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Until around one hundred years ago, northern Thai women used to be naked from the waist up, especially when at home. They wore a long tube-skirt - pha sin - tied high above the waists below their breasts, and had a shawl which they could use for modesty.
Unlike the central Thai who favored cropped hair, they had long hair tied up at the back.
In the late 19th century the influence of missionaries and modernization under King Chulalongkorn encouraged local women to wear blouses to cover their breasts. This evolved into the lace blouses worn today. The use of silver belts is also recent as belts would have been hidden by folds of cloth and used for support.
Men used to be naked except for a cloth wrapped around the loins that was either short or long. Short cloths would reveal more of the tattoos. Men used to like tattoos from the waist down to the knees. Men began to wear round necked shirts at the same time as women began to wear blouses.
Indigo cotton cloth known as moh hom came to be used for shirts and loose fitting trousers for working in the fields. In a relatively new development, this cloth has become symbolic of northern Thai dress.