Ao Dai

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The Beautiful Ao Dai: 

The Beautiful Ao Dai By: An T. Le and Frances Dinh Vietnamese Culture

Grace, Beauty, and Elegance: 

Grace, Beauty, and Elegance What is an Ao Dai? Every culture has their own elegance attire that represents their country. The Ao Dai is significant to Vietnamese women because it displays grace, beauty, and elegance. The occasions in which the “Ao Dai” is worn signifies the importance of the events. The Ao Dai is still unique and special not only to eyes of the Vietnamese people, but also to the eyes of the Westerners.

The Creation: 

The Creation The Ao Dai was originally adapted from the Chinese dress, called the Cheongsam worm by both sexes. Pants and buttoned coats were worn by men and worn during the later years of the Nguyen dynasty. During the beginning of the Cheongsam from China, colors were used to indicate the status of the wearer; yellow fabric was reserved for the emperor, purple for the high-ranking mandarins, and blue for court officials. During the French Colonial period, the importing of European underwear forced the development of the Ao Dai to be more clothier body showing form.

Modification of the Cheongsam: 

Modification of the Cheongsam In the early 1930’s Cat Troung, a Vietnamese writer who dabbled in fashion design, modified the Cheongsam. He lengthen the Ao Dai so that the top reached the floor, made it fit the curves of the body closer and moved the buttons from the front to an opening along the shoulder and side seam. The new design tightened the bodice and moved the opening from the front to the shoulder and side stream. New colors were then modified into the Ao Dai and worn for different age groups, celebrations, and events.

Early Ao Dai: 

Early Ao Dai The early version of the Ao Dai dated back to the 1744 when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. It was not until the 1930’s that the Ao Dai as we know it really appeared. It took another twenty years before the next major design change was incorporated and the modern Ao Dai emerged. During the 1950’s two tailors in Saigon, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors, started producing the gowns and raglan sleeves. This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and today this style is still preferred.

Ao Dai for Children and Young girls: 

Ao Dai for Children and Young girls Young girls wear pure white, fully lined outfits to symbolize their purity. As the grow older but are still unmarried they move into more pastel shades. Children usually wear Western-type dresses until they are teenagers. Young girls may be seen wearing Ao Dai on special occasions. Young girls begin to wear Ao Dai when they start high school. It is the uniform for female students in Vietnamese secondary schools and universities. The Ao Dai is and has been more prevalent in southern Vietnam than in northern Vietnam.

For Women: 

For Women Only married women wear gowns in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. Traditionally, long, wide- legged trousers are worn under a high-necked, long-sleeved, fitted tunic with slits along each side. The outfit’s pants reach to the soles of the feet, often trailing along the ground. There are many different kinds of Ao Dai: the four-part flowing tunic had two equal front flaps that women tied together, while the five-part flowing tunic had an additional small front flap that buttoned up onto the right side of the dress. Different regions of the country have their own styles of flowing tunic. In the north, Vietnamese women usually wear the four-part flowing tunic, refers to as "Ao Tu Than", with a long skirt. The hat is called "Non Quai Thao".

For Men : 

For Men The colors of the male attire are much darker. Common colors are dark blues and greens, and occasionally, red is used. The front and back panel is a bit shorter in length and more loose-fitting. Men costumes are worn with the conventional snug collar and buttoned down on the left side to the waist, with no crease in front or back. Men began to wear the Ao Dai less and less, except at certain ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Ao Dai for Marriage Ceremonies: 

Ao Dai for Marriage Ceremonies The bride usually wears beautiful "Ao Dai" in red or pink. The designs of the "Ao Dai" for a matrimonial ceremony often display mythical figures such as the dragon and phoenix and Chinese prints. For her wedding, the bride wears an outer robe (the ao choang) over the Ao Dai to create a more formal look. Red is considered the marriage gown color, although bright pink may also be used. At times, gold silk trims the Ao Dai and/or the ao choang. Unique trimmings are often painted or embroidered on the garment. The bride’s head is adorned with a matching headpiece, either the non la (a cone-shaped hat made from dried, woven leaves) or the khanh vanh. During the wedding day, the bride and groom may change their clothes as many as three or four times – from a western-style wedding gown and white tuxedo, to the Ao Dai for both the bride and groom, to formal evening gown and black tuxedo.

Mourning and Worship: 

Mourning and Worship For worship, many women wear "Ao Dai" that has little or no designs. The temple and church are considered "simple" and do not need "flashy designs" to contaminate their purity and innocence. The dresses for mourning have frayed fringes a line up the back and may be either white or black, although white is the standard color for mourning.

Ao Dai Today: 

Ao Dai Today Colors are no longer rigidly controlled and different patterns are used. Differnent fabrics are used such as satin, silk, velvet, suede, cotton, mesh, crepe, and ect.. Velvet ao dai, embroidered, painted and printed with flower pattern have created even more exquisite beauty features allowing Vietnam's ao dai to take off even higher. The sleeves today are altered in diffenent styles such as halter, long sleeves, puffy sleeves, sleevless, and even off the shoulder. The lengh of the Ao Dai is becoming shorter and could go just below the knees. Variation in the neck cut, between boat and mandarin styles are now common and even adventurous alteration such as a low scooped plundging neck-line, square and heart-shaped necklines. The pants are cut at a bias from soft, flowy material and fitted closely at the hips and loosely at the ankles, giving the wearer a graceful walk, her sandaled feet half hidden in the billowy folds of her pants.

Beauty Pageants and Contests: 

Beauty Pageants and Contests The first Ao Dai beauty contest was restored under the communist regime since 1975 and the traditional Ao Dai returned to its swave beauty of old times. The 1989 ao dai beauty pageant (Hoa Hau Ao Dai '89) in Saigon drew an audience of 16,000 people. There are even annual Ms. Ao Dai pageants held in the prestigious Long Beach shows attracts entrants from across the country. All such contests as school beauty, sports beauty has been organized everywhere in the country, ao dai is the main category in these contests. Now only the Tien Phong Newspaper beauty contest is considered the official national contest and who is crowned from this contest become the national beauty queen and she will represent the country in all diplomatic occasions.

Ao Dai Influences: 

Ao Dai Influences Western designers such as Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren, have all succesfully derived ideas from Vietnamese custome for past collections. Among the Vietnamese overseas communities, Video series like the popular “Paris By Night” keep the ao dai ever present in people’s daily view Ao Dai fashion shows and famous singers wear elaborate ao dai's on stage. The clothing has also inspired French designers including top names such as Christian Lacroix and Claude Montana, and variations of the tight sleeves, fitted bodice, high collar and flowing trousers have been seen on the catwalks of Europe.

Interviews- Kim’s Fabrics: 

Interviews- Kim’s Fabrics 1.What is the average cost for an Ao Dai to be made? “It really depends on what kind of fabric the customer wants to use. This could range anywhere from $100 to $350 or even more. Also, my labor to make the Ao Dai will depend on what kind of style and cut the customer wants which would range from about $100 to $200. For just a basic Ao Dai it would probably cost about $250. 2. What types of fabrics are used for customers and what is the most popular? “Most of the customers that come in for their Ao Dai alterations choose silk for their type of fabric, but they choose many different designs. 3. What are some specific designs that customers request? “Many of the younger generations come in and choose the more trendier designs with bright colors and patterns. This could be a plundging neck line, boat neck, and the halter is also popular. Older generation tend to choose more simple patterns such as flower patterns with darker colors.” 4. What are the occasions that the Ao Dai’s are made? “Most occasions that call for Ao Dai are worn for weddings, not necessarly just for the bride, but worn to attend the wedding and reception.”

Interviews- Elder- Tham Nguyen: 

Interviews- Elder- Tham Nguyen 1. How much are you willing to pay for an Ao Dai? “ When I lived in Vietnam it was much cheaper, now the fabric alone cost $150, and the labor can cost up to $100. I would only pay no more than $300 for a nice and detailed ao dai” 2. What kind of colors and designs would you like to wear? “ I think the trendier styles they have out today are too sexy and I prefer the traditional styles. The colors I normally choose would be the darker colors, such as burgandy, dark blue and forest green.” 3. What events do you wear Ao Dais to? “ I usually wear them to weddings, church, Tet, and more formal occasions.” 4. How Have you seen the Ao Dai change from then to now? “The neckcut is different, the sleeves have changed, the length has become much longer down to the feet. I would rather see it as its old tradition style.” 5. Do you think the Ao Dai has changed in Vietnam to the way it has here in Western culture? “I believe it has changed and has been altered, but not as extreme as it has here. Vietnam has been been trying to mimic western soceity and I believe fashion is one of them.”

Interviews- Young Vietnamese/American- Thuy Quynh: 

Interviews- Young Vietnamese/American- Thuy Quynh 1. Have you ever worn an Ao Dai, and if so what was the occasion? “ Yes, I have. I wore it for my aunt’s wedding.” 2. Did you prefer to wear the traditional dress as opposed to an American Dress? “ For this occasion I preffered the traditional dress, because it’s a rare occasion that I get to wear the ao dai. I feel like I’m representing my culture rather than when I wear a plain American dress that I could wear anywhere else.” 3. What are the colors and styles you prefer when you wear an Ao Dai? “ Now that there are new styles that have came out, I prefer the more trendy styles like the halter top, and tube top. It gives it a mix of the traditional Ao Dai along with some American trend.” 4. How much are you willing to pay for an Ao Dai? “It depends on what kind of style I want. For the Ao Dai that I wore to my aunt’s wedding, it cost $280, but I got it customized it to my fitting, and I choose the style and my own fabric. 5. Would you prefer to wear the traditional Ao Dai wedding dress or an American white wedding dress, or both? “ I would prefer to wear both. Before the wedding, there is a traditional ceremony at both houses, where I would wear the traditional ao dai. And then for my wedding ceremony I would wear the white American dress. The reception I change into my third outfit which would be another traditional red Ao Dai.”

The Lasting Impression: 

The Lasting Impression The beauty of Ao Dai worn by Vietnamese women is a lasting impression by visitors to Vietnam. By popularity, the Ao Dai has made its way into modern and western culture. Although it has altered its traditional form, it still represents Vietnam’s customs. It is difficult to think of a more elegent demure outfit that suits Vietnamese people of all generations than, the Ao Dai.



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