Ao Dai costume, Vietnam - Global Storybook

Áo Dài – The Traditional Costume of Vietnam

Huong Thi Nguyen

Huong Thi Nguyen

Huong Thi Nguyen is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Vietnam).
Huong is also a Professional Vietnamese & English Translator and Interpreter at Quynh Huong Center.
Huong Thi Nguyen

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With its long and extensive history, that dates back to as early as the 18th century, Áo Dài (a traditional Vietnamese long dress) is not only a unique symbol of the feminine beauty, but is also a deeply ingrained part of our culture and mind.  Despite overcoming some difficult times in the country’s history, Áo Dài has carried its national identity and spirit, and has never lost its unique vitality, since its creation.  Almost unanimously, it is considered to be an outstanding work of art – a distinctive, elegant beauty of the Vietnamese.

This famous traditional dress has changed its appearance several times over the centuries, but its beautiful allure and appeal will never be out of date.  As you can probably see, Áo Dài is not just a costume – it is the essence and the glory of the Vietnamese culture.  It’s what the Vietnamese people identify most with.  In summary, Áo Dài is that ideal combination of beauty, modesty, and grace.

Normally, the Vietnamese Áo Dài is made from the finest silk or other special types of soft fabrics, which not only attract the attention of others, but also ensure the comfort of its owners.  The elegant and soft features of Áo Dài can also be interpreted as the indirect symbols of Vietnam, as a peace-loving country, with a rich traditional culture.

Ao Dai costume, Vietnam - Global StorybookA traditional Áo Dài usually has long sleeves, fits tight around a mandarin neckline and the breast area, and is notably split on the sides from the waist to the ankle.  It is typically worn with loose pants under a high-necked, long-sleeved, fitted tunic with slits along each side.

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As people commonly say: “It covers everything, but hides nothing.”  In other words, this type of dress covers the entire body, but it can still be considered provocative, especially when it’s made of thin and sheer fabric.  Some modern versions now include shorter panels and open necklines in a round, V, or square shape.  Áo Dài also comes in different colors, materials, patterns, and designs.

In the recent times, once the world fashion took off and women started showing off their curves, the Áo Dài’s style needed to be refreshed and updated, to keep up with the modernity.  As the result, Áo Dài is being redesigned constantly to catch up with the latest trends and popular demands.  A lot of designers have been recreating and breathing in new styles and forms into the costume, nevertheless Áo Dài still retains its distinctive Vietnamese identity.

Ao Dai costume, Vietnam - Global StorybookTwo laps of the Áo Dài’s costume extend from the neck down to the ankles and wrap around the feet, with cuffs that touch the ground.  The cuts have become bolder and styles are now varied, some are even embellished with numerous embroidery and detailed patterns.

All kinds of material – from silk, lace to sheer, are used to create Áo Dài nowadays, meanwhile some ladies prefer to wear khakis or jeans instead of the traditional loose trousers.  From the north to the south, designers make every effort to retain the femininity and aesthetics while still taking into the consideration its practical use and the convenience for its wearers.

What’s also important to note here – the color of Áo Dài traditionally expresses Vietnamese women’s age and status.  Most younger ladies would rather wear a white Áo Dài for its purity and its youthful spirit, however the married women usually prefer the rich, stronger colorful shades.  There are some certain colors such as blue, brown, or purple, that are mostly worn for the religious worshipping ceremonies.

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On another hand, Áo Dài with more intricate and colourful patterns and designs is chosen for some special occasions such as weddings, traditional Tet, and other national festivals.  Nowadays, Áo Dài is worn more commonly in the daily life – for example: teachers and students wear Áo Dài to school; flight attendants, office workers, hotel and restaurant receptionists wear it on their jobs, and so on.  In addition, Áo Dài is also highly regarded as the symbol of proper behavior, and women often wear it on their visits to temples and churches.

Ao Dai costume, Vietnam - Global StorybookTo sum it all up, fashion is not only about wearing something beautiful, but is also about revealing your unique, personal style and preferences.  It is not surprising then, that the long-lasting impression on any foreigner visiting Vietnam is the elegant beauty of the Vietnamese women in their Áo Dài.  Hence, it is easy to conclude here, that the costume makes a great contribution to the development of our tourism, as it greets and attracts millions of international travelers visiting Vietnam.

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Áo Dài – The Traditional Costume of Vietnam - Global Storybook

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