Ao Dai: A Traditional Vietnam Dress

The Vietnamese national dress “Ao Dai” is the long dress worn with pants by the women of Vietnamese, which has become the emblem of the feminine grace, and the dignity of the people of Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, ‘áo dài’ means ‘long shirt’. It is the national attire of Vietnam, signifying elegance and grace.

Although the modern ao dai has many modifications, such as those with smaller panels and different shapes of the collar, for instance, round, V, or open collar, the traditional female ao dai is a tight-fitting long silk gown with long sleeves that is carried over long trousers. It gives the wearer a simple yet complementary look while still displaying the curves of the body.


Ao Dai Dress Innovations: Differences Between Modern and Traditional Ao Dai

The advanced version of ao dai has developed a lot since it was created. Let’s check out the four main variations in traditional ao dai and the modern ao dai below.

1) The traditional ao dai is baggy and boxy in appearance. It is convenient for work and is easy to wear. On the other hand, the modern ao dai reveals beauty with the tight-fitting cloth that is still easy to wear because of the two slits on the side that spread the bottom part of the dress.

If you would prefer to take nice photographs in an ao dai, this will be a great approach to have the clothes tailor-made according to your measurement. That will fit you properly and seem much better than the rented or store-bought ones.


2) The traditional ao dai is sophisticated in color because of societal restraints during feudalism. The modern ao dai has many colors depicting status and age.

Young girls often carry simple white, signifying innocence. In Vietnam, high school girls’ uniform is usually a white ao dai. Elder but unmarried girls carry ao dai with soft tones of color, while older married women mostly wear ao dai in more vibrant and more darkish colors.


3) The modern ao dai is more comfortable and more breathable than the traditional ao dai. Modern ao dai normally made of silk, lace, or other arable fabrics for comfort in the tropical weather of Southeast Asia. The traditional ao dai was made with many layers of fabric.


4) The traditional ao dai was essentially for members of the imperial family and government officials. Nowadays, ao dai is worn every day by people of Vietnamese of all financial backgrounds. It is also the uniform of numerous businesses.

Ao Dai for Men: Dressed for Vietnamese Matrimonies and National Festivals 

Although ao dai was familiar to both men and women from ancient times, nowadays you will notice a few men carrying ao dai. Ao dai is regularly dressed only by women. Here are some reasons why:

  1. If men wear ao dai, it is supposed to be old fashioned. Many modern versions of ao dai represent the delicacy of women and are consequently more accepted in the fashion of women.
  2. Men consider ao dai is not convenient for wearing during work because of the modern fitting styles, although the men’s version is much more loose-fitting than the women’s.

During some big events such as matrimonies, funerals, and Tet, many men wish to dress ao dai to give honor to the tradition. In order to develop this fascinating clothing culture, some groups and organizations have begun to carry activities displaying men dressed in ao dai. Some Vietnamese state officials also dress ao dai when visiting international meetings.

The History of Ao Dai Dress:

Although the ao dai is considered as the representation for traditional Vietnamese identification and delicacy of women, its modern appearance has only appeared after substantial foreign influence, making it the ao dai we recognize today.

The word ‘ao dai’ was formerly used in the 18th century, during the Nguyen dynasty when Chinese-style attire was mandated.

Ao dai was the name for a special dress that was used at the court of the Nguyen Lords in Hue, to differentiate them from other courtiers.

The dress grew into the áongũthân, a five-paneled aristocratic gown worn in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the 20th century, ao dai went through a number of changes.

In the 1920s and 1930s during French colonialism, the dress was altered as a modern dress by a French-trained Vietnamese artist named Cat Tuong, or Le Mur. He blended the western dress style with the traditional ao dai. During this time, ao dai started to be developed as the national attire for the modern age.

In the 1950s, Saigon designers compressed it in its fitting to make it more fascinating. Madame Nhu who was the sister-in-law of President Ngo Dinh Diem, familiarized the new tight-fitting style of the ao dai with the boat-neck which was deemed problematic at the time due to its sensuality.

Ao Dai Dress of Modern Time:

Ao dai appears in many modifications of color, design, length, and collar in modern times.

History of Ao Dai Dress

Besides being the regular outfits for women, it is also worn for particular events such as weddings, Tết celebrations, and other ceremonious and occasions. Particular colors of ao dai are used for prayer and ritual ceremonies. Blue, purple, and brown are the main alternatives.

silk ao dai

Ao dai is also usually worn as uniforms for women whether for civil servants, tour guides, hotel staff, or high school girls.

Ao Dai’s Social Impact:

  • Impact on architectural design:

The outside design of the 65-floor Lotte Centre in Hanoi is influenced by ao dai.

  • A representative of home:

The Vietnamese in California conduct the Ao Dai Festival every year. It is a representation of national pride. During the event, many dress up in ao dai to display their admiration and love for Vietnam.

The dress of the Ao dai represents the versatility and sense of the cultural influence of the Vietnamese, a design adopted from the Cham that blends with Western details of fashion and aesthetics to make a dress that is uniquely Vietnamese. Those people who carry ao dai they carry with the grace and respect for their culture.

We hope our research on Vietnamese dress ao dai will make a different impact on you whenever you see their dress next time, because of knowing its history and modification in the dress.


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