Ao tu than or four-part dress is deemed to be one of Vietnam’s enduring traditional attires, having been worn widely by Vietnamese women in the north for centuries before the emergence of the ao dai. Usually made of plain fabric in dark colors, the “ao tu than” has long been a dress of peasant women.
History of ao tu than
No one knows how long ao tu than has associated with the image of northern Vietnam’s women, but it has been a traditional clothing of northern Vietnamese women for generations and becomes an iconic symbol to show off the beauty of northern Vietnamese women. According to some researches, ao tu than was born at the beginning of the 19th century after the Nguyen dynasty was established. After nearly 2 centuries of division, two parts of Vietnam became one. In order to stimulate the costume of nation, Kings Nguyen forced the northern people to wear similar to the southern people- ao ngu than. There, the northern people could not wear the skirt and ao giao linh- a kind of crossing collar clothing. Ao tu than was born based on the shape of ao giao linh but was sewn in ao ngu than’s way. Ao tu than received the welcome of northern people and quickly became popular in the entire northern Vietnam.
Ao tu than on the other hand is regarded by many as a truer representation of Vietnamese people, although it is often dismissed as simply Northern commoner clothes. To this day, it is regarded as the archetype of northern Vietnamese women in the past because no one today wear it in daily life . The origin of ao tu than is muddled, as in the case of the ao dai, but many have traced its existence to the 12th century. Ao Tu Than started off indeed as a common peasant dress, which is perhaps why it was often in dark browns and blacks. Although most Ao Tu Than made today are extremely colorful, it’s interesting to note that ancient Vietnamese people apparently preferred more muted colors, according to noted Vietnamese Court Gown Restorer Trinh Bach.
The traditional ao tu than
Ao tu than was a common clothing in the lower class. So, the main color of ao tu than is the dark colors and the most popular one is brown. Besides, this costume in bright color was also worn on special occasions like weddings or festivals. Despite being different in forms, the basic ao tu than consists of two flaps in the front which are not sewn together but tied together and left dangling. In the back, there is a full flap made up of two flaps sewn together, usually by plain fabric in dark colors. Vietnamese women often tied a silk sash at the waist as a belt. The length of the ao tu than reaches almost to the floor with tight sleeves. It is mixed with ao yem and black long skirt. Yem- an ancient bodice worn as an undergarment by women and a silk sash tied at the waist as a belt. The skirt is usually black color that can reach to the ground. Using a variety of hues and different types of fabrics in making the tunic, the bodice and the skirt makes this costume colorful and sensual.
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Ao tu than in modern Vietnam life
Nowadays, the Ao Tu Than is no longer commonly used in the daily life of Vietnamese people; however, it remains an indispensable part of traditional festivals in northern Vietnam including Lim festival which celebrates the famous Bac Ninh Quan Ho folk songs. In this festival, female folk singers often wear this attire with “non quai thao”- a kind of conical hat with fringe hanging at both sides, “Khan Mo Qua”- a black crow’s beak kerchief made of heavy fabric and “guoc moc”- a pair of wooden clogs.
There are many versions of ao tu than today that is the combination of traditional ao tu than and modern materials as well as style. The color of ao tu than is extremely colorful instead of the muted colors as before. Vietnamese fashion designers are trying to redesign and create more and more new ao tu than styles to suite to the contemporary breathe of modern social as a way to keep ao tu than alive. As well, there are many fashion shows established to honor the ao tu than in both inside and outside of Vietnam.
Ao tu than is not only a traditional costume of Vietnamese women but also a valuable asset which has a lot of meanings of culture and traditions of Vietnamese people. Although it has been faded today, the image of rural girls in the ao tu than retains in memory of each Vietnamese person. Thank you for spending time for this post, if you have any questions about Vietnam destinations or Vietnamese culture, please contact us. Have a nice day!