The image of Vietnamese women has often been closely associated with the traditional long dress or Ao Da. The dress appears to be made uniquely to highlight Vietnamese women’s charm and gentleness. Wherever it appears, at an international forum or a beauty pageant, the Ao Dai has always earned acclaim from viewers. It has also inspired writers, composers, poets, painters and artists and has become the pride of not only Vietnamese women but the Vietnamese nation as a whole.
Nobody knows exactly when and how the Ao Dai was designed and came to be worn by women in Vietnam. According to some historical records, the Ao Dai was first worn by mandarins at their meetings with the Nguyen Lords in the 18th century. Some researchers hold that the Ao Dai was adapted from Cham ethnic clothing while others argue that it is the combination of the 4-panel dress often worn by women of the Kinh group and the traditional costume of other ethnic groups in the area. However, all agree that the Ao Dai has inherited the quintessence of the costumes of both northern and southern people and has become a part of the heritage of the entire Vietnamese nation.
As time goes by, the Ao Dai has undergone some modifications. It is made to fit the woman’s body quite exactly and hangs down with a front and the back panels slit up to the waist. The size and shape of the collar and the length of the panels vary according to the current fashion. No matter what modifications are made, the Ao Dai is still created to highlight the elegant curves of the woman’s body.
Despite the invasion of foreign fashions, the Ao Dai still conquers the heart of women and men in and outside Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Anh, a tour guide from the Hanoi Tourism Company, said: "I love the Ao Dai and always feel it is exquisitely beautiful any where and any time."
"As a woman, I’m impressed when I see other women in the Ao Dai," Ms Van Anh said. "It is very special that women seem to be more gentle and yielding when they wear the Ao Dai. I think that wearing accentuates a lady’s physical body and personality."
In the early 1930s, art lovers in Europe, particularly the French, came to know the painting "Young lady by the lily" by renowned Vietnamese painter To Ngoc Van. In this picture, the Ao Dai worn by the young lady highlights her glamour and pure beauty.
A lecturer from the Vietnam Fine Arts University, Tien Hai, said: "Foreigners that I have ever met all admire the Vietnamese Ao Dai and share the view that no other word can be used to name the unique traditional long dress other than its original name "Ao Dai".
"Only the Ao Dai can fully illuminate the beauty of Vietnamese women," said Mr Hai.
VOV - (04/01/2005)