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Traditional Vietnamese dress “Ao Dai”

The importance of the traditional dress “Ao Dai” in the life of the Vietnamese woman

More than a dress in the true sense of the word, the traditional dress “Ao Dai”, literally “long dress” in French, has become an aesthetic standard of the feminine dress and a Vietnamese symbol. It is certainly the most remarkable combination between tradition and modernity.

Because of the elegance and grace it brings, the “ao dai” has become inseparable from the image of Vietnamese women, whether inside Vietnam or beyond national borders. He is particularly present at official ceremonies, conferences or weddings.

In everyday life, it is also one of the popular uniforms of Vietnamese high school and student girls, even if it is not worn frequently. Flight attendants also wear this dress as a national emblem. Finally, the “ao dai” highlights the beauty and charm of hotel and restaurant receptionists… constantly arousing admiration.

Young girls in ao dai - vietnamese traditional dresses
Young girls in traditional dresses

What is Ao Dai?

Compared to other Vietnamese women’s dresses, the shape of the ao dai is the simplest. It is a set that includes a tight silk dress at the bust, arriving at mid-leg, split into two sides to the top of the pelvis, and pants. This Vietnamese dress has long sleeves, the neck is tight. The closure is done discreetly on the side, using small buttons. The pants are usually white in colour or the same colour as the dress, of a loose size. It is held by an elastic belt sewn to the top.

A bit of history

The “ao dai” also has a long history behind it that it would be enriching to know. Indeed, its origin dates back to the 17th century, when the Nguyen lords and their subjects settled in the centre of the country, in contact with the very rich Cham culture. The traditional four-sided dresses of the Viet women then incorporated the first exotic features of the Chams’ clothes, to the point of becoming “longer”.

ao dai - vietnamese traditional dress

At the origin of the Ao Dai, the liberation of the Vietnamese woman

If we still discuss today the question of who was the author of the creation of the ao dai in its current form, it is accepted that the ao dai resulted from a real need among a certain category of Vietnamese women of that time. The latter intended to resist the somewhat restrictive Confucian dress traditions, in favour of greater individual freedom.

This need has also received favourable support expressed by some innovative groups with the help of the press. In addition, painters from the School of Fine Arts of Indochina contributed in an important way: they reduced the traditional dresses to two sides instead of four or five sides. The new model is also shorter, just overtaking the knees.

The tunic is replaced by lighter pants that squeeze the legs more and cover up to the ankles.
However, before being adopted as a commonly used female costume, the new Ao Dai overcame quite a few hardships. In its early days, only Vietnamese women who married French men wore them. Little by little, the renovated ao dai seduced women and girls from other social backgrounds from the years 1940 to 1945.

The revised Ao Dai will generate a real “revolution” of ideas, gaining momentum towards the beginning of the 20th century, affecting multiple areas of the social life of the Vietnamese.

Ao Dai in the modern life

Nowadays, ao dai has become so common that there are very different versions for each age category. Not only girls, but wall-aged women or even old women have their own models with very specific colours.

Mature women prefer dark colours and thicker fabrics. High school girls, for example, prefer white ao dai, a symbolic colour of purity and virginity…

Despite competition from new Vietnamese clothing models, ao dai has found a solid place in the lives of Vietnamese people. The image of the ao dai even goes beyond the borders of the country. It follows in the footsteps of Vietnamese in foreign countries and represents a symbol of Vietnam. In international beauty pageants, a representative must wear the ao dai during her fashion show. For fashion designers, the ao dai is always a new inspiration such as the collection of Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. It is undoubtedly a unique model that crosses the limits of time and space.

In 1995, the Vietnamese Ao dai had the honour of receiving the award for “Best Traditional Costume” at the International Beauty Contest.

ao dai - vietnamese traditional dress

The Ao dai of Viet Nam is not only a matter of aesthetics. He is also a cultural, historical and traditional ambassador. It is the “national soul” of Vietnamese women. For contemporary artists, as well as fashion designers, ao dai is an infinite source of inspiration!

If you have the opportunity to make a trip to Vietnam from north to south, you can make the best tailor-made garment “ao dai” in Hoi An in central Vietnam.

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