Ao dai is a Vietnamese traditional costume and recognized as the Vietnamese national costume. Ao dai is normally worn by women with a flawless body fit style. Ao Dai is pronounced as Ow Zhai in the north side of Vietnam and people in the south will call it as Ow Yai. The word Ao dai was originated from ancient Chinese word which is, “Ao” meaning “padded coat” and “Dai” means long.
The tradition of wearing Ao dai starts during Nguyen Lords era in Hue city. Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat had required his court members, men and women to wear trousers and gown with button at the front side. Le Quy Don, a writer during the time named this new looks as Ao dai. In the meantime, the courts in South Vietnam under Trinh Lords choose a split side jacket with long skirt as official court attire.
Earlier of this era, Ao Thu Thanh was created and popularized before Ao Ngu Thanh was created which came with a 5 panel aristocratic gown design. The word “Ngu” came from a sino-Vietnamese word which means five and also refers to five elements of cosmology. This outfit is loose fit and has wide sleeves. During this time, the wearer normally will show their prosperity and wealth by wearing multiple layers of fabric. The weather factor in Vietnam normally only allows the person to wear 3 or 5 layers at once.
In 1917, Hue’s Dong Khanh Girl’s School asked their students to wear Ao dai as school uniform. Since the great start, a Hanoian-French influence designer, Cat Truong or also known as Le Mur worked together with artists from Hanoi University to re-innovate the Ao dai design. As a result, the Ao dai turned out to be a modern dress and became a hit in 1935 after Ao dai Le Mur worn by a famous model, Nguyen Thi Hau in Today Newspaper. Besides, this outfit also displayed in Tu Luc Van Doan magazine (Self Reliant Literary Group) and was claimed as a national costume.
In the 1950s, designers from the south modified the Ao dai design to make it fit to the wearer’s body. The popularity of Ao dai was increasing during 1960 to 1975, upon reunification especially when Madame Nhu, the First Lady of South Vietnam started to wear it.
Communism gained power in Hanoi in 1954 and 1975 to the south. During this time, Ao dai were more popular in the South compared to the North. The 1980s had showed that wearing Ao dai daily became less popular with people only wearing it during weddings and special occasions. At the same time, there is an annually Miss Ao Dai Pageant event celebrated at Long Beach, California until now to maintain the Ao dai tradition by overseas Vietnamese in America. The popularity of Ao dai increased back when Ms. Trung Quynh Mai, a Vietnamese contestant of Miss International Pageant in Tokyo was wearing Ao dai and being chosen as Best national Costume.
Ao dai, now and forever
The popularity of Ao dai is increasing nowadays with full supports by Vietnamese government. Ao dai became a school uniform and staff uniform for some banks and state owned companies. Local designers also working hard and be more innovative in order to popularize the Ao dai among foreigners especially the world citizens.