Vietnamese Ao Dai, the timeless charm
(VNF) – “I don’t want to sew the old-fashion Ao Dai!” shouts Nhu Y, the main character in the famous on-show movie “The Tailor” ("Cô Ba Sài Gòn). But at the end of the day, the young lady still falls in love with the traditional costume, just like generations of Vietnamese people do.
History of Ao Dai
How Ao Dai was born, and who invented it, the topic remains controversial in over a century.
However many believe that Ao Dai's evolution dates back to the 19th century, when it was born from the áo tứ thân (four-flap dress), a loose dress worn outside a white thin blouse over a halter, along with a fabric belt.
The Vietnamese at that time wanted to simplify it and joined the two narrow panels, setting the stage for the very first appearance of the modern áo dài.
In the 1930s, it was transformed into a gown with two elegant panels reaching to the ground, fitting the wearer’s body by using pins and a nipped-in waist. It had a raglan sleeve based on Western fashion techniques, which eliminated the clumping of material under the arms of the áo dài, bringing it a step closer to its current form-fitting style.
Vietnamese ladies dress in Ao dai for a weekend photoshoot (photo: Phi Yen)
According to cultural researchers, the Vietnamese Ao Dai took shape and was officially recognized as the national costume under the reign of Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoai (1739-1765). He modified the Ao Dai of Cham people and women wore it with trousers. The costume was prescribed in his decree.
Under the reign of King Gia Long (1802-1819), the four-part dress was modified into a five-part one which was very popular among the nobles and urban population to demonstrate their wealth and social status.
The five-part dress was made in similar way to the four-part dress, except the front right flap being made from one strap and the left one being made from two straps. Since then, Ao Dai has entered a new chapter, revealing many features of the contemporary Ao Dai.
In the early 20th century, Le Mur Ao Dai by Cat Tuong painter made a revolutionary change on the four-part dress, converting it into a two-part dress. The front one was long, stretching down to the ground to enhance the flexibility of the gait. The upper part holds tight to create an exceptional elegance. The row of front buttons is relocated along the shoulder and at the right side as we can see today.
The unforgettable charm
Regardless of the controversial origin, there is one fact about Ao Dai that no one can deny, which is its exquisite charm.
The beauty of women dressed in ao dai always leaves a deep impression on foreign visitors to Vietnam. Female students dressed in white long robes walk or cycle to schools or back home; receptionists in delicate pastels greet you at an office door or flight attendants in charming Ao Dai uniform politely smile at passengers, Ao Dai appears to be the perfect costume honoring the beauty of Vietnamese women.
Its exquisite look is attributed to the way Ao Dai is crafted, since each Ao Dai is tailored to fit each customer’s shape to create the most graceful look.
Ao Dai’s body-hugging top flows over wide trousers that brush the floor. Splits in the gown extend well above waist height and make it comfortable and easy to move in. Although virtually the whole body is swathed in soft flowing fabric, these splits give the odd glimpse of a bare midriff, subtly revealing the charming curves of women.
Ao Dai in modern world
For a long time, Ao dai has become a national symbol of Vietnam. Even though people don’t wear it as often as they did before, you can easily catch an image of high school students or a receptionist in Ao Dai. Generally, the Vietnamese wear Ao Dai in special occasions as graduation ceremony, wedding, national anniversary, arts performing. Depending on each event, designs and styles of Ao Dai range from simplicity to luxury.
Ao Dai is a favorite costume for stage performance (photo: Phi Yen)
Since the late 20th century and early 21st century, the Vietnamese Ao Dai has integrated into the world with its presence in many international beauty contests and artistic events. With the elegant Ao Dai - the Vietnamese national costume - Vietnamese beauty has widely been introduced throughout the world, become widely known among international friends.
It is considered an intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam.
In recent years, “Ao Dai” has gone through various change with many innovations, for instance, combining ethnic culture with modern fashion elements.
“The Ao Dai is traditional but not conservative, has always been modernized to meet the aesthetic taste of people in each period,” Sy Hoang, a well-known Ao Dai designer said.
According to Hoang, Ao Dai is a costume that will never be out of date. "It is worn by all people of all social classes and gender, and I believe that the costume has a beginning but will not have an end,” he said.
Hoang has so far introduced his Ao Dai collections that combine traditional Ao Dai with costumes of other countries, including France, the US, China, Japan, the Philippines Singapore, South Korea, and India.
“We need to internationalise the Ao Dai, and create a trend of wearing Ao Dai worldwide,” Hoang said. “Foreigners should wear Ao Dai as a costume of fashion, beauty and convenience"./.
( VNF )