UNTIL THE LATE 1960s, Thailand had no real national dress for women. India had its sari and Japan the kimono, but there was nothing instantly recognisable as Thai. Queen Sirikit noticed this during a round of state visits to Europe and the United States with King Bhumibol in the 1960s. In one of her essays, she commented: 'The western media would criticise the strange look of our half-western, half-Thai national costume.' On her return, she set to work researching costumes worn during various periods of Thai history - such as Rattanakosin, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya - and tried to adapt and modify these styles into something that would create a sense of national identity and also be suitable for everyday use. She came up with five styles, called Thai Ruan Ton, Thai Chitralada, Thai Amarin, Thai Chakri and Thai Borom Phiman. The style of the garments is simple, emphasizing the richness and beauty of the traditional materials, usually Thai silk in one variety or another. Queen Sirikit and other members of the royal family are usually seen only in traditional dress. If they are wearing western-style dress, the clothes are made from Thai material. Her idea of promoting a national costume has benefited traditional handicrafts and small industries, especially those involved in the weaving, dyeing and printing of silk. Queen Sirikit has also promoted accessories using traditional Thai materials - handbags made from the Yan Lipao vine, and even jewellery created from the iridescent carapaces of beetles. When you look closely at Thailand, you realise how much the royal family has done to spearhead initiatives for the country's advancement, and all achieved without losing any of the country's character or traditions.