Vietnamese traditional dress – There are more than just “Ao dai”

Costume plays an important role in life of Vietnamese. With diverse and longstanding culture, Vietnam has many types of costume. Traditional dress is an integral part. Common types of Vietnamese traditional dress are not only unique but also have great cultural value.

Ao dai

Ao dai is traditional costume in Vietnam. It is considered national dress.

Overview of ao dai

Ao dai is originated from ao ngu than which is a five-paneled elegant gown. In the 1920s and 1930s, Nguyen Cat Tuong together with other artists redesigned ao ngu than as modern dress. Until the 18th century, that type of modern dress was officially called “ao dai”. Ao dai is worn by both sexes and currently includes a tight-fitting silk tunic over trousers. The design of ao dai has changed by time yet it is still unique highlight in Vietnamese culture.

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As traditional dress of Vietnamese, ao dai is worn by men and women. For women, the tunic is long and flowing with two flaps. There is a wide range of patterns like flowers, birds, attractions, etc. Ao dai promotes all elegant and charming curve of Vietnam women. For men, ao dai only reaches to the knee. Nowadays, ao dai is usually worn in special occasion such as wedding, Tet holidays.

Ao dai for men
Ao dai for men

Modernization of ao dai

Ao ngu than is much broader, shorter and fit looser than ao dai. Ao dai reaches the ankles and fits the curves of body by darts and a nipped-in waist. It uses raglan sleeves and diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm. For practical use and convenience, mini version of ao dai was created. Ao dai mini has cut above the waist and flaps only to the knees.

Traditional ao dai
Traditional ao dai

Women often wear ao dai with conical hat called “non la to protect themselves from the heat and rain. People traditionally write poems on the hat. Therefore, non la is also known as non bai tho (“nón bài thơ”) in which bai tho mean poem. Cone-shaped hats are used as fashion item with ao dai and souvenir in Vietnam.

Women in ao dai and non la
Vietnamese women in ao dai and non la

Ao dai has been changed to be more adaptable to modern life. Sleeves, flaps and collar are modified for working or travelling on means of transportation. People prefer to wear ao dai with culottes and skirts instead of trousers. The materials are various such as silk, voile fabric and brocade fabric. Yet, no matter how it has changed, among types of Vietnamese traditional dress, ao dai is still the most important one and considered the national dress of Vietnam.

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Ao tu than

Ao tu than is known as four-pieces dress. It was widely worn by Vietnamese peasant women before ao dai. The outer tunic is long flowing to the ankles and open at the front. The tunic splits into two parts at the waist: two flaps in the front and the other two in the back. The back flaps are sewn together while the back ones are not. They can be tied or left dangling.

Underneath the tunic is a long plain skirt. Halter top called ao yem is inside the tunic. Women used it as undergarment. The ancient bodice has many colors and is made of many materials. A silk sash at the waist plays the role as a belt. The dress usually had dark colors and was made of plain fabric, except for special occasions. Nowadays, it is highlighted by extreme colors and distinctive hues throughout the dress.

Modern ao tu than with extreme colors
Modern ao tu than with extreme colors

In modern time, ao tu than is not suitable for daily life. Tourists in Vietnam tour can see ao tu than in traditional occasions like festivals, especially in the North of Vietnam. Ao tu than is the typical dress for folk music performances. Artists wear colorful ao tu than along with non quai thao which is a large hat made of leaves. Tourists can enjoy Vietnamese traditional music such as Cheo, Tuong, Quan Ho and admire talented artists who are graceful and charismatic in ao tu than.

Ao ba ba

Ao ba ba is traditional garment of women in the south. It consists of long-sleeved shirt and pairs of trousers. The shirt is collarless with buttons down. Two straps run from the top down in the middle. There are two pieces in the front and one pieces in the back. The cut at the side of waist forms two flaps. For convenience, people customarily add two pockets on the shirt. Pants are long and often black or white.

Ao ba ba
Ao ba ba

As a type of traditional dress in Vietnam, ao ba ba is the typical clothing of both sexes in Mekong Delta. Ao ba ba is the symbol of warm-hearted and industrious rural people. Furthermore, it emphasizes beautiful curves of women. People still wear ao ba ba in daily life and also use it as gifts for Tet. It is modernized in design, color, pattern and embroidery. Ao ba ba holds an crucial position in Vietnamese culture.

Traditional dress of ethnic minorities

There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. Each group has its own distinct dress. Ethnic minorities usually wear indigo vets, long skirts or trousers. They use natural patterns such as wildflowers, animals and beasts. In mountainous areas, traditional dress is usually hand-made and embroidered from natural materials by females in the village. Travelers can hire the dress to take photos or buy it as souvenir.

Each ethnic group has its own traditional dress
Each ethnic group has its own traditional dress

While discovering traditional dress in Vietnam, you cannot pass costumes of ethnic minorities. They tend to be simple and express strong spirits. Prominent among them are traditional dresses of Thai, H’mong and Cham group.

Thai women wear elegant dresses with brocade particular concept. Accessories are belts and Pieu scrafs. Traditional dress of H’mong group includes plain shirt, skirt, leggings and headgear. Their dress is highlighted by bright colors, silver coins together with beads. Cham group wear fitting tunic over long skirt attaching outstanding waistband and exquisite headscarf.

Traditional dress of Thai ethnic group
Traditional dress of Thai ethnic group

As time goes by, traditional dress is modernized and have changed from design to material. It has been affected by foreign culture along with the development of the country. However, Vietnamese traditional dress still maintains it owns characteristics as well as express national spiritual will. It holds the charming beauty, attracts and impresses tourists coming to Vietnam.

Vietnamese traditional dress – There are more than just “Ao dai”
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