Traditional costumes of the Vietnamese people tend to be very simple and modest. Men wear brown shirts and white trousers. Their headgear is simply a piece of cloth wrapped around the head and their footwear consists of a pair of plain sandals.|
For formal ceremonies men would have two additional items, a long gown with slits on either side, and a turban, usually in black or brown made of cotton or silk. In feudal times, there were strict dress codes. Ordinary people were not allowed to wear clothes with dyes other than black, brown or white. Costumes in yellow were reserved for the King. Those in purple and red were reserved for high ranking court officials, while dresses in blue were exclusively worn by petty court officials. Men’s dress has gradually changed along with social development.
The traditional set of a long gown and turban gave way to more modern looking suits, while business shirts and trousers have replaced traditional long sleeved shirts and wide trousers. Traditional costumes still exist and efforts are increasingly being made to restore traditional festivals and entertainment which incorporate traditional costumes.
Young women wear light brown-colored short shirts with long black skirts. Their headgear consists of a black turban with a peak at the front. To make their waist look smaller, they tightly fasten a long piece of pink or violet cloth.On formal occasions, they wear a special three layered dress called an "Ao Dai", a long gown with slits on either side.
The outer garment is a special silk gown called an "ao tu than" which is brown or light brown in colour with four slits divided equally on its lower section. The second layer is a gown in a light yellow colour and the third layer is a pink gown. When a woman wears her three gowns, she fastens the buttons on the side, and leave those on the chest unfastened so that it forms a shaped collar. This allows her to show the different colors on the upper part of the three gowns. Beneath the three gowns is a bright red brassiere which is left exposed to cover the woman’s neck.
Over time, the traditional "ao dai" has gone through certain changes. Long gowns are now carefully tailored to fit the body of a Vietnamese woman. The two long slits along the side allow the gown to have two free floating panels in the front and at the back of the dress. The floating panels expose a long pair of white silk trousers.
An elegant looking conical palm hat, which is traditionally known as a "non bai tho" (a hat with poetry written on it), is worn as part of a woman’s formal dress. This traditional conical hat is particularly suitable for a tropical country such as Vietnam, where fierce sunshine and hard rain are commonplace.
To make a conical hat, a hat maker chooses young palm leaves that have been been dried under continued sunshine. Attached beneath the almost transparent layers of dried palm leaves is a drawing of a small river wharf. Below the drawing, there is a piece of poetry to be recited by the hat wearer.
In recent years some foreign fashions have been introduced to Vietnam; however, the traditional "ao dai" remains preferable to women in both urban and rural settings.
In general, Vietnamese clothing is very diverse. Every ethnic group in Vietnam has its own style of clothing. Festivals are the occasion for all to wear their favorite clothes. Over thousands of years, the traditional clothing of all ethnic groups in Vietnam has changed, but each ethnic group has separately maintained their own characteristics.
In the mountain areas, people live in houses built on stilts, wear trousers or skirts and indigo vests with design motifs imitating wild flowers and beasts. In the northern uplands and the Central Highlands, the young women have made skirts and vests with beautiful and coulourful decoration in a style convenient for farm work in terraced fields and to travel on hilly slopes and mountain gorges.
The "áo dài" (pronounced [ao yai] in the South, [ao zai] in the North) is one out of several traditional Vietnamese dresses worn (nowadays) primarily by women. It is the most popular national costume.
The first model of Vietnamese áo dài date back to the 1700s and were influenced by Chinese garb (qipao).
After 1975, the áo dài was rarely seen because many considered it to be an excess inappropriate for hard work. However, since the 1990s, the áo dài has seen a resurgence both in Vietnam and for overseas Vietnamese.
There is also a male version of the áo dài, which is worn less today, except in ceremonies like weddings, funerals, or other "traditional" occasions. Men’s áo dài’s, in contrast to women’s, fit very loosely.
Original Áo Dài
The first style of Áo Dài tended to be much looser fitting in general, with more flowing, longer and bigger sleeves. Royal patterns and colors were common, and commoners were restricted from wearing them.
The Royal Wedding Áo Dài: Áo Mệnh Phu
Besides the multitudes of fabrics, designs and patterns one can use for the Ao Dai, some versions perhaps also connect to the Northern peasant Vietnamese dress called Ao Tu Than. In this version there is often a flowing outer jacket (with large belled sleeves) as well as two extra flaps (making a 4 flapped dress, as opposed to the typical Ao Dai’s 2 flaps).
The 4 flapped Ao Dai is commonly worn for weddings and is known as Ao Menh Phu. There are countless varieties of Wedding and royal court attire, but the most common similarity they share would be the 4 (or even more) flaps. Wedding attire typically is in brighter colors like red or pink (for women).
The modern costume and its place in modern-day Vietnam
The most popular style of the modern áo dài is tight-fitting around the wearer’s upper torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. For this reason, the áo dài, while it covers the whole body, is said to be provocative, especially when it is made of thin or see-through fabric. More adventurous versions of the modern Áo Dài are even collarless.
The first, more "modern" version of the áo dài did not appear until 1930, when Vietnamese fashion designer Cat Tuong, known to the French as Monsieur Le Mur, modified it. He lengthened the áo dài so that the top reached the floor, made it fit the curves of the body closer and moved the buttons from the front to an opening along the shoulder and side seam.
In Saigon during the 1950s, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors modified the áo dài to a form closest to what is seen today. He produced the gowns with raglan sleeves, creating a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the underarm.
Áo Dài is the uniform for female students in all Vietnamese high schools and some universities. Many companies also require their female staff to be attired in the áo dài.