Ao Dai History by Wikipedia

June 27, 2006

Áo dài

Plain white Ao Dai.


Plain white Ao Dai.

The áo dài (pronounced [ao yai] in the South, [ao zai] in the North) is one out of several traditional Vietnamese dresses worn (nowadays) primarily by women. It is the most popular national costume.


The first versions of Vietnamese áo dài date back to the 1700s and were influenced by Chinese garb (qipao).

After 1975, the áo dài was rarely seen because many considered it to be an excess inappropriate for hard work. However, since the 1990s, the áo dài has seen a resurgence both in Vietnam and for overseas Vietnamese.

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

Original Áo Dài

The first style of Áo Dài 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.

Interpretation of Original Ao Dai at a fashion show.


Interpretation of Original Ao Dai at a fashion show.

The Royal Wedding Áo Dài: Áo Mệnh Phu

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. 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).

One style of Royal Ao Dai.


One style of Royal Ao Dai.

The modern costume and its place in modern-day Vietnam

The most popular style of the modern áo dài is tight-fitting around the wearer’s upper torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. For this reason, the áo dài, 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 Áo Dài are even collarless.

The first, more “modern” version of the áo dài did not appear until 1930, when Vietnamese fashion designer Cat Tuong, known to the French as Monsieur Le Mur, modified it. He lengthened the áo dài so that the top reached the floor, made it fit the curves of the body closer and moved the buttons from the front to an opening along the shoulder and side seam.

In Saigon during the 1950s, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors modified the áo dài 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.

Collarless Ao Dai.


Collarless Ao Dai.


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