaniards do for this reason cover it with a Buffalo’s Skin four double; but the Siamese, whose Manners are plain in every thing, have chosen to habituate themselves from their Infancy, to an almost entire Nudity.
They go with their Feet naked, and their Head bare; and for Decency only they begirt their Reins and Thighs down to their Knees with a piece of painted Cloth about two Ells and an half long, which the Portuguese do call Pagne, from the Latin word Pannus; sometimes instead of a painted Cloth, the Pagne is a silken Stuff, either plain, or embroaider’d with a border of Gold and Silver.
The Mandarins, or Officers, do wear besides the Pagne, a Muslin Shirt which is as their Vest. They pluck it off, and wrap it about their middle, when they approach a Mandarin much higher than them in Dignity, to express unto him their readiness to go where he shall please send them. And yet the Officers whom we saw at the Audiences of the King of Siam, remain’d cloath’d therewith as with their Habit of Ceremony; and by the same reason they always had their Bonnets high, and pointed on the Head. These Shirts have no Neckband, and are open before, they taking care not to fasten them, to cover their Stomach. The Sleeves hang down almost to their Wrists, being about two Foot wide, but without being plaited above or below. Moreover, the Body thereof is so strait, that not flipping nor falling down over the Pagne, it sets in several wrinkles.
Mural painting at Wat Bang Khun Tien showing a man and a woman in typical Siamese attire.
In Winter they do sometimes put over their shoulders a breadth of Stuff or painted Linnen, either like a Mantle or a Scarf, the ends of which they wind very nearly about their Arms.
But the King of Siam wears a Vest of some excellent Sattin brocaded, the Sleeves of which are very strait, and reach down to the Wrist; and as we apparel our selves against the Cold and under our Wastcoats, he puts this Vest under the Shirt which I have described, and which he adorns with Lace, or European Point. ‘Tis not lawful for any Siamese to wear this sort of Vest, unless the King gives it him, and he makes this Present only to the most considerable of his Officers.
He sometimes also gives them another Vest or Garment of Scarlet, which is to be worn only in War, or at Hunting. This Garment reaches to the knees, and has eight or ten Buttons before. The Sleeves thereof are wide, but without Ornament, and so short, that they touch not the Elbows.
‘Tis a general Custom at Siam, that the Prince, and all his Retinue, in the War or Hunting, be clothed in Red. Upon this account the Shirts which are given to the Soldiers, are of Muslin dy’d Red; and on the days of Ceremony, as was that of the Entry of the King’s Ambassadors, these Red Shirts were given to the Siameses, which they put under their Arms.
19th C. Siamese market-women (Archives of the City of Brussels. (photo removed))
The white, high, and pointed Cap, which we saw on the Ambassadors of Siam, is a Coif of Ceremony, whereof the King of Siam and his Officers do equally make use; but the King of Siam’s Cap is adorn’d with a Circle, or a Crown of Gold, Silver, or Vermilion gilt, to distinguish their Dignities; or, have not any Ornament. The Officers wear them only before the King, or in their Tribunals, or in some Ceremony. They fasten them with a Stay under their Chin, and never pull them off to salute any person.
The Moors have introduced amongst them the use of Babouches or Slippers, a kind of pointed Shoes without quarter or heel. They leave them at the Gates of their own and others Houses, to avoid dirtying the places where they enter. But, where-ever their King, or any other person is, to whom they owe Respect, (as is for instance a Sancrat, or Superior of their Talapoins) they appear not with Slippers.
Nothing is neater than the King of Siam’s Palace, as well by reason of the few persons admitted therein, as of the Precautions with which they enter.
They esteem of Hats for Travelling, and this Prince causes them to be made of all Colours in almost the same shape with his Bonnet; but very few persons amongst the People vouchsafe to cover their Head against the heat of the Sun: and they do it but with a linen Clout, and only when on the River, where the Reflexion most incommodes.
19th C. Preparing Thai food (Archives of the City of Brussels. (photo removed))
The difference of the Womens Habit from the Mens, is, that the Women fastning their Pagne length-wise round their Bodies, as likewise the Men do, they let it fall down broad-ways, and imitate a close Coat, which reaches down half-way their Leg; whereas the Men raise up their Pagne between their Thighs, by pulling through one of the ends, which they leave longer than the other, and which they tie to the Girdle behind, in which they do in some sort resemble our Breeches. The other end of the Pagne hangs before, and as they have no Pockets, they do frequently tye thereunto their Purse for the Betel, after the manner that we tye any thing in the corner of our Handkercheif. They do sometimes also wear two Pagnes one over the other, to the end that the uppermost may fit more neat.
Excepting the Pagne, the Women go all naked, for they have no Muslin Shifts, only the Rich do constantly wear a Scarf. They do sometimes wrap the ends thereof about their Arms; but the best Air for them, is to put it singly over their Bosom at the middle, to make smooth wrinkles thereof, and to let the two ends hand down behind over their Shoulders.
Nevertheless so great a Nudity renders them not immodest. On the contrary, the Men and Women of the Country are the most scrupulous in the world of shewing the parts of their Body, which Custom obliges them to conceal. The Women who sat stooping in their Balons the day of the King’s Ambassador’s Entry, turn’d for the most part their Backs to the Show, and the most Curious hardly look’d over their Shoulder. ‘Twas necessary to give the French Soldiers some Pagnes to wash in, to remove the Complaints which these People made, at seeing them go naked into the River.
The Infants go there without a Pagne to four or five years of age, but when once of that age, they are never uncover’d to chastise them; and in the East it is an exceeding Infamy to be beaten naked on the parts of the Body, which are generally conceal’d.
‘Tis from hence perhaps, that the use of the Cudgel sprang up amongst them in chastising, by reason that neither the Whip, nor the Rod, would be sufficiently felt through their Cloaths.
Moreover, they pluck not off their Cloaths to lie down, or at least they only change the Pagne, as they do to bathe themselves in the River. The Women bathe themselves like the Men, and do exercise themselves in swimming; and in no part of the world do they swim better.
Their Modesty renders the Custom of Bathing almost insupportable unto them, and few amongst them can resolve to do it. They have affixt Infamy to Nakedness: And they are no less careful about the Modesty of the Ears, than of the Eyes; seeing that impure and baudy Songs are prohibited by the Laws of Siam, as well as by those of China. Yet I cannot affirm that they may not be us’d at all; for the Laws prohibit no other, than the Excess already too much establish’d: And from China there comes some Porcelane Figures and Paintings so immodest, that they are no more permitted than the Baudiest Songs.
Those Pagnes that are of an extraordinary beauty and gaudiness, as those of Silk with Embroidery, or without Embroidery, and those of painted Linnen very fine, are permitted to those only to whom the Prince presents them. The Women of Quality do greatly esteem the black Pagnes, and their Scarf is frequently of plain white Muslin.
They wear Rings on the three last Fingers of each Hand, and the Fashion permits them to put on as many as possibly can be kept on. They freely give half a Crown for Rings with false Stones, which at Paris cost not above two Sols. They have no necklaces to adorn their Necks, or their Wives; but the Women and Children of both Sexes wear Pendants. They are generally of Gold, Silver, or Vermilion gilt, in the shape of a Pear. The young Boys and Girls of a good Family have Bracelets, but only to six or seven years of Age; and they equally wear them on their Arms and Legs. They are Rings of Gold, or Silver, or Vermilion gilt.
As these People have their Body of another Colour than ours, it seems that our Eyes do not think them Naked, at least their Nakedness has nothing which surprised me; whereas a Naked White Man, when I met one, always appear’d a new Object unto me.
The Siamese are rather Small, than Great; but their Bodies are well proportion’d, which I principally attribute to their not swaddling in their Infancy. The care that we take to form the shape of our Children, is not always so successful, as the liberty which they leave to Nature to proceed in forming theirs. ‘Tis true, that the Breasts of the Siamese Women uphold not themselves from their Childhood, and hang down rather to their Navel; but otherwise, their Body is well proportioned, and so true it is that the Phantasies, even they which seem to be most natural, do greatly consist in Custom.
The shape of their Faces, as well of the Men as Women, participate less of the Oval, than the Lozenge; it is broad and high at the Cheek-bones, and on a sudden their Forehead contracts and terminates almost as much in a Point, as their Chin. Moreover, their Eyes slit a little upwards are small, and not over-brisk, and he white thereof is generally yellowish. Their Jaws are hollow, by reason they are too high above; their Mouths are large, their Lips thick and pale, and their Teeth blacken’d. Their Complexion is gross, and of a brown mix’d with red, unto which the continual Sun-burning contributes as much as the Birth.
The women use neither Paint nor Patches; but I have seen a great Lord, whose Legs were blu’d with a dull Blue, like that mark which the Gunpowder leaves. They that shew’d me it, inform’d me that it was a thing affected by the Great Men, that they had more or less blue according to their dignity; and that the King of Siam was blu’d from the sole of his Feet, to the hollow of his Stomach. Others assur’d me that it was not out of Grandeur, but Superstition; and others would make me to doubt whether the King of Siam was blue. I know not how it is.
The Siameses, as I have said, have their Nose short and round at the end, and their Ears bigger than ours; and the larger they have them: A Phantasy common to all the East, as it appears by all the Statues of Porcelane and other matter, which come from thence. But in this there is a difference amongst the Orientals; for some do stretch their Ears at the tip to lengthen them, without boring them any more than is necessary to put Pendants therein. Others, after having bor’d them, do by little and little enlarge the hole, to thrust in bigger and bigger Sticks: And it happens, especially in the Country of Laos, that they can almost thrust their Fist into the hole, and that the tip of the Ear touches the Shoulders. The Siameses have Ears somewhat bigger than ours, but naturally and without Artifice.
Their Hair is black, thick and lank, and both Sexes wear it so short, that all round the Head it reach only to the top of the Ears. Underneath this they are very closely shaved, and this Fashion pleaseth them. The Women raise it on their Forehead, yet without fastning it again; and some, especially the Peguins, do let it grow behind, to wreath it. The young unmarried wear it after a particular manner. They cut with Scissars very close the Crown of the Head, and then all round they pull off a small Circle of Hair about the thickness of two Crown-pieces, and underneath they let the rest of their Hair grow down almost to their Shoulders. The Spaniards, by reason of the heat, do thus frequently shave the Crown of their Head, but they pluck off nothing.
Now every one being in love with the things of his own Country, I doubted not but the Pictures of some of the most beautiful persons of the Court, which I had brought into this Country, would ravish the Siamese into admiration. The painting therefore was better than that of those little Pictures which are daily sent into Foreign Countries; yet it must be confessed that the Siameses hardly consider’d them, and that the pictures of the Royal Family, before which they respectfully bowed themselves, not daring stedfastly to behold them, they exceedingly esteemed that of the Duke of Montauzier, by reason of his high and warlike Meen. We asked two young Mandarins what they thought of a great Puppet or Baby, that we shew’d them. One of them reply’d, that a Woman like this would be worth an hundred Catis, or fifteen thousand Livres, and his Companion was of the same mind; but he added, that there was not any person at Siam that could purchase it. Whether they put so high a value on a white Woman, either for the singular delight which they take in them, or only by reason of whatever comes from far, ought to be very dear, I leave to be determin’d. ‘Tis certain, that whether it be Fancy, or Grandeur, the King of Siam has some white Mingrelian, or Georgian Women, which he purchases in Persia: And the Siameses that had been in France acknowledg’d, that tho’ they were not at first very much struck either with the whiteness, or with the features of the French Women, yet they presently apprehended that they alone were handsom, and that the Siameses were not. As to the habit of the Puppet, the two Mandarins absolutely contemn’d it, as too intricate and troublesome for the Husband that would pull it off from his Wife: And I have since consider’d, that they imagin’d perhaps that our Wives lay in their Cloaths, like theirs, which would doubtless be very troublesome.
As the Cloaths imbibe whatever the Body transpires, it is certain that the less one is cloath’d, the more easie it is to be neat, as the Siameses are. They perfume themselves in several places of the Body. On their Lips they put a sort of perfum’d Pomatum, which makes them appear much paler than naturally they are. They bathe themselves three or four times a day, or oftner, and it is one of their Neatnesses not to make a Visit of Consequence without bathing; and in this case they make a white spot on the top of their Breast with a piece of Chalk, to shew that they came from the Bath.
They bathe themselves two ways, either by going into the water after our fashion, or by causing water to be pour’d over their Body with Ladies; and they sometimes continue this sort of Bathing for an hour. In a word, they need not warm the water for their Domestic Baths, no notwithstanding it has been kept several days, and in Winter; it always continues naturally hot.
They take care of their Teeth, altho’ they black them: they wash their Hair with Water and sweet Oils, as the Spaniards do, and they use no more Powder than they; but they comb themselves, which most of the Spaniards do not. They have Combs from China, which instead of being all of a piece like ours, are only a great many Points or Teeth tied close together with Wire. They pluck their Beard, and naturally have little; but they cut not their Nails, they are satisfy’d to keep them neat.
We saw some Dancers by Profession, who, for Beauty, had put on a very long Copper Nails, which made them appear like Harpies. At China, at least before the Conquest of the Tartars, the Custom was neither to cut the Nails, nor the Hair, nor the Beard. The Men wore on their Heads a Net of Hair or Silk, which they fasten’d behind; and which not covering the top of the Head, left a space, through which they pull’d out their Hair, and then wreath’d and fasten’d it with a Bodkin. And it is said that this Dress on which sometimes also wore Bonnets, or a kind of Hats, did cuase Mergen, and other very violent pains in their Haid.