The ao dai ("áo dài") is a
Vietnamese national costumeprimarily for women. In its current form, it is a tight-fitting silk dressworn over pantaloons. "Áo dài" is pron-en|ˈáʊ ˈjàɪ (ow yai) in the South, and IPA| (ow zai) in the North. "Áo" is derived from a Middle Chineseword meaning " padded coat" ()." [http://www.bartleby.com/61/74/A0357400.html ao dai] ", "American Heritage Dictionary". Retrieved on 2 July 2008] In modern Vietnamese, "áo" refers to an item of clothing that covers from the neck down. "Dài" means "long."
In Vietnamese, the word "áo dài" was applied to various garments historically, including the "áo ngũ thân", a 19th century
aristocratic gowninfluenced by ManchuChinese fashions. Inspired by Parisfashions, Hanoiartist Nguyễn Cát Tường redesigned the "áo ngũ thân" as a dress in 1930.Citation
last = Ellis
first = Claire
title = Ao Dai: The National Costume
newspaper = Things Asian
date = 1996
url = http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/1083
accessdate=2008-07-02.] In the 1950s,
Saigondesigners tightened the fit to produce the version worn by Vietnamese women today. The dress was extremely popular in South Vietnamin the 1960s and early 1970s. The communists, who have ruled Vietnam since 1975, disapproved of the dress and favored frugal, androgynous styles.Citation
last1 = Leshkowich
first1 = Ann Marie
title = The Ao Dai Goes Global: How International Influences and Female Entrepreneurs have shaped Vietnam's "National Costume"
newspaper = Re-orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress
pages = p. 93
date = 2003
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=1G7KvEozkuUC.] In the 1990s, the ao dai regained popularity. The equivalent garment for men, called an "áo gấm" ("
brocade robe"), is also worn on occasion, such as during Tet, at weddingsor death anniversaries. Today however, the "áo gấm" is most frequently worn by old men.
Academic commentary on the ao dai emphasizes the way the dress ties feminine beauty to Vietnamese nationalism, especially in the form of "Miss Ao Dai" pageants, popular both among
overseas Vietnameseand in Vietnam itself.Lieu, Nhi T., " [http://www.jstor.org/pss/3347038 Remembering 'The Nation' through Pageantry: Femininity and the Politics of Vietnamese Womanhood in the 'Hoa Hau Ao Dai' Contest] ", "Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies" Vol. 21, No. 1/2, Asian American Women (2000), pp. 127-151. University of Nebraska Press] "Ao dai" is one of the few Vietnamese words that appear in English-language dictionaries. [ "Ao dai" appears in the "Oxford English Dictionary", the "American Heritage Dictionary" (2004), and the "Random House Unabridged Dictionary" (2006). Other Vietnamese words that appear include "Tet", "Viet," " Vietminh," and " Vietcong." " Pho" (rice noodles) was added to the "Shorter Oxford Dictionary" in 2007. [http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20070919-1502-britain-newwords.html] ]
Peasant women typically wore a skirt ("váy") and halter top ("áo yếm").Leshkowich, p. 89.] Influenced by the fashions of China's imperial court, aristocrats favored less revealing clothes.Leshkowich, p. 90.] In 1744, Lord
Nguyễn Phúc Khoátof Huếdecreed that both men and women at his court wear trousers and a gown with buttons down the front. The members of the southern court were thus distinguished from the courtiers of the Trịnh Lordsin Hanoi, who wore a split-sided jacket and a long skirt.Citation
last = Valverde
first = Caroline Kieu
title = The History and Revival of the Vietnamese "Ao Dai"
newspaper = NHA Magazine
date = 2006
url = http://www.nhamagazine.com/back_issue/issue_0506/ac_p1.shtml
áo tứ thân", a traditional four-paneled gown, evolved into the five-paneled "áo ngũ thân" in the early 19th century. "Ngũ" is Sino-Vietnamese for "five." It refers not only to the number of panels, but also to the five elements in oriental cosmology. The "áo ngũ thân" had a loose fit and sometimes had wide sleeves. Wearers could display their prosperity by putting on multiple layers of fabric, which at that time was costly. Despite Vietnam's tropical climate, aristocrats were known to wear three to five layers.
The "áo ngũ thân" had two flaps sewn together in the back, two flaps sewn together in the front, and a "baby flap" hidden underneath the main front flap. The gown appeared to have two-flaps with slits on both sides, features preserved in the later ao dai. Compared to a modern ao dai, the front and back flaps were much broader and the fit looser. It had a high collar and was buttoned in the same fashion as a modern ao dai. Women could wear the dress with the top few buttons undone, revealing a glimpse of their "yếm" underneath.
Modernization of style
In 1930, Hanoi artist Cát Tường, also known as Le Mur, designed a dress inspired by the "áo ngũ thân" and by Paris fashions. It reached to the floor and fit the curves of the body by using darts and a nipped-in waist.Leshkowich p. 91.] When fabric became inexpensive, the rationale multiple layers and thick flaps disappeared. Modern texile manufacture allowed for wider panels, eliminating the need to sew narrow panels together. The "áo dài Le Mur," or "trendy" ao dai, created a sensation when model Nguyễn Thị Hậu wore it for a feature published by the newspaper "Today" in January 1935.Citation
title = A Fashion Revolution
newspaper = Ninh Thuan P&T
url = http://www.ninhthuanpt.com.vn/english/Fashion1/index.htm
accessdate=2008-07-02. For a picture of the "áo dài Le Mur," see [http://bichvygaugi.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!1CDCF9B5594AB224!1049/ "Ao Dai --The Soul of Vietnam"] .] The style was promoted by the artists of Tự Lực văn đoàn ("Self-Reliant Literary Group") as a national costume for the modern era.Citation
title = Vietnamese Ao dai history
newspaper = Aodai4u
url = http://www.aodai4u.com/aboutaodai.html
accessdate=2008-07-02 .] The painter Lê Phô introduced several popular styles of ao dai beginning in 1934. Such Westernized garments temporarily disappeared during
World War II(1939-45).
In the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit of the ao dai to create the version commonly seen today. Trần Kim of Thiết Lập Tailors and Dũng of Dũng Tailors created a dress with
raglansleeves and a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the underarm. The infamous Madame Nhu, first lady of South Vietnam, popularized a collarless version beginning in 1958. The ao dai was most popular from 1960 to 1975.Elmore, Mick " [http://www.iht.com/articles/1997/09/17/saodai.t.php Ao Dai Enjoys A Renaissance Among Women : In Vietnam, A Return to Femininity] ", "International Herald Tribune", Sept. 17, 1997.] A brightly colored "áo dài hippy" was introduced in 1968. [Bich Vy-Gau Gi, [http://bichvygaugi.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!1CDCF9B5594AB224!1049/ "Ao Dai -- The Soul of Vietnam"] . Retrieved on 2 July 2008.] The "áo dài mini", a version designed for practical use and convenience, had slits that extended above the waist and panels that reached only to the knee.Leshkowich p. 91.]
The communist period
The ao dai has always been more common in the South than in the North. The communists, who gained power in the North in 1954 and in the South in the 1975, had conflicted feelings about the ao dai. They praised it as a national costume and one was worn to the Paris Peace Conference (1968-73) by
Vietcongnegotiator Nguyễn Thị Bình. Yet Westernized versions of the dress and those associated with "decadent" Saigon of the 1960s and early 1970s were condemned.Leshkowich p. 92.] Economic crisis, famine, and war with Cambodia combined to make the 1980s a fashion low point. The ao dai was rarely worn except at weddings and other formal occasions, with the older, looser-fitting style preferred.Leshkowich p. 92.] Overseas Vietnamese, meanwhile, kept tradition alive with "Miss Ao Dai" pageants ("Hoa Hậu Áo Dài"), the most notable one held annually in Long Beach, California.
The ao dai experienced a revival beginning in late 1980s, when state enterprise and schools began adopting the dress as a uniform again. In 1989, 16,000 Vietnamese attended a Miss Ao Dai Beauty Contest held in Hochiminh City (formerly Saigon). [Citation
last1 = Vu
first1 = Lan
title = Ao Dai Viet Nam
newspaper = Viettouch
date = 2002
url = http://www.viettouch.com/aodai/aodai-changes.htm
accessdate=2008-07-03.] When the Miss International Pageant in Tokyo gave its "Best National Costume" award to an ao dai-clad Trường Quỳnh Mai in 1995, "Thời Trang Trẻ" (New Fashion Magazine) gushed that Vietnam's "national soul" was "once again honored."Leshkowich p. 79.] An "ao dai craze" followed that that lasted for several years and led to wider use of the dress as a school uniform.Leshkowich p. 97.]
No longer controversial politically, ao dai fashion design is supported by the Vietnamese government. Designer Le Si Hoang is a celebrity in Vietnam and his shop in Hochiminh City is the place to visit for those who admire the dress. In Hanoi, tourists get fitted for ao dai on Luong Van Can Street. [" [http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:K2otcGN9ycIJ:vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/2004-12/18/Stories/33.htm+%22Traditional+ao+dai+grace+foreign+bodies%22&hl=en&client=opera&strip=1 Traditional "ao dai" grace foreign bodies] ", VNS, Dec. 20, 2004. Retrieved July 29, 2008.] The elegant city of
Huếin the central region is known for its ao dai, "nón lá" (leaf hats), and well-dressed women.
The ao dai is now standard for weddings, for celebrating
Tếtand for other formal occasions. A plain white ao dai is a common high school school uniformin the South. Companies often require their female staff to wear uniforms that include the ao dai, so flight attendants, receptionists, restaurant staff, and hotel workers in Vietnam may be seen wearing it.
The most popular style of ao dai fits tightly around the wearer's upper
torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. Although the dress covers the entire body, it is thought to be provocative, especially when it is made of thin fabric. "The ao dai covers everything, but hides nothing," according to one saying." [http://www.overlandclub.jp/en/info/vn_aodai.html Vietnamese AoDai] ", "Overlandclub". Retrieved on 2 July 2008.] The dress must be individually fitted and usually requires several weeks for a tailor to complete. An ao dai costs about $200 in the U.S. and about $40 in Vietnam." [http://www.nhamagazine.com/012008/feature/aodai.shtml Ao Dai Couture] ", "Nha Magazine". Retrieved Aug. 12, 2008.] Tourists are often charged double.
"Symbolically, the ao dai invokes nostalgia and timelessness associated with a gendered image of the homeland for which many Vietnamese people throughout the diaspora yearn," wrote Nhi T. Lieu, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The difficulties of working while wearing an ao dai links the dress to frailty and innocence, she wrote. Vietnamese writers who favor the use of the ao dai as a school uniform cite the inconvenience of wearing it as an advantage, a way of teaching students feminine behavior such as modesty, caution, and a refined manner.
The ao dai appears in many movies with Vietnam-related themes. In "
Good Morning Vietnam" (1987), Robin Williams's character is wowed by ao dai-clad women when he first arrives in Saigon. The 1992 films " Indochine" and "The Lover" inspired several international fashion houses to design ao dai collections." [http://articles.getacoder.com/Ao_Dai_-_Vietnamese_Plus_Size_Fashion_Statement_808529x1200042917.htm Ao Dai - Vietnamese Plus Size Fashion Statement] . Retrieved July 14, 2008.] In the Vietnamese film " The White Silk Dress" (2007), an ao dai is the sole legacy that the mother of a poverty-stricken family has to pass on to her daughters. [" [http://vietq.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/vietnam-send-ao-lua-ha-dong-to-pusan-film-festl/ Vietnam send Ao Lua Ha Dong to Pusan Film Festl] , "VietNamNet Bridge", (2006). Retrieved July 13, 2008.] The Hanoi City Complex, a 65-story building now under construction, will have an ao dai-inspired design. [Citation
title = Vietnam’s tallest building planned in Hanoi
newspaper = Ao dai Vietnam
date = 2008
url = http://aodaivietnamm.blogspot.com/2008/01/ao-dai-inspired-building.html
accessdate=2008-07-02.] Vietnamese designers created ao dai for the contestants in the
Miss Universebeauty contest, which was held July 2008 in Nha Trang, Vietnam. [Citation
title = Miss Universe contestants try on ao dai
newspaper = Vietnam.net Bridge
date = 2008
url = http://english.vietnamnet.vn/lifestyle/2008/06/789353/
Culture of Vietnam
History of Vietnam
* [http://bichvygaugi.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!1CDCF9B5594AB224!1049/ Ao Dai - Soul of Vietnam] . The history of the ao dai in photos.
* [http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=75280443 Ao Dai Project] . More photos. Less history and more makeup.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5OJWqp2U80 Ao Dai - The Traditional Vietnamese Dress] . A video showing various styles of ao dai.
* [http://aodaivinh.com/popup/lichsu.htm History Of VN Long Dress] .
* [http://aodaiproject.wordpress.com/ The Ao Dai Blog] . The latest in ao dai-related news. Because somebody has to.
* [http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/helpinglink/StudentWeb/webproject/html/fashion.htm The Evolution of the Ao Dai Through Many Eras] , Gia Long Alumni Association of Seattle, 2000.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej7WATu_klE Vietnam: Mini-Skirts & Ao-Dais] . A video that shows what the women of Saigon wore in 1968.
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