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What is Aodai?

Aodai is a traditional long gown most commonly worn with trousers by Vietnamese women but can also be worn by Vietnamese men. It has become the symbol of the Vietnamese feminine beauty and the pride of Vietnamese people.

When was “aodai” born?

There are no history books or documents in previous time that reveals the specific time “aodai” was born. However, based on the documents of the history cultural researchers, around 3000 years ago, the image of “aodai” with slender, delicate two-long-gown has appeared on the face of “bronze drums” antique named Ngoc Lu, HoaBinh, Hoang Ha.

In contrast, some opinions reckoned “aodai” was born since the reign of the southern lord Nguyen PhucKhoat, called himself Vu Vuong (1739-1765) in XVIII century. Eager to establish a separate identity from his northern rivals, the Trinh lord, who enjoyed the status of regents to the puppet kings of the declining Le dynasty, Lord Nguyen decreed that men and women of his court wore trousers covered by a long gown.

The garment borrowed the style of clothing worn by the Cham, the original inhabitans of the land to the south of the dividing GianhRiver; whose country of Champa (now is Central Vietnam) had been invaded and conquered by the Vietnamese. The “aodai” was Lord Nguyen’s way to show his respect of the culture of the Cham and to win over their support.

How does “aodai” look like?

Despite many Vietnamese identify the “aodai” as a variation of the “aotu than” (four-panel tunic), the two have separate and distinct origins.

The “aotu than” is generally worn by peasant women in the North. It consists of four panels, two in the back and two in front. The back panels are sewn together while the front panels are left open or tied by a belt. Inside the “aotu than”, the woman had to wear a bodice (called “yem”) to cover the chest and a long skirt (called “vay”) to cover the legs. The fabric of the “aotu than” was weaved in small width, necessitating the four-panel structure.

Aotu than

When the Nguyen lord power eventually expanded to include northern regions after the defeat of the Trinh lord, the Cham inspired two-paneled dress came with it. The traditional northern-style four paneled dress transformed into a pairing if the southern Cham style and the original northern gown, becoming a five-panel dress popular throughout the country

The original “aodai” was by no means the symbol of aesthetics. The garment was plain and loosely fitted, unflattering, the first iteration of the two flap Southern dress was a far cry from the chic modern silk dress.

The transformation of “aodai”

The “aodai” is not only carrying the stamp, the power of reigning country man, but also indicate the spirit and culture of Vietnamese people. When Viet Nam broke out of the domination of the North, the country transferred to the control of France, the “aodai” has been converted following the destiny of Viet Nam. It was renovated chasing after Western culture.

When a group of French trained artists combined the design of the five flap dress popular at the time with a French fashion gown, the transformation from traditional gown to everyday fashion came in the 1930s. The artist Cat Tuong (also known as Le Mur, the French translation of a homonym of the artist’s first name), redesigned the “aodai” to fit more closely to the body, along with larger collars, puffy shoulder and wavy sleeves in a fusion with western dress of the time. Vibrant colors schemes were also introduced along with original dark-coulored “aodai”

The Le Mur “aodai” fashion lasted for four years until the painter Le Pho attempted to remove all western influence from the Le Mur “aodai” in 1934 and used the four-paneled dresses to conform with current standards. His design was popular for nearly the period of 30-year

Le Mur “aodai”

The “aodai” stepped onto the political stage when Tran Le Xuan, wife of Ngo DinhNhu, Chief Political Adviser of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam’s First Republic, donned its firstDécolleté version to promote her New Woman Movement.

Tran Le Xuan

Today, the “aodai” has become the Vietnamese woman’s choice of fashion for special occasions.  Fashion designers such as Thiet Lap of the 60s and Sy Hoang of today have continued to conceive new designs.  The introduction of the raglan sleeve (sleeve that continues to the neck), the raising of the opening of the panels to a higher level exposing the skin on both sides of the waist, and other features borrowed from Western fashion add sexiness and sensuality to the “aodai”.  Yet the garment moves delicately with the body giving the wearer an appearance of modesty combined with self-confidence.

Aodai today

The “aodai” for men, on the other hand, did not undergo much change.  It is now worn only during traditional ceremonies and mostly by men of older generations.  The masculinity and practicality of Western men’s clothing has been eagerly embraced by Vietnamese men, and the return to the traditional “aodai” is simply impractical, if not unthinkable.  The “aodai” for men has become an item of purely nostalgic value for today’s and future generations.

Aodai for men

When Vietnamese people wear the “aodai”?

The “aodai” is mostly worn during funeral and occasion like marriages.  Traditionally, it has become the dress for formal occasions such as in Tet’s holiday. Also it is the attire for girls in high school and place ladies working in offices or hotels do wear the “aodai”

Marriages, Tet’s holiday, High school

Reference: aotu than ) (Le Mur aodai and Tran Le Xuan) (aodai today) (VN wedding) (High school) (aodai for men )


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