The Vietnamese most popular traditional costumes

Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country with 54 ethnic groups and nearly 4,000 years of history, which built up a great culture of diversity and uniqueness, especially traditional costumes. You can know more about the beauty, elegance, and characteristics of local people when you look at their traditional costumes. Vietnamese traditional costumes have been affected by many cultures in the world from past to present. This article will help you to have a deeper understanding of the Vietnamese most popular traditional costumes, as well as their origins, history, and culture.

1. AO DAI (Vietnamese Traditional Dress)

There is no doubt that the Ao Dai is very well-known in Vietnam and all over the world. The word “Ao Dai” was originally used in the 18th century, during the Nguyen Dynasty when the first Nguyen Lord in Hue recognized that our costumes were very similar to those worn by the Chinese. He ordered his subordinates to create their own costumes to distinguish them from other countries. This was also the way to show his ambition to be the king of an independent land. 

The first version of Ao Dai in the Nguyen Dynasty

The first version of Ao Dai had five flaps called “than”: two flaps in the front, two flaps in the back, and the last “than” inside the front flaps to represent the wearer. Over the years, Ao Dai went through lots of transformations, affected by Western culture. During French colonialism, a French-trained artist named Cat Tuong, or Le Mur, made a revolution in this outfit design. He combined the western dress style with the traditional ao dai, making it much more fitted and in true colonial style, requiring a tight-fitting corset. During that period, Ao Dai was promoted as the national costume for the modern era. It had many different styles throughout the decades until its appearance in modern times as the simple, colorful and graceful Vietnamese national dress. 

Ao dai Ler Mur

The modern “Ao Dai” consists of long trousers with a two-flap dress from the waist down and split into front and back flaps. Nowadays, Vietnamese are familiar with Western clothing, but this traditional Vietnamese dress is still a symbol showing the beauty of Vietnamese culture and remains a very popular garment for formal occasions such as weddings or the New Year celebrations.

Ao dai as a wedding dress

For men, since the era of Lord Nguyen, the rules to wear “Ao Dai” are not as strict as for women. Nowadays, men occasionally wear it for special events but it’s less popular than for women.

The modern version of Ao dai

2. AO BA BA  

Although Ao Dai is chosen as a Vietnamese national costume, the people in the Mekong Delta (southern Vietnam) have their own traditional clothing – the Ao Ba Ba. This costume is so popular in the southwestern countryside that you can see most of the local people wearing this shirt during their daily activities. While you visit Mekong Delta, you can be impressed by the images of the Ao Ba Ba glimmering under the green coconut groves, in the rowing boats down the rivers, on the monkey bamboo bridges, or between the crowded floating markets.

The Ao Ba Ba is a collarless shirt with a back made of a straight piece of cloth. The front flap is divided into two pieces and in the middle, there are buttons from the neck down to the belly. This elaborate shirt is often paired with long white or black trousers. The colors and materials of this set depending on the combination and the desire of the wearers. Farmers and peasants in the Mekong Delta used to wear black or brown Ao Ba Ba to work on the rice fields because they were both clean and easy to wash. 


 

Vietnamese traditional costume

Sewing fabrics are simple materials, such as single fabrics, pungent fabrics, and linoleum, which very quickly dry after washing. Near the hem, there are two extra pockets that are quite convenient for holding necessary items. Thanks to these conveniences and comfort, Ao Ba Ba is often worn by both men and women in the Mekong Delta in their daily life activities. Particularly in special events or festive occasions, they will choose Ao Ba Ba with lighter colors like white, or ash gray. The noble class chooses the color of young, pale blue with more expensive fabrics such as silk or satin to show off their richness.

Over the years, the basic design of traditional Ao Ba Ba has been kept from generation to generation but refurbished to update new fashion trends. The modern Ao Ba Ba for women is not as straight and wide as it used to be, but it has been narrowly stitched to embrace the body and emphasize the beautiful curves of women’s bodies.

3. AO TU THAN 

Before the appearance of the Ao Dai, the Ao Tu Than was worn by Vietnamese women and considered the country’s most enduring relic. The origin of Ao Tu Than is still a question but its illustration was sculpted on the surface of Trong Dong (copper drum) thousands of years ago. The basic Ao Tu Than consists of three main parts: the “Yếm” – an ancient bodice worn as an undergarment by women to cover the chest area; a long skirt from the waist; and a flowing tunic worn as the outermost layer. The tunic splits into four flaps, also called “than”: two back flaps sewn together (made up of a full flap) and the two front flaps can be tied together by a silk sash tied at the waist as a belt. 

Vietnamese traditional costume

Originally, Ao Tu Than was dyed with natural colors, like the dye-yam, tropical-almond leaves, or mud. In these modern days, Ao Tu Than is no longer widely used in the local daily life but can be found in several northern-related festivals and events with more vivid colors. Because the bodice and the skirt and the tunic have different color gradients. If you have a chance to join in the Lim festival in Bac Ninh Province, you can witness the female folk singers wearing this attire with accessories, such as “Khan Mo Qua” – a black crow’s beak kerchief made of heavy fabric, “Guoc Moc” – a pair of wooden clogs and “Non Quai Thao” – a kind of conical hat with fringe hanging at both sides.

Vietnamese traditional costume

4. VIETNAMESE TRADITIONAL COSTUMES OF ETHNIC GROUPS

Broadly speaking, Vietnamese traditional customs are very diverse. Asides from the most popular ones of the major Kinh people group as mentioned above, other local ethnic groups have their own unique styles and costumes. In Vietnam, ethnic tribe costumes can vary depending on their own characteristics, but most share a common theme of featuring very colorful and very complicated repeated patterns, with many clashing items worn at once.

4.1 Traditional costumes of Cham ethnic group in Vietnam

The Cham, who have lived along the coast of central Vietnam for a long time, possess a rich culture profoundly influenced by Indian culture. Although Cham’s costume is not as colorful as other clothes in Vietnam, it still has its own charming beauty.

Both men and women wear long one-piece sarongs or cloth wrappers. Men wear shirts fastened down the center with buttons, while women wear long-sleeved pullover blouses. The waistband is tied across the chest and around the waist. It is the attire’s highlight because it is prominently designed with golden iridescent shades and meticulous detail. The Cham women wear colorful and charming long dresses on major occasions like the Kate New Year festival, the Ramuwan festival, weddings, and the celebration of girls’ reaching adulthood. The white-colored one is the sole option for attending religious mass.

Vietnamese traditional costume- Ao cham

The Cham wear a dress without split flaps because it makes their walk light, flowing, and attractive. The headscarf is an indispensable item as it expresses the cultural factor, which means that it’s not easy for strangers to make the acquaintance of the Cham women, who are reserved and only express themselves through their eyes, lips, and cheeks. A gentle glance or smile can replace a greeting.

Over the years, the modern Cham long dress has been somewhat modified but still retains traditional features. The dress looks better with 2 intertwined embroidered cloth belts, heightening the seductive curves of the wearer’s body.

4.2 Traditional costumes of Thai ethnic group in Vietnam

While you take a trip to Vietnam’s northwestern region, you will interact with Thai ethnic groups and surely be impressed by the Thai women in their traditional attire: a close-fitting blouse and a black long skirt. The cloth belt which connects the blouse and skirt is made of blue, green or pink cloth. The green color goes well with the white blouse and black skirt.

Traditionally, the black Thai wear a black blouse with a high collar, while the white Thai wear a white blouse with a V-shaped collar. A blouse has two rows of silver buttons on the front: one with female butterfly-shaped buttons and the other with male butterfly-shaped buttons. The interesting fact is that Thai girls wear a blouse with an even number of buttons, while married women dress up the blouse shirt with an odd number of buttons.

4.3 Traditional costumes of H’Mong ethnic group in Vietnam

The H’mong tribe comprises about 1.2% of the country’s population and is ranked at the eighth position among the largest minority ethnic groups in Vietnam. They reside in the Northern and Western mountainous areas, such as Ha Giang, Lao Cai, Lai Chau, and Son La. They are divided into subgroups and defined by the colour of their dresses: Black, White, Blue, Red, and Flower H’mong.

Vietnamese traditional costume
 

Traditional costumes of H’mong women are very sophisticated and vibrant, typically made of linen with many highlighted colors and embroidered motifs. A completed outfit consists of a deep V-chest shirt, an overall of two square pieces covering the front and the back, a big belt, a headscarf, leggings, and a truncated cone-shaped gather skirt. Along with the handmade costumes, the women often attach jewelry such as silver earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings; which makes them look more beautiful and distinctive. H’mong men wear a sleeveless and chest vent shirt with 4 pockets and 4 buttonholes along with a drain-pipe, lame style trousers.

Translated by Bich Huong