For a span of hundreds of years, Ao Dai (/ˈaʊ,daɪ/) has been the iconic symbol of the Vietnamese women particularly and the Vietnamese culture generally. It holds a significant place in the cultural and diplomatic identity of our people among all the rich and diverse cultures all over the world. It is worthy to have brief insight into this meaningful image if you plan to visit or simply would like to get to know the country a little bit better. This article will give you all the necessary knowledge about our National costume – Ao Dai; when to wear it and where to tailor your own.
The history and creation of Ao Dai
From the images on the Internet, Ao Dai appears to be a simple design; however, to get to how the dress looks today, it has gone through a long journey and is closely connected with the historical development of the country.
1. The very first version of Ao dai – Ao Giao Lanh (Áo Giao Lãnh or Áo Giao Lĩnh)
Although there is no precise identification of the exact time when Ao Dai had been brought into life, it is believed that Ao Giao Lanh is the primitive version of the nowadays Ao Dai. It is a long loose dress cut on two sides from the waist all the way along the legs. It was worn with a fabric belt and a black dress inside. At that time, to distinguish the South costume from the North, King Nguyen (Nguyễn Phúc Khoát) had ordered all the royal officers to wear a silk blouse inside. It is claimed that this is where Ao Dai all began.
2. Ao Tu Than ( Áo Tứ Thân)
In the 18th century, increasing agricultural work required Ao Giao Lanh to be splitted into four pieces: two in the front and two in the back so they could be tightened up when people did field work. The four flaps represent the parents of wife and husband.
3. Ao Ngu Than (Áo Ngũ Thân)
Ao Ngu Than is a slightly modified version of Ao Tu Than with an addition of a flap in front in order to separate the royalty from the ordinary people.
4. Ao Dai Lemur
This is thought to be the breakthrough period which led to the design of modern Ao Dai. In 1939, from the foundation of Ao Ngu Than, an artist called Cat Tuong renovated the dress to suit the breath of the French vibes at that time. Ao Dai Lamur was named after her French name. She combined the four flaps into two, added a line of buttons which is a significant reflection of the Western style on the Vietnamese fashion. Unfortunately, the popularity of this design faded after 1943.
5. Ao Dai Le Pho (Lê Phổ)
Not long after that, painter Le Pho brought Ao Dai back by removing all the Western aspects of the dress, resizing the design so that the dress would fit better and embrace the curves more gracefully. This version was favored by the government people for about 5 years before transferring to the next stage of the famous dress.
6. Ao Dai Tran Le Xuan (Trần Lệ Xuân)
Tran Le Xuan or more well-known as Madame Nhu – the First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963 and wife of the chief advisor Ngo Dinh Nhu (Ngô Đình Nhu). She appointed the Thai Truc Nha (Thái Trúc Nha) to organize an Ao Dai fashion show on the most bustling street of Saigon at that time – Dong Khoi St. Ao Dai highlighted a bateau neckline to show off the women’s neckline and collar bones. This design was biased and worn by her to all the international meetings and parties which made it more visible to the international friends.
At first, this version of Ao Dai was rejected by the public as they thought the liberal spirit of the dress was against the traditional values. However, the preference slowly moved towards the dress due to its simplicity, elegance and comfort.
7. Ao Dai Raglan
This is seen as the most completed version of the modern Ao Dai which was created by Tailor Dung by attaching the long sleeves at a 45° from the neckline to allow more flexibility. This design from the end of the 70s remains until now as the Vietnamese national dress which is appreciated by not only our people but also fashion and culture lovers all over the world.
8. Modern Ao Dai
In the busy pace of modern life, Ao Dai has been transferring itself to catch up with the changing taste of the people. Today, Ao Dai appears to be more practical with plenty of renovations yet still remains the basis of the original dress.
The practice of wearing Ao Dai
Wearing Ao Dai as uniform
Choosing Ao Dai as a uniform is an effort of the people in power with the hope to sustain the traditions of wearing Ao Dai among the young people. It is most worn in highschools and universities with white color. It is optional to combine Ao Dai with white or black trousers. Recently, a number of companies and government organizations such as banks and airlines have also chosen Ao Dai as a symbol of their institution. To maximize the comforts of wearing Ao Dai, it is only compulsory to wear Ao Dai on Monday when the flag ceremony takes place.
Wearing Ao Dai as wedding dress / Wearing Ao Dai in engagement and wedding ceremonies
Wearing Ao Dai in Tet holiday and other special occasions
Wearing Ao Dai in daily life
The making of Ao Dai
Measuring and tailoring
Where to tailor
Ready-made Ao Dai
To meet the demand of Ao Dai for daily use, nowadays, Ao dai is manufactured in big quantity. Of course, by this way, Ao Dai cannot perfectly fit you; but, if you only wear it for hanging out, for travel experience or photography, the ready-made dresses will come in handy. You just need to choose the design of your favorite and can put it on immediately. These manufactured Ao Dai also has a more affordable price of a few hundred thousand VND. More interestingly, you can also rent Ao Dai. Normally, we rent Ao Dai for school performance activities or photography purposes to save time and money.
Some tips and facts about Ao Dai
Ao Dai is worn by both sexes
It is a fact that Ao Dai was first made for and used to be the traditional costume of Vietnamese men (especially the royal officers). Through the ups and downs of history, this tradition of wearing Ao Dai no longer appears much in men’s daily life. Ao Dai for men has two flaps that are (below the knee)s, buttoned on the right side, and usually sewn with brocade fabrics.