On a journey through Asian fashion icons, it is impossible to miss the southeast, where beauty and fashion are more legendary than ever.
Ao Dai (“ow yai” in South Vietnam or “ow zai” in North Vietnam) means “long shirt” and is the national traditional women's suit, used during official ceremonies to represent Vietnamese culture.
It is the combination of two different items: a long silk dress with two lateral slits that women wear over pants made of the same fabric, matching or contrasting in color.
A definitive symbol of Vietnamese feminine beauty, elegance and harmony.
There is a big dispute about the origin of the dress: some report that it was invented during the late 1800s, following the Manciù Dynasty (cheongsham origin). Others say that the use of the “double slits dress” can be seen the looming shadow in the carvings of the Ngoc Lu drum, thousands of years before. It has been proven that during reign of King Gia Long (1802-1819) in Huè, the Ao Dai appeared in the four piece edition.
In the modern era, especially after the 1990s, economic reforms and improved standards of living led to a revival of the “Ao Dai” within Vietnam and to growing international awareness of it as a symbol of Vietnamese identity. In 1989, the Women's Newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) hosted the first “Miss Ao Dai contest”.
The Ao Dai is pure Vietnamese culture.
The Ao Dai continues to be popular in Vietnam, and people in Vietnam are proud to share the Ao Dai with people around the world. In the APEC 2006 summit (in Hanoi, Vietnam), the world leaders of all participating nations wore the specialized Ao Dai for both ladies and gentlemen. That was a great honor and pride for Vietnam.
"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 Ao Dai on movies.
The Ao Dai is featured in 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, including Prada's SS08 collection and a Giorgio Armani collection. In the Vietnamese film, The White Silk (2007), an Ao Dai is the sole legacy that the mother of a poverty-stricken family has to pass on to her daughters. The Hanoi City Complex, a sixty-five-story building now under construction, will have an Ao Dai-inspired design.
The Ao Dai Festival 2016
The 2016 Hanoi Ao Dai Festival opened at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long–Hanoi on the evening of October 14 in the presence of National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.
Themed “The Quintessence of the Vietnamese Ao Dai, the festival saw the participation of famous fashion designers, artisans and artists nationwide, introducing the beauty of the traditional long dress of Thang Long–Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general.
The Creative Director of the festival, the designer Minh Hanh, said some attractive and audacious dresses were introduced at the recent Ao Dai festival. The images of beautiful girls, the Temple of Literature, the Turtle Tower, Hanoi’s old quarter, and political propaganda icons were printed on the Ao Dai, blending modernity and tradition.
The Ao Dai ad Vietnamese Ambassador
Since recent years, the image of the Ao Dai has been used to promote the beauty of Vietnamese culture.
Tourists visiting Hoi An and the old imperial cities are attracted to this elegant dress that is used in special occasions all around the world.
In Ho Chi Minh City, designer Si Hoang has built the Vietnam Ao Dai Museum with a total area of 16,000 square meters, featuring the history of Ao Dai culture through hundreds of patterns. At the museum, sets of Ao Dai are displayed on a background of traditional wooden houses, leaving a deep impression on all visitors.