In Vietnam, there are 54 ethnic groups, each having unique and specific styles of clothing. Traits often include splendid colors, seemingly contradicting one another in each outfit: and red, blue and red or blue and white. In this article we will emphasize on two most popular tradditional clothing in the country : ao Yem and ao Dai
The “Ao Dai”
The beauty of women dressed in ao dai always leaves a deep impression on foreign visitors to Vietnam. Girl students dressed in white long robes take to streets on the way to schools or back home, or gracefully sail on their bikes along streets. Female secretaries in delicate pastels greet you at an office door and older ladies in deep shades of purple, green or blue cut a striking pose at a restaurant dinner. The ao dai appears to flatter every figure. Its 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, making the outfit very sensual.
Ao dai is made individually to fit each customer’s shape to create the most graceful possible look. The pants should reach the soles of the feet and flow along the floor.
Comfortability is always taken into account for fashions and beauty. Tailoring must ensure the wearer’s freedom of movements. Despite it is a long robe, ao dai must be cool to wear. Synthetic or silk fabrics are preferred as they do not crush and are quick drying, making the ao dai a practical uniform for daily wear.
The color is indicative of the wearer’s age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully-lined outfits symbolizing their purity. Older but unmarried girls move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear ao dai in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. However, ao dai is rarely seen in places where manual work is practiced. The nineties saw a real resurgence of ao dai. It has become standard and common attire for girl students as well as female staff at offices and hotels. Traditionally, ao dai has become the most preferred dress on formal occasions.
Ao Dai history
Early versions of the ao dai date back to 1744 when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. However, not until 1930 did ao dai appear partly similar to its look today. Vietnamese fashion designer-cum-tailor Cat Tuong, called as Monsieur Le Mur by the French at that time, lengthened the top so it reached the floor, fitted the bodice to the curves of the body, and moved the button line from the front to the left side of the body. Men wore it less, generally only on ceremonial occasions such as weddings or funerals. But it took another 20 years before the next major design change was incorporated and the modern ao dai emerged. During the 1950s two tailors in Saigon, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap shop and Dung of a tailoring shop of the same name, started producing ao dai with raglan sleeves. This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and this style is still preferred today.
Today, ao dai has been a bit modified. Its length is cut shorter usually just below the knee. Variations in the neck, between boat and mandarin style, are common and even adventurous alterations such as a low scooped neckline, puffed sleeves or off the shoulder designs are appearing as ladies experiment with fashion. Color patterns are no longer rigidly controlled and accesses to new fabrics have generated some dazzling results. However, most visitors to Vietnam have highly appreciated local tailors’ skills when making ao dai. It is hard to think of a more elegant, demure and charming outfit, that suits Vietnamese women of different ages, than ao dai.
The “Yem Dao”
Images of graceful girls in national charming long dress have been a symbol of Vietnam. However, looking back the historic development of national dress, Vietnam not only has ao dai but also ao yem – the indispensable dress of ancient girls. In the old days, ao yem was called yem. It is an age-old dress which is maintained until today. Ao yem was used by all levels of society from working class to upper class. It also was used widely in traditional festivals, therefore, it was the national traditional clothes of ancient ladies.
Ao Yem and it’s history
Ao yem appeared in Vietnamese life in a very old day but until Ly dynasty, it was basically in shape. Through the stream of history, ao yem was changing incessantly and improving its design. However, the revolutions of ao yem only happened at the beginning of the last century while western trouser and skirt were entering Vietnam. In 17 century, ao yem did not have any big change of model. In 19 century, ao yem has a square piece is cloth with one corner cut away to fit under the woman’s throat. This scrap of fabric is secured across the chest and stomach with thin strings. There were three common models of ao yem: ao yem co xay, ao yem co xe, ao yem co canh nhan.
Entering 20 century, ao yem was used widespread with many of rich designs and models. Ao yem which has the brown color and was weaved by rude cloth was for labor. Urban women favored white, pink or red ones, while women in the countryside wore ao yem in brown or beige, colors suited to their rustic environment. On special occasions, like the Lunar New Year or festivals, rural women would also wear brightly colored ao yem. There is one kind of ao yem which was often worn by ancient ladies was called “yem deo bua”. The name was “yem deo bua” because it has a small pocket of musk beside and it was an advantage weapon of ancient ladies…furthermore, ao yem made many original love stories.In the old day when a girl had a date with her darling, she usually put a piece of betel inside her ao yem; it was called “khau trau dai yem” and maybe there is no kind of betel more supernatural than this kind of betel.
Today, the ao yem is appreciated for its cultural and artistic values. And on festive occasions, women throughout Vietnam are embracing the ao yem and other traditional clothes with renewed enthusiasm.
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