In general, Vietnamese clothing is very diverse. Every ethnic group in
Vietnam has its own style of clothing. Festivals provide an opportunity for the
various ethnic groups 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.
Áo bà ba
thân Áo dài
Traditional Vietnamese male attire
Clothing History Traditional
Áo bà ba (more
about Áo bà ba)
||Áo bà ba (or Vietnamese silk pajamas) is one of
several traditional Vietnamese costumes. It continues to be widely used
today.. It is most associated with southern Vietnam, especially in rural
The Áo bà ba simply consists of a pair of silk pants and a long
sleeved, buttoned-down silk shirt. The shirt will be somewhat long and
split at the sides of the waist, forming two flaps. In the front of the
shirt at the very bottom are typically two pockets.
The garment's simplicity and versatility has contributed
to its popularity, as it is used by an overwhelming amount of the
population, whether in rural or urban areas. It can be worn while
laboring or lounging.
Modern versions allow countless different designs,
colors, and embroidery, which have allowed the costume's transition into
modern Vietnamese fashion as well.
All of this makes it easy to explain the costume's
natural presence in almost every aspect of Vietnamese life.
about Áo bà ba
Áo yếm (more
about Áo yếm)
Áo yếm, also referred to simply as "yếm",
is an ancient Vietnamese bodice used primarily as an undergarment that was
once worn by Vietnamese women across all classes.
It is a simple garment with many variations from its basic form, which
is a simple, usually diamond or square-cut piece of cloth draped over a
woman's chest with strings to tie at the neck and back.
While it was worn across classes, the material and colors used to make
Áo yếm varied widely based upon the person's rank and the occasion.
Commoner women usually wore Áo yếm in simple blacks and whites for
day to day use, whereas during special occasions they could opt for more
festive, brighter colors such as red and pink. Indeed, much of Vietnamese
poetry has been dedicated to the beauty of women in their "Yếm
đào", or pink bodices.
While the bottom of most Áo yếm are v-shaped, there were
different styles for the top of the garment which covered the neck, the
most common two variations being the rounded neck, known as "Yếm
cổ xây", or the deep v-shaped neck style, called "Yếm
Another type of yếm, known as "Yếm đeo bùa"
has a little pocket within, where women often used to store a little musk
No one is sure of its origins, although it may have originated from
China, since a similar garment, called tù dōu, existed in
ancient China. The áo yếm has always existed as an essential
part of the áo tứ thân costume worn by northern Vietnamese
women, which itself has existed since at least the 12th century. Unlike
other Vietnamese costumes in feudalistic Vietnam that helped to segregate
the classes, áo yếm were worn as an undergarment by
Vietnamese women of all walks of life, from peasant women toiling in the
fields to imperial consorts.
As westernization inevitably reached Vietnam, by the 20th century women
increasingly abandoned the yếm for the western bra, at least in
urban areas, although the yếm is still worn to an extent in rural
Fashion designers, in their constant quest to revitalize interest in
traditional costumes as well as reinvent the latter have constantly
created new collections of Áo yếm, which seem to be quite popular
amongst modern young women; this can be easily explained through the Áo
yếm's similarity to the western halter top.
about Áo yếm
Áo tứ thân
Áo tứ thân)
The dress is now obsolete in terms of its daily use in Vietnam, but
it can be seen often in traditional occasions such as festivals,
especially in northern Vietnam.
Áo tứ thân
|The Áo tứ thân can be considered one of the oldest
enduring Vietnamese cultural relics, having been worn widely by women
from as early as the 12th century on to the early 20th century. It was
developed through the introduction of the Chinese Hanfu clothing.
Vietnam has a diversity of
ethnic groups and each group has its own style of dressing. In the past,
"Ao tu than", which is roughly understood as
"four-flapped dress", is a traditional dress often worn by
Northern people. The "Ao tu than" consists of several layers
of gowns; the outer usually has a brown color and its lower part is
divided equally into 4 flaps. The two front flaps are tied together and
with two sashes, wrapped around like a belt. Time
has changed. Now Vietnamese women are proudly wearing the "Ao dai',
which simply means "Long dress", as their traditional dress.
The 'Ao dai' has long sleeves and with buttons from the collar down in
front of the shoulder, underneath the arm and continue along the side to
the waist. The dress is then slit into two flaps: one in the front and
one in the back.
As Vietnam expanded southward and slightly different cultures began
to emerge between the regions, the Áo tứ thân gradually became
associated specifically with northern women.
Áo tứ thân was the dress of commoner women, which explained
why it was often made with plainer fabric and in darker colors, with the
exception of special occasions such as festivals or weddings. While most
modern Áo tứ thân are extremely colorful, ancient Vietnamese
apparently preferred more muted colors.
Regardless of its many different forms, the basic Áo tứ thân
- A flowing outer tunic, reaching almost to the floor. It is open at
the front, like a jacket. At the waist the tunic splits into two
flaps: a full flap in the back (made up of two flaps sewn together)
and the two flaps in the front which are not sewn together but can
be tied together or left dangling
- A long skirt, worn under the tunic
- Áo yếm, an ancient bodice worn as an undergarment by women.
It comes in many shapes and colors, worn under the skirt and outer
- A silk sash which is tied at the waist as a belt
The dress as it is most typically worn today (almost exclusively in
northern-related festivals) tends to be extremely colorful, using
different hues throughout the dress, from the tunic to the bodice and
Áo dài (more
about Áo dài)
In Viet Nam, the ao dai is the
traditional dress for women. Developed from Chinese court clothing
in the 1930s, this style of clothing went out of fashion in the north in 1954
and in the south in 1975. Recently, however, it has made a comeback
and is regaining popularity in the south among schoolgirls and office workers,
and is being worn at formal functions. An indication of social standing, the ao
dai is worn by women who work as shop assistants or who have a higher social
status, while manual workers typically wear a loose top and baggy pants called
an ao ba ba.
The aodai (áo dài) is a Vietnamese national costume primarily for women. In its current form, it is a tight-fitting silk dress worn over pantaloons. Áo dài is pronounced
ow yai in the South, and ow zai in the North. Áo is derived from a Middle Chinese word meaning "padded coat".
In modern Vietnamese, áo refers to an item of clothing that covers from the neck down. Dài means
The word áo dài was applied to various garments historically, including the áo ngũ thân, a 19th century aristocratic gown influenced by Chinese fashions. Inspired by Paris fashions, Hanoi artist Nguyễn Cát Tường redesigned the ngũ thân as a dress in
1930. In the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit to produce the version worn by Vietnamese women
today. The dress was extremely popular in South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. The communists, who have ruled all of Vietnam since 1975, disapproved of the dress and favored frugal, androgynous
styles. In the 1990s, the áo dài regained popularity. The equivalent garment for men, called an áo gấm ("brocade robe"), is also worn on occasion, such as at a wedding or a death anniversary.
Academic commentary on the aodai emphasizes the way that the dress ties feminine beauty to Vietnamese nationalism, especially in the form of "Miss áo dài" pageants, popular both among overseas Vietnamese and in Vietnam
itself. "Aodai" is one of the few Vietnamese words that appear in English-language
||The ao dai is considered
to be an elegant, yet demure, garment. Traditionally, long, wide- legged
trousers are worn under a high-necked, long-sleeved, fitted tunic with
slits along each side. The outfit’s pants reach to the soles of the
feet, often trailing along the ground. Over time, the dress tunic has
evolved, keeping with fashion trends, and has grown shorter and shorter
until it now falls just below the knees. The ao dai can also be
identified by its mandarin-style or boat-neck collar. Young girls wear
only pastel colored or white garments while married women wear either
dark or bright tunics over black or white trousers.
Historically, Vietnamese men dressed in
mandarin style suits. With a tunic shorter and fuller than the ao dai,
the suit’s color was traditionally determined by the man’s class and
social rank. For example, a purple suit denoted a high rank while blue
denoted a low rank. Status was also indicated through a variety of
embroidered symbols. Today the mandarin suit is rarely worn except for
in traditional dance or music performances.
In general, Vietnamese people dress
conservatively. Although some young women wear more close-fitting,
Western-style clothing, it is considered inappropriate to wear revealing
clothes during the day. One Westerner teaching English in Viet Nam was
advised to tuck her shirt into her trousers if she expected respect from
her students. It is considered inappropriate for educated people to wear
their shirts untucked.
The northern-4-flap dress is Vietnam's first "ao dai", only worn on
the occasion of the Tet festival. The brown dress with the two fore-flaps tied
together and let dangling matches with satin trousers and silk belts. Then the 4
flap dress has been modified into a 3-flap one: the collar being 2 cm high, the
sleeves wrapping tightly to the wrists, breast and waist of main flaps, there is
also a minor flap reaching down to the fringe. Buttons are made of plaited cloth
and buttoned on the side. The collar is turned up obliquely to let appear three
color ( or 7 colors ) of the dress. The outermost layer is of brown silk or a
kind of black gauze, followed by light yellow, pink, lemon green, and
sky-blue... multicolored ones...., attractive yet decent, discrete and
Following the Europeanization wave in 1935, Lemur Nguyen Cat Tuong's
"modern ao dai" made its apparition. It had puffed out shoulders,
cuffed sleeves, a round collar cut breast-deep and laced, a corrugated fringe
made of joined cloth of different colors and gaudily laced.
During the the 1939-1945 period there was a conflict on a esthetic concept,
resulting in the restoration of the traditional ao dai. Young girls' collar was
from 4 cm to 7 cm high, the roundness of which was ensured by a stipt starching,
the flaps were of a broad width and of a 1958 and the beginning of 1959, Madam
Ngo Dinh Nhu's low-necked, decollete ao dai was launched.
At the beginning of 1971, the raglan-sleeve ao dai renovated by Mrs. Tuyet Mai
overcame the wrinkling short comings at the shoulders and the armpits.
From the early 1970's to 1975 it was the period at mini and hippy ao dai widely
worn with tights and flares until 1989. The first ao dai beauty contest was
restored under the communist regime since 1975 and the traditional ao dai
returned to its suave beauty of old times. All young ladies were encouraged to
wear the white ao dai to school which has been banned since 1975 after the
falling of Sai Gon. All such contests as school beauty, sports beauty has been
organized everywhere in the country, ao dai is the main category in these
contests. Now only the Tien Phong Newspaper beauty contest is considered the
official national contest and who is crowned from this contest become the
national beauty queen and she will represent the country in all diplomatic
occasions. This contest has been official started in 1992 and repeated every two
year sine then ( 1994, 1996, 1998).
||The year 1995 was the crowing year for the national ao dai.
Truong Quynh Mai's ao dai was chosen the most beautiful national apparel
in Tokyo... The 1995 renovated ao dai model suits well modern times, and
is more beautiful at it's tightened at the breast, waist and back, its
collar evenly circling round from 4 cm to 7 cm high, the sleeves just
tighten the arms. Velvet ao dai, embroidered, painted and printed with
flower pattern have created even more exquisite beauty features allowing
Vietnam's ao dai to take off ever higher.
Over the time, it changed with the fashion trends from long tunic to short
tunic. "Ao Dai" can also be worn in many different colors. For casual
occasions, the young and single women wear pastel and bright colors such as
yellow, white, and light blue. On the other hand, older and married women wear
darker colors such as blue, purple, and brown.
"Ao Dai" is significant to Vietnamese women because it displays grace,
beauty, and elegance. The occasions in which the "Ao Dai" is worn
signifies the importance of the event.
As for today, high school girls are required to wear white "Ao Dai".
White means purity, elegance, and young. It can also be considered as a
"uniform" to unite the rich and poor within the school.
For worship, many women wear "Ao Dai" that has little or no designs.
The temple and church are considered "simple" and do not need
"flashy designs" to contaminate their purity and innocence.
And, for marriage, the bride usually wears beautiful "Ao Dai" in red
or pink. The designs of the "Ao Dai" for a matrimonial ceremony often
display mythical figures such as the dragon and phoenix and Chinese prints.
Recently, "Ao Dai" is gaining popularity among young Vietnamese woman.
Because of the Vietnamese open-market to Western cultures, young designers took
another level in designing "Ao Dai". They used the traditional
patterns of the dress and applied with modern designs, textures, and fabrics
creating a new, and original fresh, clean cut mixed with then and now. However,
"Ao Dai" is still unique and special not only to the eyes of the
Vietnamese people, but also to the eyes of Westerners. More
about Áo dài
WHERE TO BUY AN AO DAI:
Because the Ao Dai
are custom made you will not likely find it "off-the-rack" in any
store. You will have to find a Vietnamese seamstress. Look in the phone book for
Vietnamese businesses in Vietnam Towns (Little
Saigon) in most large cities, especially grocery stores and video stores.
You should be able to find the name of a good seamstress from them. These
merchants would also be able to give you the best source for Vietnamese silk
fabric. Look in the phone book for
Vietnamese businesses, especially grocery stores and video stores. You should be
able to find the name of a good seamstress from them. These merchants would also
be able to give you the best source for Vietnamese silk fabric. There are often
Vietnamese associations, who can be contacted for information. For example, in
Chicago there is the Vietnamese Association of Illinois. There are very few
companies for purchasing Ao Dai online. Ordering the Ao Dai online is not much
different than ordering other clothing
online, with the exception of measurements. You will be required
to enter your measurements on the website instead of a standard size to ensure
you get the best fit possible. The site will display the different styles and fabric
choices available. The cost is quite reasonable – between $80.00-$150.00.
Auction sites sometimes have Ao Dai listed. This will not be the elegant,
form-fitting Ao Dai traditionally worn.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: There are patterns
available for the Ao Dai from vintage
and ethnic pattern companies and cost around $16.00. The patterns are sold at
sewing supply stores and online. The pattern is relatively easy to use and the
dress is not difficult to make. Simply use the search term "ao dai sewing
pattern" in any search engine and you will find online sources for the
pattern. If you do not sew, a local seamstress can make it for you for under
$100.00. A medium Ao Dai dress with the pants will take 6 yards of fabric. The
fabric for the pattern does not have to be Vietnamese silk if you do not want to
spend a lot for the dress. A simple cotton or inexpensive silk can be used from
your local fabric store. The beauty of the Ao Dai is in the design
and fit. Any lightweight fabric will produce an attractive dress. Whether you
have it custom-made or purchase it on the Internet, the Ao Dai is a beautiful
addition to any wardrobe.
Traditional Vietnamese male attire
Saigon (MF): A revived interest in the national Vietnamese dress for men was
demonstrated at an Lions International Club meeting held in Tokyo in 1969. The
assembled Lions, along with thousands of Japanese observers on the streets and
perhaps millions more at their television sets, were treated to a look at the
Vietnamese national dress worn by the Vietnamese Lion delegates.
This was the first time Vietnamese men have worn their national dress at an
international gathering since the fall of the late President Diem in November
1963. Before that time it was not unusual for Vietnamese diplomats to appear at
official functions in their national attire. In Tokyo, however, the
"fashion models" were private business men, delegates to the Lions
Anyone who has seen the exquisite costumes worn by Vietnamese women will
recognize similarities in the traditional dress of the male. Both costumes are
tailored from the same fabric, worn with the conventional snug collar and
buttoned down on the left side to the waist, with no crease in front or back.
The male dress extends only to the knees. The female dress flows with graceful
lines from a tight waist down to the heels.
The national Vietnamese dress has preserved its essential features through
the ages. Vietnamese take great pride in wearing this dress for it is part of
their nation, their history and their culture. It is part of Vietnamese social
customs which includes respect for superiors, dignitaries and relatives. Elders
in the family continue to receive this recognition as did once emperors,
mandarins and court teachers, all of whom had traditional dress variations
according to their status in Vietnamese society.
There are many variations on the basic theme. At the top of the list is the
elaborate dress of the emperor and the mandarins. Their rank was shown in the
display of color in the brocade and embroideries. Gold brocade with embroidered
dragons was for the emperor only. Gold is the national color and the dragon
heads the fabulous mythical animal world. Purple is the color reserved for
high-ranking court mandarins, while blue is for those of lower rank.
Costumes worn for religious ceremonies also have their special colors. Dresses
for ceremonial occasions usually have very wide and ample sleeves. Wedding
dresses are similar to the popular fashions, and the color is usually purple or
blue brocade. Dresses for mourning have frayed fringes or a line up the back and
may be either black or white in color.
Vietnamese dress styles underwent changes since the beginning of French
influence in the country. Many Vietnamese employed by the French had a tendency
to look down upon those who continued to wear the traditional dress. European
styles were popular mainly among civil servants and university students. The
majority of people, especially those in the rural areas, remained faithful to
their national dress and it even became a symbol of silent opposition to French
colonialism. During the colonial war against the French from I945 to I954, many
people concealed their social status. The revolutionaries wore black, those who
were pro-French wore western clothes while others wore the simple pajama-type
shirt and trousers. Following independence the traditional dress came back into
its own and was once again the required attire for all ranking officials at
government ceremonies or functions of the diplomatic corps.
When President Diem was overthrown in 1963, the national dress was so closely
identified with his administration that it sank with him into oblivion. This
neglect, however, was not officially inspired but rather a reflection of
political turmoil, frequent government changes and resulting chaos. Today, there
is serious thought to restore the Vietnamese national dress for men to its
traditional and rightful place, for it is a symbol of pride in the cultural
heritage of an ancient and proud Asian land.
conical hats or "Nón lá".
Form and function come together in beautiful
harmony when it comes to the Vietnamese Nón lá, or “leaf
A simple, conical hat originating in Asia – most notably in the
countries of Vietnam, China and Japan – the distinctive,
multi-functional head piece has become a national symbol representing the
hard-working spirit of Vietnam and its people.
The Nón lá is also a symbol of Vietnamese femininity and adds an
air of mystery and attractiveness to young women whose long, dark hair
flows out from under the brim.
Many a poet and composer have been inspired by the simple yet intriguingly
beautiful and unique design of the non la.
In Vietnam, the name is Nón lá (leaf hat). The conical hat
varieties in Vietnam are notable for their romantic and timelessly crafted
adornments. Special conical hats in Vietnam contain colorful hand-stitch
depictions or words while the Huế varieties are famous for their
'poem conical hats'. These contain random poetic verses and Hán
tự which can be revealed when the hat is directed above one's
head in the sunlight.
The most aesthetic conical hats come from Chuong village in the north,
and Hue in central Vietnam. Traditional designs such as pagodas,
birds, flowers are inserted between the layers and when the hat is held up
to the light, these motifs appear subliminally inspired.
During the Nguyen period - the final dynasty in
Vietnam, young women wore light brown-colored short shirts with long black
skirts. Their headgear consisted of a black turban with a peak in the front. To
make their waist look smaller, they fasten a long piece of pink or violet cloth.
On formal occasions, they wore a special three-layered dress called an "ao
dai", a long gown with slits on either side. The outer garment was a
special silk gown called an "ao tu than" which was brown or light
brown in color with four slits divided equally on its lower section. The second
layer was a gown in a light yellow color and the third layer was a pink gown.
When a woman wore her three gowns, she fastened the buttons on the side, and
leaved those on the chest unfastened so that it formed a shaped collar. This
allowed her to show the different colors on the upper part of the three gowns.
Beneath the three gowns was a bright red brassiere which was covered the woman's
Together with “ao
tu than”, there’s an indispensable thing - “non quai thao” - a flat palm
hat with fringes. Yet the women in the North loved to wear brown shirts, whereas
in the Central and South provinces, women usually wore black, middle- buttoned
shirts. By the end of Tu Duc’s dynasty, a special shirt called “ao ba ba”
was introduced in the South. Bibliographies described that men wore brocade or
gauze-made gowns, crepe turbans, and buffalo-leathered slippers.
Up to the beginning
of 19 century, women in all parts of the country knew the value of cosmetics. In
1935, “Le Mur” long dress appearance was a remarkable event. It was a
mandarin collared, puff-sleeved dress. At first, the “Le Mur” dress had
several features borrowed from European dresses current at that time, and was
considered the most modern fashion. 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 and lets them be dried under the
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.
Under the effect of
social development, Vietnamese costume has gradually changed. In 1945, women
started wearing black trousers and brown short shirts. European fashion
influenced men clothes. The traditional set of a long gown and turban gave way
to more modern looking suits, while business shirts and trousers were replaced
traditional long sleeved shirts and wide trousers.
In recent years
some foreign fashions have been introduced to Vietnam; it’s now easy to find
young boys and girls in Western-style clothes imitated international music bands
in big cities. Daily costumes of the Vietnamese people tend to be very simple
and modest. Men wear shirts, trousers. Young women wear shirts with trousers or
skirts. However, the traditional "ao dai" remains preferable to women
in both urban and rural settings. Traditional costumes still exist and efforts
are increasingly being made to restore traditional festivals and entertainment,
which incorporate traditional costumes.
Until the twentieth century, peasant women typically wore a skirt (váy) and a halter top
(áo yếm). Influenced by the fashions of China's Qing, or Manchu, imperial court, aristocrats favored less revealing
clothes. In 1744, Lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát of Huế decreed that both men and women at his court wear trousers and a gown with buttons down the
front. The members of the southern court were thus distinguished from the courtiers of the Trịnh Lords in Hanoi, who wore a split-sided jacket and a long
The áo tứ thân, a traditional four-paneled gown, evolved into the five-paneled ngũ thân in the early 19th
century. Ngũ is Sino-Vietnamese for "five." It refers not only to the number of panels, but also to the five elements in oriental cosmology. The ngũ thân had a loose fit and sometimes had wide sleeves. Wearers could display their prosperity by putting on multiple layers of fabric, which at that time was costly. Despite Vietnam's tropical climate, aristocrats were known to wear three to five layers.
The ngũ thân had two flaps sewn together in the back, two flaps sewn together in the front, and a "baby flap" hidden underneath the main front flap. The gown appeared to have two-flaps with slits on both sides, features preserved in the later
aodai. Compared to a modern aodai, the front and back flaps were much broader and the fit looser. It had a high collar and was buttoned in the same fashion as a modern
aodai. Women could wear the dress with the top few buttons undone, revealing a glimpse of their yếm underneath.
The modern dress
In 1930, Hanoi artist Cát Tường, also known as Le Mur, designed a dress inspired by the ngũ thân and by Paris fashions. It reached to the floor and fit the curves of the body by using darts and a nipped-in
waist. When fabric became inexpensive, the rationale multiple layers and thick flaps disappeared. Modern texile manufacture allowed for wider panels, eliminating the need to sew narrow panels together. The áo dài Le
Mur, or "trendy" aodai, created a sensation when model Nguyễn Thị Hậu wore it for a feature published by the newspaper Today in January
1935. The style was promoted by the artists of Tự Lực văn đoàn ("Self-Reliant Literary Group") as a national costume for the modern
era. The painter Lê Phô introduced several popular styles of aodai beginning in 1934. Such Westernized garments temporarily disappeared during World War II (1939-45).
In the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit of the aodai to create the version commonly seen
today. Trần Kim of Thiết Lập Tailors and Dũng of Dũng Tailors created a dress with raglan sleeves and a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the
underarm. The infamous Madame Nhu, first lady of South Vietnam, popularized a collarless version beginning in 1958. The aodai was most popular from 1960 to
1975. A brightly colored áo dài hippy was introduced in 1968. The áo dài mini, a version designed for practical use and convenience, had slits that extended above the waist and panels that reached only to the
The aodai has always been more common in the South than in the North. The communists, who gained power in the North in 1954 and in the South in the 1975, had conflicted feelings about the
aodai. They praised it as a national costume and one was worn to the Paris Peace Conference (1968-73) by Vietcong negotiator Nguyễn Thị
B́nh. Yet Westernized versions of the dress and those associated with "decadent" Saigon of the 1960s and early 1970s were
condemned. Economic crisis, famine, and war with Cambodia combined to make the 1980s a fashion low
point. The aodai was rarely worn except at weddings and other formal occasions, with the older, looser-fitting style
|| Overseas Vietnamese, meanwhile, kept tradition alive with "Miss
Aodai" pageants (Hoa Hậu Áo Dài), the most notable one held annually in Long Beach,
The aodai experienced a revival beginning in late 1980s, when state enterprise and schools began adopting the dress as a
uniform. In 1989, 16,000 Vietnamese attended a Miss Aodai Beauty Contest held in Hochiminh City (formerly
Saigon). When the Miss International Pageant in Tokyo gave its "Best National Costume" award to an
aodai-clad Trường Quỳnh Mai in 1995, Thời Trang Trẻ (New Fashion Magazine) gushed that Vietnam's "national soul" was "once again
honored." An "aodai craze" followed that lasted several years and led to wider use of the dress as a school uniform
Place in Today's Culture
No longer controversial politically, aodai fashion design is supported by the Vietnamese
government. Designer Le Si Hoang is a celebrity in Vietnam and his shop in Hochiminh City is the place to visit for those who admire the
dress. In Hanoi, tourists get fitted for aodais on Luong Van Can Street. The elegant city of Huế in the central region is known for its
aodais, nón lá (leaf hats), and well-dressed women.
The aodai is now standard for weddings, for celebrating Tết and for other formal occasions. A plain white aodai is a common high school school uniform in the South. Companies often require their female staff to wear uniforms that include the
aodai, so flight attendants, receptionists, restaurant staff, and hotel workers in Vietnam may be seen in it.
The most popular style of aodai fits tightly around the wearer's upper torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. Although the dress covers the entire body, it is thought to be provocative, especially when it is made of thin fabric. "The aodai covers everything, but hides nothing," according to one
saying. The dress must be individually fitted and usually requires several weeks for a tailor to complete. For Vietnamese, the price of a typical aodai is about $30, although tourists are often charged double.
"Symbolically, the ao dai invokes nostalgia and timelessness associated with a gendered image of the homeland for which many Vietnamese people throughout the diaspora yearn," wrote Nhi T. Lieu, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at
Austin. The difficulties of working while wearing an aodai links the dress to frailty and innocence, she
wrote. Vietnamese writers who favor the use of the aodai as a school uniform cite the inconvenience of wearing it as an advantage, a way of teaching students feminine behavior such as modesty, caution, and a refined
The aodai appears in many movies with Vietnam-related themes. In Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Robin Williams's character is wowed by
aodai-clad women when he first arrives in Saigon. The 1992 films Indochine and The Lover inspired several international fashion houses to design aodai
collections. In the Vietnamese film The White Silk Dress (2007), an aodai is the sole legacy that the mother of a poverty-stricken family has to pass on to her
daughters. The Hanoi City Complex, a 65-story building now under construction, will have an
design. Vietnamese designers created aodai for the contestants in the Miss Universe beauty contest, which was held this year in Nha