vietnamese long dress

Mystery of the “Ao Dai”

World Fashion: Traditional

Hello Jetsetters,

I’d like to introduce you to Vietnam and their staple dress, the “Ao Dai.” As a Vietnamese woman, I grew up wearing the Ao Dai on special occasions in all sorts of colors, patterns, and designs. It flatters anyone’s figure, accentuating the neck and upper torso, while the waist down is flowy and lends plenty of grace to it’s wearer.

Vietnamese Fan Dance. Airbrush and hand-painted design on chiffon made in Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam. Choreography and Ao Dai & Fan designs by Me! 

I can remember going to the cloth markets with my Aunt to haggle for the finest silk and chiffon. After we’d head to the seamstresses’ to get measurements and fittings. The Long Dress is always custom-made for it’s customer and fits like a glove!

More about the details and the history after the jump.

Snapshot backstage. Me in the middle with two of my dancers.

High school uniforms and straw hats

Current designers have lent the “Ao Dai” design into their past collections. In fact, in a visit to Vietnam’s cloth stores, Marc Jacob International’s CEO, Robert Duffy, likes the Vietnamese traditional dress.

Honestly, I don’t know much about the fashion in Viet Nam; yet, I believe that Viet Nam will become a potential fashion market in the future. I like Vietnamese traditional dress (ao dai). I used to think that ao dai is a modern costume of your country, not a traditional one that has been worn for hundreds of years because of its attraction and modernity. In fact, ao dai beautifies the figures of Vietnamese women.

Duffy, like many prominent designers, use Vietnamese silk for their designs.

Early versions of the “Ao Dai,” or Vietnamese long dress, date back to 1744 when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an outfit of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. It wasn’t until 1930 did “Ao Dai”  start looking similar as it does today. Men increasingly wore it less,only on ceremonial occasions such as weddings or funerals. During the 1950s two tailors in Saigon started producing “Ao Dai,” with raglan sleeves. Similar to a baseball t-shirt’s sleeves, this diagonal seam runs from the collar to the underarm which is still preferred today.

The traditional dress is measured to each individual to create a body-hugging top that 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. The result is a dress that extends a woman’s gracefulness.

What I just learned is that the color is indicative of the wearer’s age and status. Young girls wear pure white symbolizing their purity. While older but unmarried girls transition into light pastel shades. Only married women wear “Ao Dai” in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants.

That’s all for now, more on World Fashion soon to come!