Although well known As a symbol of Vietnamese culture, people may not know that the Vietnamese Áo Dài has an exciting journey of more than 270 years with memorable milestones

With almost 270 years in the making; it can be said that Áo Dài is genuinely a cultural symbol of the Vietnamese people. Let’s take a look at the memorable milestones of the costume full of Vietnamese national spirit.

Since when has Áo Dài come to life?

The majority of Vietnamese commonly understand that the most accurate depiction of the modern Ao Dai started to appear from the late 19th century of the Nguyễn Dynasty, although few are aware that the predecessor of the Áo Dài was Áo Giao Lĩnh that first appeared in the years of 38 – 42 AD which, According to historical records, was most commonly associated with women’s ordinary costume. 

Áo Giao Lĩnh is also known as Áo Đối Lĩnh that is sewn in wide format, having both sides slipping, wide wrists, and body parts ending with heels. Áo Giao Lĩnh’s body part is sewn with four fabrics combined with a colored belt and a black skirt. Áo Giao Lĩnh has a cross-collar form , similar to Áo Tứ Thân.

In particular, this is the costume worn by three famous female generals, first by the two Mrs. Trưng, then by Mrs. Triệu, during the battles against the invaders at that time.

When wearing Áo Tứ Thân, the woman uses three different layers: the outermost is four pieces of evenly divided fabric, followed by a blouse, and the innermost is a camisole. The outer layer of Áo Tứ Thân is long from the neck to the knee; the bar behind the longitudinal edge is sewn to make a form for the back of the shirt. Inside, women wear camisoles, older women wear dark camisoles, and younger women wear red ones. When wearing Áo Tứ Thân, it is always accompanied by a belt made of silk or a “Scepter” used to hold money and small trinkets. This is also the detail that makes Áo Giao Lĩnh and Áo Tứ Thân similar.

According to some historical documents, under the reign of King Gia Long (1806 – 1820), Áo Giao Lĩnh was changed and officially became Áo Ngũ Thân by the request of the Royal Family. This design consists of 2 flaps in the back, two flaps in the front, and a hidden flap in the front. This is also a pioneering design in the waist slipping, a detail that has been kept until now. Unlike today, the Áo Ngũ Thân was short and wide for being convenient in life. This also gradually became the costume of mandarins and aristocrats to distinguish them from the rest of the lower classes of society at that time, whether male or female.

Innovation brings a new breeze to Vietnamese Áo Dài.

At the beginning of the 20th century, under the Western influence on domestic fashion, Áo Dài officially changed after nearly 100 years of appearance by a Hanoi designer named Nguyễn Cát Tường, with nickname Le Mur.


He is the one who reduced the size of Áo Dài to create a body-fitting design. Le Mur also added other details, such as pushing the shoulder blades and stretching the sleeves to touch the ground with more beautiful colors. With only four years of popularity, the Vietnamese Áo Dài style has become sophisticated, sexy, attractive, and received attention in society. 

However, in the late 50s, Áo Dài was again transformed by Mrs. Trần Lệ Xuân, also known as Mrs. Nhu beside her husband Ngô Đình Nhu. She cleverly changed the design of Áo Dài with a V-neck showing off the elegant neck, shoulders, and collarbones of Vietnamese women, and at the same time used gloves – a Western fashion accessory to raise the feminine spirit. 

Rising above all odds and shining bright as a cultural symbol of Vietnamese people.

Over time, Áo Dài has changed and was more popularly adopted in the South of Vietnam during the 70s – 80s. In the 1960s, Dung tailors in the Dakao district, Saigon city, introduced the hand-assembled raglan method for their new Áo Dài. With this assembly, the sleeves are connected from the slanted neck to the armpit. The front hem connects to the back hem through a row of buttons from the neck down to the armpit and along one side. This assembly-type minimizes the armpits’ wrinkles, allows the shirt to fit snugly according to the wearer’s curves, and helps women move their hands freely and flexibly. The style of the Vietnamese Áo Dài has been revolutionized from this point onward!

And this design is almost preserved throughout modern times as a standard of Vietnamese women’s Áo Dài. Of course, during its existence, Áo Dài also has newer innovative variations but is not far too different from the original ones. This costume is known as one of the most beautiful traditional costumes in Southeast Asia, in particular, and the globe, in general. 

With a history of nearly three millennia, Áo Dài carries the quintessence in culture and pure fashion spirit with a glorious history of Vietnamese aesthetic wear. What do you think about Vietnamese Áo Dài?

Source: collected and edited by Áo Dài Canada. (more…)