Vietnam Costumes

Vietnam Costumes

What does the word “ao dai” mean ?

vietnam costumes aodaiIn Vietnamese, “ao dai “ means “long dress.” For many, the dress has become a symbol for the beauty of Vietnamese women. The ao dai began to attract international attention during the American War in Viet Nam. At that time, many Western writers, journalists, and tourists writing in French and English referred affectionately to the ao dai.

Some Vietnamese terms such as: “nem” “pho” and “nuoc mam” along with “viet Minh” “Viet Cong,” and “Ho Chi Minh Trail” have appeared in Western dictionaries. Now, “ao dai” has also earned an entry. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “ao dai” as “the traditional costume of Vietnamese women, consisting of a long, high-necked, close-fitting tunic split along the side to the waist and worn over loose-fitting trousers.”

When did the ao tu than appear ? 

vietnam costumes aodai2

No known document records this garment’s emergence. However, its appearance is likely tied to whenVietnamese learned to plant cotton, spin, and weave 30- 40centimeter broad cloth on a rudimentary loom. Also, it may come from when they learned to plant mulberry, raise silkworms, spin, and then weave. thin, soft cloth such as crepe, gauze, and fine, thin silk. The four-panelled traditional dress is a gauze or silk robe worn over a white or yellow shirt. The robe consists of four narrow pieces of fabric that run the length of the body. Two pieces are joined at the back down to the heel. The front two pieces are joined with the two back pieces down to the waist and then tied together into a knot under a green, pink, or yellow belt. The robe is usually brown, black, or ebony gauze.Women attending spring festivals often wear an ao mo ba, which is a set of three robes: the outer one is black or brown gauze, while the two inner ones are either light yellow, lotus coloured, or sky blue. In the old days, women wore skirts, but later they had pants made of black coarse silk or black satin; some women wore red crepe.

This poem from the first half of the century gives an image of a girl in her traditional dress:

A small turban, the hanging tail still high,

This morning I wear peach yem straps

Satin pantaloons, a blouse of new silk gauze,

And carry a flat palm hat with fringes.

My mother smiles: “Father, Look!

 On her feet, sandals with curved tips.

Our daughter is beautiful, beautiful,

When will she be wed?”

“Perfume Pagoda” by Nguyen Nhuoc Phap

A fashion reform occurred in Ha Noi during the mid-twentieth century, while Viet Nam was still under French domination. Men began to dress in Western style, and women began to wear a modern robe that was a renovated ao tu than. Ha Noi women welcomed the new fashion and used French silk- particularly dark red and violet – and soft, thin Indian cloth to make the colourful, modern ao dai. The reform movement also affected girls in the countryside. However, many people strongly opposed the changes, including the poet Nguyen Binh.

With your velvet turban, your rustling satin pants,

Your modern ao dai, Dear, you make me unhappy!

Where is your yem of floss silk?

Where is the silk belt that you dyed last spring?

Where is your four-panelled dress?

Your black scarf, your trousers of black, raw silk? – “Country Folk” by Nguyen Binh

Nowadays, women wear the traditional four panelled dress only on festival days and to sing folk songs and love duets on stage or perform in plays such as the cheo opera, Quan Am Thi Kinh (The Goddess of Mercy). Today, although there are many types of renovated ao dai, the ao tu than is the basis of the graceful modern ao dai. To learn more about the garment’s history, visit the History Museum near the Red River or the Museum of Ethnology in western Ha Noi.

What is one of the most popular songs about the ao dai ” ?

 The “The Blue Ao Dai” by Doan Chuan – Tu Linh (1955).

The wind blows in from all directions,

Arriving to flood my soul,

Awakening it.

My boat is but a leaf floating out to sea,

Returning to you, hidden, sealed like clouds in the sky

Waiting night after night for dawn, dreaming of someone.

Yet more dreaming comes to naught!

We met in autumn,

Courted in winter,

Loved in spring,

And ended it that spring.

One left for home – how was that tolerable?

 I remember when you said:

“How can spring arrive, yet the leaves fall ?

How can spring arrive, yet the leaves fly ?”

My dear! Is there a flower that hasn’t withered?

Has there ever been a cloudless sky ?

Has there ever been a love that hasn’t faded?

 Do you remember when I said:

“When you come with me,

Please don’t forget your blue ao dai.”

Dear, who would suspect that

Such a color as that loving blue

Would never fade?

 One afternoon, papers from spent fireworks

Blew past, scattering across the veranda.

You walked through the papers,

I walked, too, my eyes downcast,

Resigned to your fate.

 My soul was frozen when I left.

Apricot flowers fell petal by petal on the road.

I left so coldly, I knew more regrets were useless.

Flowers wither, love dissipates.

 We fall in love only to long for each other;

We long for each other only to be flooded by sorrow.

Oh ephemeral, mortal love!

The dreamer comes to me in early morning

And leaves me in sorrow.

Night after night we await the dawn, dreaming of each other.

Yet more dreaming comes to naught.

We met in autumn,

Courted in winter,

Loved in spring,

And ended it that spring.

One left for home – how was that tolerable?

 I remember when you said:

“How can spring have arrived, yet we’re not happy ?

How can spring have arrived, yet we’re not light ?”

My dear! Is there a moon that hasn’t waned ?

Is there a kite that couldn’t fly ?

Is there a love that isn’t passionate?

Do you remember when I said:

” My soul forgets,

My feelings fade. “

Dear, I never thought

There could be a love like mine for you

That wouldn’t fade.

Maybe some frozen afternoon

Our souls will seek each other-

You’ll dream within the sound of a song

And I, within my amorous lyrics.

Can you blame the flower for withering ?

Alone, I’ll weave a few melodies:

Music is life’s record of love, telling

How flowers wither, how music diffuses …

Where is one of the oldest villages for making silk for ao dai ?

Visit Van Phuc Village in Ha Dong Town (Ha Tay Province) for a taste of Viet Nam’s traditional craft villages and also for surprisingly good bargains on high-quality silk. Van Phuc, traditionally the nation’s silk manufacturing hub, is only ten kilometres from central Ha Noi on the border between city and countryside. The silk-production facilities in the village include both small factories and home workshops. Most of the silk looms, which fill entire rooms of local homes, are constructed on site. The noise of shuttles clacking back and forth is overwhelming in such small spaces.

The homemade products are quietly beautiful. According to the commune’s records, Van Phuc started making silk in the late 4th century and was famous for the craft by the eleventh century, when King Ly Thai To moved the capital to Thang Long (present-day Ha Noi). He used Van Phuc silk for royal costumes. In its peak days under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), Van Phuc produced seventy different kinds of silk, including the (silk with tiny holes), gam (thick silk with embossed flowers), and van (thin silk with woven and embossed flowers).

Mr. Do Van Loi, vice president of the Van Phuc Commune People’s Committee, notes that 1,000 out of 1,300 households in the commune are involved in silk production. A large manufacturer might have up to twenty looms and employ twenty workers. Each year the commune produces from 800,000 to one million metres of silk.

The main street of the village has about thirty shops with a wide range of products. Prices are anywhere from 20-50% cheaper than on Hang Gai or Hang Bong Streets in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter, depending on your skill at bargaining. Most silk- producing workshops are in the commune’s more remote streets.

To reach Van Phuc Commune from Ha Noi, take a bicycle, xe om, or taxi along Nguyen Trai Street until you reach the Ha Dong Bridge (the border of Ha lay Province). Take the first turn right into Chu Van An Street. Keep going for nine hundred metres, and you will see a large sign, “Van Phuc Traditional Village.” The Van Phuc Communal House will be on your right.

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