Ao Dai – Vietnamese Long Dress
The Ao Dai, literally meaning “long dress” or “long tunic,” is one out of many traditional Vietnamese costumes worn (nowadays) most often by women. It is the national costume of the Vietnamese people. Male versions of the ao dai include the cotton Ao The.
In 1930, the Vietnamese fashion designer Cát Tuong, known to the French as Monsieur Le Mur, modified it from Ao Tu Than. He lengthened the Ao Dai so that the top reached the floor, and made it fit the curves of the body closer. With the import of an abundance of foreign fabrics in 20th century Vietnam, including broader fabric, the modernized Ao Dai required less material to be made and as a result the flaps also became generally slimmer.
In Saigon during the 1950s, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors modified the Ao Dai to a form closest to what is seen today. He produced the gowns with raglan sleeves, creating a diagonal seam that runs from the collar to the underarm.
Ao Dai only continued to become more form-fitting with time.
In the 1960s the collarless Ao Dai style was popularized by the infamous Madame Nhu (former first lady of South Vietnam).
Despite the two major modifications to the Ao Dai in the 20th century, it has also seen slight changes throughout each decade as fashion changes constantly. Everything from floral to checkered patterns, the use of transparent fabrics, the tunic length being largely reduced or lengthened, has all been seen throughout different eras of Vietnamese history.
The Ao Dai has always been more prevalent in the south than in the north, and has faced a surge in popularity in recent years, even with overseas Vietnamese.
In recent decades it has inspired worldwide renowned fashion designers such Chanel and Ralph Lauren, among other big names, to create entire collections of Ao Dai.
The most popular style of the Ao Dai as we see it today is tight-fitting around the wearer’s upper torso, emphasizing her bust and curves. For this reason, the Ao Dai, while it covers the whole body, is said to be provocative, especially when it is made of thin or see-through fabric.