When I turned 12, my mother gave me her Áo dài, the traditional Vietnamese garment for children and women, that she had worn as a girl in Vietnam. This garment was really the last tie she had to her traditional childhood in Vietnam before immigrating to the U.S. as a refuge, and it meant a lot to both of us. Since receiving her áo dài, I have been fascinated by traditional wear. Here are the main traditional garments worn by Vietnamese women:
Áo dài─ A tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pants, áo dài is the national costume for women. It originated in the Nguyễn court at Huế during the 18th century. The style changed over the centuries, but what we know as the modern ao dai was created by Saigon designers in the 1950s.
Yếm─ Yếm was worn as an undergarment or bodice for modesty’s sake. It originated from the Chinese undergarment called dù dōu, and is worn across all classes. It is usually a diamond shaped piece of fabric draped over a woman’s front, tied at the back at the neck and waist. The modern version, áo yếm, can be worn as an undergarment or a halter top.
Áo tứ thân─ This 4-part dress was traditionally worn by peasant women. It consists of a flowing outer tunic, a long skirt under the tunic, a yếm, and a sash. In contemporary times, it is made in bright colors for northern-style festivals.