Ao Dai – Vietnamese Traditional Costume


The ao dai is one out of several traditional Vietnamese dresses worn (nowadays) primarily by women. It is the most popular national costume. Ao dai impresses the international friends by its elegant beauty and makes the women’s body shape sexier and more attractive.

Ao dai


The first model of Vietnamese ao dai dating back to the 1700s and were influenced by Chinese garb (qipao). In the Restored Le dynasty, the Kings Le just played the role of symbol to sooth the heart of citizens, actually Vietnam was divided into two parts; the north was under the control of Lords Trinh, and Lords Nguyen ruled the southern part of country. Lords Nguyen wanted to turn the southern part into an independent country that was out of the influence of Kings Le, so he ordered citizens in the south to change the dress which was different from the north. He abandoned southern people wearing skirt and northern fashion style. There, they had to wear a kind of costume that is the ancient version of ao dai today called ao ngu than.

When the Nguyen dynasty was formed, King Minh Mang ordered the northern people to wear ao ngu than as the southern people did. When the French invaded Vietnam, they brought to Vietnam the new sewing technologies, and there were the revolution of ao dai that happened strongly in the big cities of country.

After the victory of Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords, Vietnam was temporarily divided into two different countries. In the north of Vietnam, the patriotism was rising high, and people were eager to work and fight, so ao dai was not suitable anymore, it almost disappeared in the north during this period. In contrast to the north, ao dai gained the period of the most flourishing development during this time with a lot of styles and versions. Most of southern women wore it whenever going outside.

After 1975, the ao dai was rarely seen because many considered it being an excess inappropriate for hard work. However, since the 1990s, the ao dai has seen a resurgence both in Vietnam and overseas.

There is also a male version of the ao dai, which is worn less today, except in ceremonies like weddings, funerals, or other traditional occasions. Men’s ao dai, in contrast to women’s, fit very loosely.

Original Ao Dai

The first style of ao dai tended to be much looser fitting in general, with more flowing, longer and bigger sleeves. Royal patterns and colors were common, and commoners were restricted from wearing them.

The Royal Wedding Ao Dai: Lady Ao Dai

Besides the multitudes of fabrics, designs and patterns one can use for the Ao Dai, some versions perhaps also connect to the Northern peasant Vietnamese dress called Ao Tu Than. In this version there is often a flowing outer jacket (with large belled sleeves) as well as two extra flaps (making a 4 flapped dress, as opposed to the typical Ao Dai’s 2 flaps).

The 4 flapped Ao Dai is commonly worn for weddings and is known as Ao Menh Phu or Lady Ao Dai. There are countless varieties of wedding and royal court attire, but the most common similarity they share would be the 4 (or even more) flaps. Wedding attire typically is in brighter colors like red or pink (for women).

The modern costume and its place in modern-day Vietnam

The most popular style of the modern ao dai is tight-fitting around the wearer’s upper torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. For this reason, the ao dai, while it covers the whole body, is said to be provocative, especially when it is made of thin or see-through fabric. More adventurous versions of the modern ao dai are even collarless.

At first, the ao dai was just a kind of costume made from five cloths called ao ngu than until 1930, when Cat Tuong – a Vietnamese fashion designer, known to the French as Monsieur Le Mur, modified it. He lengthened the ao dai so that the top reached the floor, made it fit the curves of the body closer and moved the buttons from the front to the shoulder and side seam.

In Saigon during the 1950s, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors modified the ao dai to a form closest to what is seen today. He produced the gowns with raglan sleeves, creating a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the underarm.

Ao dai Sai Gon

Ao dai is the uniform for female students in all Vietnamese high schools and some universities. Many companies also require their female staff to be attired in the ao dai.

Nowadays, ao dai becomes a symbol of Vietnamese women’s beauty which is the national costume to show off the international friends. Anyone loving fashion should try on the ao dai when visiting Vietnam. If you have any questions about Vietnamese culture and Vietnam facts, please contact us. Thank you!

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