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This woman wears a casual Ao Dai. For a time condemned as decadent by the country's rulers, the dress experienced a revival in the 1990s and is once again considered a national costume

The Ao Dai (Áo Dài) is a Vietnamese national outfit primarily for women. In its current form, it is a tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pantaloons. Áo dài is pronounced [ǎːwzâːj], approximately ow-zye in the North, and with a y sound for the z in the South. Áo is derived from a Middle Chinese word meaning "padded coat" ().[1] Dài means "long".[1]

The style worn today is a modernization of the áo ngũ thân, a 19th century aristocratic gown influenced by Manchu Chinese fashions. Inspired by Paris fashions, Hanoi artist Nguyễn Cát Tường and others redesigned the áo ngũ thân as a dress in the 1920s and 1930s.[2] The updated ao dai was promoted by the artists of Tự Lực văn đoàn ("Self-Reliant Literary Group") as a national costume for the modern era. In the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit to produce the version worn by Vietnamese women today.[2] The dress was extremely popular in South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist Party, which has ruled Vietnam since 1975, disapproved of the dress and favored frugal, androgynous styles.[3] In the 1990s, the ao dai regained popularity.[3] The equivalent garment for men, called an áo gấm ("brocade robe"), is also worn on occasion, such as during Tết, at weddings or 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 Vietnamese and in Vietnam itself.[4] "Ao dai" is one of the few Vietnamese words that appear in English-language dictionaries.[nb 1]

Contents

History

The áo tứ thân as worn in the North, 1800s

18th century

Peasant women typically wore a skirt (váy) and halter top (áo yếm).[5] Influenced by the fashions of China's imperial court, aristocrats favored less revealing clothes.[6] In 1744, Lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát of Huế decreed that both men and women at his court wear trousers and a gown with buttons down the front.[2][nb 2] Writer Lê Quý Đôn described the newfangled outfit as an áo dài (long shirt).[nb 3] The members of the southern court were thus distinguished from the courtiers of the Trịnh Lords in Hanoi, who wore a split-sided jacket and a long skirt.[7]

19th century

The áo tứ thân, a traditional four-paneled gown, evolved into the five-paneled áo ngũ thân in the early 19th century.[7] 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 topical climate, northern aristocrats were known to wear three to five layers.

Two women wear áo ngũ thân, the form of the ao dai worn in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

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.

20th century

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.[8] 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.[9] The style was promoted by the artists of Tự Lực văn đoàn ("Self-Reliant Literary Group") as a national costume for the modern era.[10] 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).

This woman wears a white ao dai in front of Hồ Gươm Lake in Hanoi.

In the 1950s, Saigon designers tightened the fit of the ao dai to create the version commonly seen today.[2] Trần Kim of Thiết Lập Tailors and Dũng of Dũng Tailors created a dress with raglan sleeves and a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the underarm.[2] 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.[11] A brightly colored áo dài hippy was introduced in 1968.[12] 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.[8]

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 Vietcong negotiator Nguyễn Thị Bình.[13] Yet Westernized versions of the dress and those associated with "decadent" Saigon of the 1960s and early 1970s were condemned.[14] Economic crisis, famine, and war with Cambodia combined to make the 1980s a fashion low point.[7] The ao dai was rarely worn except at weddings and other formal occasions, with the older, looser-fitting style preferred.[14] 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.[2]

The ao dai experienced a revival beginning in late 1980s, when state enterprise and schools began adopting the dress as a uniform again.[2] In 1989, 16,000 Vietnamese attended a Miss Ao Dai Beauty Contest held in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).[15] 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."[16] An "ao dai craze" followed that lasted for several years and led to wider use of the dress as a school uniform.[17]

Diagram that shows the parts of an ao dai.

Parts of dress

Various accessories can be worn with the ao dai. The ao dai is often described as being worn with a nón lá (pointed leaf hat), but this is a style local to Huế. Otherwise, the nón lá is a peasant hat. On weddings and other festive occasions a circular headgear called a khăn đóng is worn.

Nút bấm thân áo: hooks (used as fasteners) and holes
ống tay: sleeve
Đường ben: inside seam
Nút móc kết thúc: main hook and hole
Tà sau: back flap
Khuy cổ: collar button
Cổ áo: collar
Đường may: seam
ống tay: sleeve
Kích (eo): waist
Tà trước: front flap

Present day

No longer controversial politically, ao dai fashion design is supported by the Vietnamese government.[7] It often called the áo dài Việt Nam to link it to patriotic feeling. Designer Le Si Hoang is a celebrity in Vietnam and his shop in Ho Chi Minh City is the place to visit for those who admire the dress.[7] In Hanoi, tourists get fitted for ao dai on Luong Van Can Street.[18] The elegant city of Huế in 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 Tết and for other formal occasions. A plain white ao dai is a common high school school uniform in 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.

A schoolgirl in a white ao dai and a nón lá (leaf hat). This ensemble is associated with the central city of Huế

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.[13] The dress must be individually fitted and usually requires several weeks for a tailor to complete. An ao dai costs about $200 in the United States and about $40 in Vietnam.[19]

"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.[4] The difficulties of working while wearing an ao dai link the dress to frailty and innocence, she wrote.[4] 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.[17]

The ao dai has made appearances in international runways,it inspired the Prada SS08 collection as well as Georgio Armani's collection in the 90s. The ao dai is usually featured across an array of Vietnam-themed or related movies. 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.[20] 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.[21] The Hanoi City Complex, a 65-story building now under construction, will have an ao dai-inspired design.[22] Vietnamese designers created ao dai for the contestants in the Miss Universe beauty contest, which was held July 2008 in Nha Trang, Vietnam.[23]

Gallery

See also

Notes

Footnotes

  1. ^ "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 "Tết", "Viet", "Vietminh", and "Vietcong". "Pho" (rice noodles) was added to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary in 2007.[1]
  2. ^ A court historian described the dress in Hue as follows: Outside court, men and women wear gowns with straight collars and short sleeves. The sleeves are large or small depending on the wearer. There are seams on both sides running down from the sleeve, so the gown is not open anywhere. Men may wear a round collar and a short sleeve for more convenience. "Thường phục thì đàn ông, đàn bà dùng áo cổ đứng ngắn tay, cửa ống tay rộng hoặc hẹp tùy tiện. Áo thì hai bên nách trở xuống phải khâu kín liền, không được xẻ mở. Duy đàn ông không muốn mặc áo cổ tròn ống tay hẹp cho tiện khi làm việc thì được phép ..." (from Đại Nam Thực Lục [Records of Đại Nam])
  3. ^ Lê Quý Đôn, Phủ Biên Tạp Lục [Frontier Chronicles] (1775-76), Lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát wrote the first page in the history of the áo dài (襖長). "Chúa Nguyễn Phúc Khoát đã viết những trang sử đầu cho chiếc áo dài như vậy".

Citations

  1. ^ a b "ao dai", American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved on 2 July 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ellis, Claire (1996), "Ao Dai: The National Costume", Things Asian, http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/1083, retrieved 2008-07-02  .
  3. ^ a b Leshkowich, Ann Marie (2003), "The Ao Dai Goes Global: How International Influences and Female Entrepreneurs have shaped Vietnam's "National Costume"", Re-orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress: 93, http://books.google.com/books?id=1G7KvEozkuUC  .
  4. ^ a b c Lieu, Nhi T., "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
  5. ^ Leshkowich, p. 89.
  6. ^ Leshkowich, p. 90.
  7. ^ a b c d e Valverde, Caroline Kieu (2006), "The History and Revival of the Vietnamese Ao Dai", NHA magazine, http://www.nhamagazine.com/back_issue/issue_0506/ac_p1.shtml, retrieved 2008-07-02  .
  8. ^ a b Leshkowich p. 91.
  9. ^ "A Fashion Revolution", Ninh Thuan P&T, http://www.ninhthuanpt.com.vn/english/Fashion1/index.htm, retrieved 2008-07-02  . For a picture of the áo dài Le Mur, see Ao Dai — The Soul of Vietnam.
  10. ^ "Vietnamese Ao dai history", Aodai4u, http://www.aodai4u.com/aboutaodai.html, retrieved 2008-07-02  .
  11. ^ Elmore, Mick "Ao Dai enjoys a renaissance among women: In Vietnam, A Return to Femininity", International Herald Tribune, September 17, 1997.
  12. ^ Bich Vy-Gau Gi, Ao Dai — The Soul of Vietnam. Retrieved on 2 July 2008.
  13. ^ a b "Vietnamese AoDai", Overlandclub. Retrieved on July 2, 2008.
  14. ^ a b Leshkowich p. 92.
  15. ^ Vu, Lan (2002), "Ao Dai Viet Nam", Viettouch, http://www.viettouch.com/aodai/aodai-changes.htm, retrieved 2008-07-03  .
  16. ^ Leshkowich p. 79.
  17. ^ a b Leshkowich p. 97.
  18. ^ "Traditional ao dai grace foreign bodies". VNS. December 20, 2004. http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/2004-12/18/Stories/33.htm. Retrieved July 29, 2008.  
  19. ^ "Ao Dai Couture", Nha magazine., http://www.nhamagazine.com/012008/feature/aodai.shtml, retrieved August 12, 2008  
  20. ^ Ao Dai — Vietnamese Plus Size Fashion Statement, http://articles.getacoder.com/Ao_Dai_-_Vietnamese_Plus_Size_Fashion_Statement_808529x1200042917.htm, retrieved July 14, 2008  
  21. ^ "Vietnam send Ao Lua Ha Dong to Pusan Film Festival", VietNamNet Bridge, 2006, http://vietq.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/vietnam-send-ao-lua-ha-dong-to-pusan-film-festl/, retrieved July 13, 2008  
  22. ^ Tuấn Cường. "“Nóc nhà” Hà Nội sẽ cao 65 tầng" (in Vietnamese). Tuoi Tre. http://www.tuoitre.com.vn/Tianyon/Index.aspx?ArticleID=192066&ChannelID=3. Retrieved 2009-04-26.  
  23. ^ "Miss Universe contestants try on ao dai", Vietnam.net Bridge, 2008, http://english.vietnamnet.vn/lifestyle/2008/06/789353/, retrieved 2008-07-02  .

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