Description

The traditional dress of Vietnam, the Áo Dài, captures the essence of Vietnamese culture and pride, embodying their ideals of beauty, modesty and grace. The Áo Dài, meaning “long dress” or “long tunic,” has evolved throughout the decades, however the earliest known versions date back to the 18th century. Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed in 1744 that both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers covered by a gown to distinguish themselves from northern rivals. This Áo Dài-like ensemble borrowed elements from the Cham ethnic group, and represented the Nguyen Dynasty’s respect and support of their culture. 

In the 1930s, Vietnamese fashion designer Cat Tuong, known to the French as Monsieur Le Mur, modified the older versions of the Áo Dài, creating the iconic garment seen today. Throughout the 1950s and 60s fashion designers in Saigon introduced more form-fitting silhouettes, raglan sleeves and different collar styles inspired by Western fashions. Thanks to Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu (former first lady of South Vietnam), the Áo Dài experienced a revival during this period. 

Although there is a variety of Áo Dài styles today, the traditional significance surrounding colour remains. Young, unmarried girls often wear white to symbolize their youth and purity. As women age, they incorporate different pastel tones, and strong, rich shades are reserved for married women. Additionally, certain colours such as blue, brown and purple are often saved for religious worship ceremonies. However it is worn, the Áo Dài, with its extensive history, represents the resilience and adaptability of the Vietnamese to create a unique cultural garment.

Details

Appropriation and Influence

An Instagram story screenshot of Kacey Musgraves in a yellow Ao Dai without pants

Kacey Musgraves, 2019

Kacey Musgraves performed at a concert in Dallas, Texas wearing a traditional Vietnamese Áo Dài styled without the long trousers that accompany the ensemble underneath. She also wore South-Asian inspired jewelry and accessories unrelated to Vietnamese culture. Musgraves’ stylistic choices actively sexualizes the Áo Dài and contributes to preconceived notions about Asian femininity and sexual subservience.

Image: Kacey Musgraves’ wearing an Áo Dài without pants in her instagram story. View Larger.
An image of a seated model in front of a black backdrop dressed in an elaborate light blue Ao Dai. To the right is a vertical timeline of Thuy Nguyen's achievements

Thuy Nguyen, 2011

Thuy Nguyen is a Vietnamese fashion designer revitalizing the Áo Dài and creating contemporary styles for modern consumers. She has gained experience through multiple collections and practice with various materials and techniques. Thuy remains consistent and active in blending modernity and tradition, luxury and modesty, and expressing her lively, charming femininity.
Image: A timeline of Thuy Nguyen’s career. View Larger.
Several models walking up and down the runway in different styles of Ao Dai

Ao Dai Festival, 2013 - present

Developed and led by Jenny Do, an attorney by trade with a passion for the arts and adamant belief in social change, the Ao Dai Festival brought together a group of artists and social activists that firmly believe in the concept of humanity through arts. The annual Ao Dai festival aims to produce art and utilize it to change society in positive ways. It also intends to make direct social impact through forwarding Vietnamese culture and the arts for generations to come.
Image: Models walking down the runway at the Ao Dai Festival. View Larger.
References
Dan, D. “A Brief History of the Ao Dai.” Ao Dai Festival. Accessed September 10, 2020. http://aodaifestival.com/history/ 

Ngyuen, Huong Thi. “Áo Dài – The Traditional Costume of Vietnam.” Global Storybook. September 21, 2017. https://globalstorybook.org/ao-dai-pride-vietnamese-culture/

Ong, Edric. “The Fashion World of Southeast Asia.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: South Asia and Southeast Asia, edited by Jasleen Dhamija, 263–268. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. 

Tran, Rachel. “Ao Dai – The Vietnamese Long Dress.” Vietnam Discovery. February 11, 2020. https://vietnamdiscovery.com/culture-arts/ao-dai-vietnamese-long-dress/

Learn More
Video: The 2000 year history of the Vietnamese Ao Dai

Video: Ao Dai | Vietnam’s National Dress | History, Culture and Tradition

Video: How have Vietnamese ao dai changed?

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