Vietnamese Traditional Dress: The story of Ao Dai and where to find them

Ao Dai Hoi An, Vietnam

Have you ever wondered why whenever you watch the Vietnamese videos or pictures, they usually appear with the sign of the Ao Dai? When you come to Vietnam, it is easy to run into the Ao Dai everywhere such as airports, hotels, restaurants, streets, hoardings, and even paintings. Ao Dai has become a traditional symbol of Vietnamese people, especially Vietnamese women that you might recognize right away at first sight. But why is Ao Dai so popular? What is the meaning of the Ao Dai?

In this blog, we will tell you the amazing story of Vietnamese Ao Dai.

1. The history of Ao Dai

The history of the Ao Dai dates back to the second half of the 18th century, to 1774. At this time, there was a civil war within Vietnam that divided the country into 2 regions: The North was ruled by the Trinh family and the South was ruled by the Nguyen family. In the south, the first Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat recognized that our costumes were very similar to those worn by the Chinese. With an ambition to be a king of an independent land, he ordered his people to change the way they dressed. As a result, that costume had to add long loose pants to make it different from the Chinese dress. That kind of dress might be known as the primary foundation of the Ao Dai.

Even though it is still hard to determine exactly the time that Ao Dai appeared, Ao Giao Lanh (Giao Lanh dress) was acknowledged to be the first version of Ao Dai. This dress was too loose and long to the ground with a belt to tie up around the belly.

Ao Giao Lanh
Ao Giao Lanh. Photo:

According to researchers, because of lifestyle and the characteristic of working, Ao Giao Lanh had changed to Áo Tứ Thân (4-piece dress) since the 17th Century. This kind of dress usually had dark colors due to the farmers’ works. 4 pieces of the dress also represented for parents and parents-in-law.

Ao Tu Than
Ao Tu Than. Photo:

Based on the style of Áo Tứ Thân, it was added one more piece to become a 5-piece dress, also known as Áo Ngũ Thân. This dress was tighter, used to distinguish between the rich and the poor farmers in the society, and became popular since the 20th Century.

A bride and her groom in Ao Ngu Than
A bride and her groom in Ao Ngu Than. Photo: Lê Huỳnh Hiếu

One of the most reckless innovations is Ao Dai Lemur, which was invented based on Áo Ngũ Thân by Cat Tuong Artist in 1939. This Ao Dai had a round or a heart-shape neck with the design to hug the female’s body. Because of Vietnam’s culture, this kind of Ao Dai was only accepted by modern women at that time and disappeared in 1943.

Ao dai Lemur from Mini Museum of Si Hoang Artist
Ao dai Lemur from Mini Museum of Si Hoang Artist

One more combination from Áo Tứ Thân, Ao Dai Le Pho (Áo dài Lê Phổ) was created. It was different from Ao Dai Lemur with a cover-up neck and hugged the body’s curves. Ao Dai Le Pho seemed to be the original style of the present Ao Dai.

Ao Dai Le Pho
Ao Dai Le Pho. Photo: Canifa

With the liberal ideas as Ao Dai Lemur, Ao Dai Tran Le Xuan (Áo dài Trần Lệ Xuân), also known as Ao Dai Madame Nhu was worn with a round-neck and body hugging style. It was loved and used widely because of its convenience. This Ao Dai’s destiny might be luckier than Ao Dai Lemur, perhaps, because of the changes in lifestyle.

Madame Tran Le Xuan, who revolutionized a new style of Ao Dai with her daughter with the famous style of Ao Dai in Paris. Photo: John Leongard

Vietnam’s Ao Dai has been passing by many periods of time. Until now, Ao Dai in general comprises a two-flap dress and loose pants. It is usually made of silk or fabric. Nowadays, Ao Dai has renovated to diversify styles and versions. Along with the traditional style, Ao Dai at this time can be looser, shorter with more stuff, embroideries, more colorful but in general, it still has at least 2 pieces and comes with loose pants or skirts. Sometimes, Vietnamese women prefer to add more accessories like a cap, which gives them more elegance.

The present Ao Dai with numerous styles
The present Ao Dai with numerous styles. Photo: LE’S ART

2. The significance of Ao Dai

Do you know how important Ao Dai is to Vietnamese women? The answer is: This is definitely an essential part of a woman’s entire life. Despite overcoming some difficult times in the country’s history, Ao Dai has carried its national identity and spirit and has never lost its unique vitality, since its creation. Almost unanimously, it is considered to be an outstanding work of art and the elegant beauty of the Vietnamese. These dresses come along with her during her timeline, from her childhood to her teenage years, until she grows up and gets older. It always beautifully covers up her body in each of monumental events.

From Childhood

Ao Dai for kids

It might be rarer for kids to wear Ao Dai. They only wear it on Tet holiday. The women also can wear Ao Dai at Tet. But nowadays, they usually dress the innovative Ao Dai, which is more comfortable and fashionable than usual. The Ao Dai for this occasion would be flawless and full of colors.

Teenage years

Ao Dai is the most popular and seemed to be the whole Vietnamese schoolgirl’s uniform on Monday. With the characteristic color is white for both dress and pants, this Ao Dai holds the meaning of a student’s innocence. The image of Vietnamese schoolgirls in the Ao Dai with a conical and a bicycle go to school or smile brightly is getting more and more famous not only with Vietnamese but also the whole world.
Nowadays, Vietnamese schoolgirls are more active and talented.

Mature period

Everybody knows that the most substantial event in a mature woman’s life is her wedding. In this modern time, the bridals usually wear wedding dresses with the Western designs, but in Vietnam, there is a formality called engagement, locally known as Lễ ăn hỏi. This is the time that the couple’s two families have a meeting. The man’s family brings their valuable things, food, etc that the woman had demanded to ask her family for acceptance. In this meeting, the bride will dress up in a red Ao Dai, which is demonstrated to be lucky and wish her to have a happy and affluent life with her future husband. In this day and age, some women can wear other colors such as pink, white, green, etc if they want.

Ao Dai for weddings has several colors
Nowadays, Ao Dai for weddings has several colors. Photo:

There are some occasions women can dress up Ao Dai to show their respect or pride such as the meetings with important partners, festivals, award ceremonies, etc.

3. Where to get a perfect Ao Dai

Ao Dai Shop in Hanoi

These are prestige and famed tailor shops in Hanoi that you might drop by to choose a suitable Ao Dai for yourself. If you have enough time, you should ask them to sew you a new Ao Dai with your exact body size. The time to sew a new Ao Dai approximately within a week, depends on your demand.

1. Ao dai Thanh Mai

  • Address: 428 Bach Mai, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
  • Tel: 0906.284.933

2. Ao dai Minh Duc

  • Address: 41 Dang Tien Dong, Dong Da, Hanoi
  • Tel: 0912.395.531

3. Ao dai Phan Hai

  • Address: 43 Le Van Huu, Hanoi
  • Tel: 043.943.8900
Ao Dai are sold at Dong Xuan Market
A lot of fabric or valuable Ao Dai are sold at Dong Xuan Market. Photo: Vietnamnet

You also can find Ao Dai at Dong Xuan Market, Hang Dao street or Hang Duong street that have the night market. There are a thousand shops which sell Ao Dai at reasonable prices.

Hue, a fabled location with elegant special purple Ao Dai

Ao Dai Hue with the special purple color
Ao Dai Hue with the special purple color

1. Ao dai Nu Cung (Ao Dai of Royal Female)

  • Address: 46 Dinh Cong Trang, Thuan Thanh, Hue
  • Tel: 054.3519.519

2. Ao dai Bich Thuy

  • Address: 15 Chu Van An, Hue
  • Tel: 0546.569.088

3. Ao dai Minh Tan

  • Address: 57 Nguyen Sinh Cung, Hue
  • Tel: 054.3828.049

Hoi An owns the most talented and skillful tailor. This is the hot spot to sew a flawless Ao Dai for you in Vietnam.

1. B’Lan Silk

  • Address: 23 Tran Phu, Hoi An
  • Tel: 0235.3861.866

2. Yaly Couture and Custom Tailor

  • Address 1: 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu, Hoi An
  • Tel: 0235.3914.995
  • Address 2: 47 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An
  • Tel: 0235.2212.474
  • Address 3: 47 Tran Phu, Hoi An
  • Tel: 0235.3861.119

3. A Dong Silk

  • Address1: 65 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An
  • Address 2: 91 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An
  • Address 3: 40 Le Loi, Hoi An
  • Tel: 0235.3910.679

Ao Dai Shop in Ho Chi Minh City

Ao Dai in Co Ba Sai Gon
The Ao Dai with Ho Chi Minh style has appeared in a hot Vietnamese movie “Co Ba Sai Gon”. Photo:

1. Ao Dai Thuy Linh

  • Address: 205/9A Tran Van Dang, Q3, HCMC
  • Tel: 0899.045.166

2. Ao Dai Hanh

  • Address 1: 6/3 Cach Mang Thang 8, Q1, HCMC
  • Address 2: 178/4 Phan Dang Luu, Phu Nhuan, HCMC
  • Address 3: 102 Le Thi Hong, Go, Vap, HCMC
  • Tel: 0982.936.339

3. Ao Dai Chu Ba

  • Address: 32/1 Nguyen Cuu Van, Binh Thach, HCMC
  • Tel: 0907.848.085

As Hanoi, in Ho Chi Minh City, you can easily buy any Ao Dai at Ben Thanh Market or the night markets.

If you visit Vietnam once, do not forget to try to wear the traditional Ao Dai and walk around the ancient cities. We are sure that it would be an exclusive experience for you.

In addition, there are 3 useful tips for you to choose the suitable Ao Dai.

● Firstly, you should choose the right color. It has to be suitable for your age, skin, and body size. For example, bright colors for young people and darker for the older.

● Secondly, the fabric is really important. The common fabric is silk that could be more elegant and womanhood.

● Finally, you should make the right decision to pick up the patterns because they would hide the body gaps.

● One more important tip when you wear this dress is to pay attention to your underwear’s materials and color because Ao Dai is quite thin and slender.

If you want more information about where to sew the Ao Dai or any tailor shops, we’d recommend you in Shoes and clothes in Vietnam that not only make the Ao Dai, but also experienced places to make fashion stuff.

Author: Thuy Linh – Eviva Intern

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