A couple of months back, I drove all the way to Thủ Đức district just out of Saigon to see my Vietnamese girlfriend sing in a choir competition.
She sings in her church choir, and it was the first time I had seen her sing.
It was also the first time I had seen her dressed in her Áo Dài as well.
And if you haven't seen an Áo Dài before, most people would agree that it is one of the most beautiful national dresses in the world.
In design the Áo Dài basically consists of a full length dress worn over loose fitting trousers.
The dress is tight fitting around the chest and is split down the sides from the waist down, creating a front and a back panel.
Ao Dai Today
This simple shape and flowing design give the whole outfit a very slim graceful look.
And while this basic shape is fairly standard, the Áo Dài allows for a lot of personal variation in the finishing of the final garment and in the pattern of the material.
In the choir competition for example, my girlfriend's singing group wore a beautiful light blue Áo Dài which was embroidered with white floral patterns, and was finished with tight fitting sleeves and a "Chinese collar."
This was worn over loose fitting white trousers.
The words Áo Dài literally means "Long Tunic/Dress," and date way back to the eighteenth century when the ruling Nguyễn lords decreed that both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front.
Historically the words Áo Dài applied to a number of various garments though.
The Áo Dài as it is today developed from the Áo Tứ Thân, the traditional dress worn by northern women.
The Áo Tứ Thân consisted of a flowing outer tunic that reached almost to the floor, and opened down the front.
At the waist, the top split into three flaps, a full flap down the back, and two half flaps in the front.
A long skirt was worn underneath the Áo Tứ Thân.
Ao Tu Than
In the 1920s young Vietnamese artists, educated at the French Indochina College of Fine Arts, modified the Áo Tứ Thân, and designed what is considered the first truly modern Áo Dài.
Over the following couple of decades the Áo Dài continued to develop, and in the 1950s the outfit was tightened emphasizing the curves of the female figure creating the design as you see it today.
However, after the communists took control of the country in 1975, the government generally disapproved of the Áo Dài, preferring a more utilitarian style of clothing.
However, since the 1990s the Áo Dài has undergone a resurgence and you will see it worn everywhere during your holiday in Vietnam.
From young Vietnamese school girls cycling off to school in their white Áo Dài, to office girls strolling around District 1 in their Áo Dài during their lunch break, the Áo Dài is a dress for every occasion, and is a beautiful dress worn with pride.
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