A page about the traditional vietnamese dress

On this page I will tell you a bit more about one of my favorit fashion things, the Ao-Dai.

What is an Aó-Daì?

The Ao-Dai is the traditional dress of the vietnames people. It is in general the same for both genders but in modern days more often worn by woman. Sometimes, designs are painted or embroidered in front and back of the dress.
AO DAI leterally mean "long dress", the national dress of Vietnam. It is a contoured, full-length dress worn over black or white loose-fitting trousers. The dress splits into a front and back panel from the waist down. There are many stylish variations in color and collar design. Originally, the ao dai was loosely tailored with four panels, two of which were tied in back. In 1932, a nationalistic literacy group called the Tu Luc Van Doan designed what is essentially now the ao dai. A similar costume is worn the men and is also called an ao dai. However, the mans'dress front and back panel isa bit shorter in length and more loose-fitting. The color of the brocade and the embroidered dragon were worn only by the Emperor. Purple was the color reserved for high ranking mandarins while the blue was worn by those mandarins of lower rank. The dresses for mourning have frayed fringes a line up the back and may be either white or black, although white is the standard color for mourning.
Pronounced 'ao yai' in the south, but 'ao zai' in the north, the color is indicative of the wearer's age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully lined outfits symbolizing their purity. As they grow older but are still unmarried they move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear gowns in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. The ao dai has always been more prevalent in the south than the north, but austerity drives after 1975 meant it was rarely anywhere seen for a number of years as it was considered an excess not appropriate for hard work. The nineties have seen a resurgence in the ao dai's popularity. "It has become standard attire for many office workers and hotel staff as well as now being the preferred dress for more formal occasions," says Huong, a secretary for a foreign company. "I feel proud of my heritage when I wear it."

General colors used:
In General lighter or more pastel colors are worn by younger people the darker and brighter collors are worn by the older people.
Young girls wear pure white, fully lined outfits symbolizing their purity. As they grow older but are still unmarried they move into soft pastel shades. Only married wear gowns in strong, rich colors. The Ao-Dai is usually worn over white or black long and wide swinging pants.

white = students uniform
violett = if the wearer is in love
red = marrige gown
darkblue = mostly worn by man

A short history of the Aó-Daì:

The historical periode:
The exact beginning of the developmant of the Ao-Dai is not very clear. Possible it develoupd from a gown worn in the chinese Yeun dynasty that resamles some basic similarity to the Ao-Dai. Also it has some similarity to the so coled Cheogsam an the Quipu.
The following picturs show some relations of historical costumes from south china witch are posible prdecessors of the Ao-Dai.
Early versions of the Ao-Dai date back to 1744 when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. It was not until 1930 that the ao dai as we know it really appeared.

France colony periode:
This time period had a great influence in the look of the Ao-Dai. The importing of the european underwear to be exactly the bra forced the develoupmant of the Ao-Dai to a more clother body showing form. Before it was a bit more lose cut.
Vietnamese fashion designer and writer Cat Tuong, or as the French knew him, Monsieur Le Mur, lengthened the top so it reached the floor, fitted the bodice to the curves of the body and moved the buttons from the more front position  to closer along the shoulder and side seam.  But it took another twenty years before the next major design change was incorporated and the modern ao dai emerged. During the 1950s two tailors in Saigon, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors, started producing the gowns with raglan sleeves. This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and today, this style is still preferred.

Modern Day:
In our modern time many things influenced the look of the Ao-Dai in many ways. The look of the shlevs fary from nothing to long. The use of modern or exotic fabrics.
Several years ago Max, the lead collections designer at Ralph Lauren did an "Indochine" group. Several of his Southeast Asian inspired dresses wer shown at the Met's "Orientalism" Show. The Vietnamese inspired gown was one of the most memorable in the exhibit.
Its popularity may be its undoing as the garment is now being mass produced to make it more available and cheaper. The gown length appears to be gradually shortening and today is usually just below the knee. Variations in the neck, between boat and mandarin style, are common and even adventurous alterations such as a low scooped neckline, puffed sleeves or off the shoulder designs are appearing as ladies experiment with fashion. Colors are no longer as rigidly controlled as it was in the past. Men wore it less, generally mostly on ceremonial occasions such as at weddings or funerals.

How to cut and sew an Aó-Daì:

To make your own Ao-Dai the right way, I will put small pics i have collected later on this page. On it you can see how to cut a sewing-pattern.

Ao-Dai is custom made only. That's why it looks so nice: it fits the person wearing it exactly. If you can somehow get measurements of you, you can send these with someone to order a custom Aó-Daì when going to Vietnam. It takes about 1 week to make and costs about 50$ . You should supply the silk fabric also. but also new kinds fabrics has some dazzling results.
Most visitors to Vietnam agree that the tailors already have the perfect cut. It is hard to think of a more elegant, demure and yet sexy outfit, that suits Vietnamese people of all ages, than the Ao Dai.

The minimum measurements needed
( keep the tape loose) are like following:

  • neck circumference ( vòng cô? )
  • shoulder width ( ngang vai )
  • arm hole size ( vóng cành tay )
  • length of arm ( daì cành tay)
  • wrist circumference ( vòng cô? tay )
  • chest circumference ( vòng ngu+.c )
  • length from low of neck to largest part of chest ( daì tù+ cô? ddê'n ngu+.c )
  • length from back of neck to waist ( daì lu+ng )
  • waist circumference ( vòng eo)
  • hip circ. ( vòng mông)
  • length from waist to desired hem line ( daì tà aó )

  • All measurements must be in centimeters ( phân tây), not inches.
    Good luck!

    Last Edited:14.08.1998 Copyright: _RosE_ from the Black Tower of Time