The ao dai is a traditional, form-fitting, long-sleeved silk dress worn over matching pants that covers from the neck down. – “It covers everything but hides nothing.” Young girls tend to wear white, while older single women frequently prefer light pastels, and married women often opt for more fashion forward designs, fabrics and colors.
Originally inspired by fashions of the Chinese imperial court, by the 19th century the dress had become uniquely Vietnamese. In the mid-20th century, designers narrowed the fit to create the style most often seen today.
The 1960’s brought an influx of Western culture to Vietnam and the ao dai had to compete with trendy foreign fashions such as the mini-skirt. Throughout the late 70’s and much of the 80’s, the ao dai was rarely seen. It regained popularity however, in late 1980s, when schools and government offices began adopting the dress as a uniform.
Internationally, the timeless lines of the ao dai have influenced some of Europe’s best-known fashion houses. At home, while not as popular with younger generations as before, the dress is still in demand and remains a visible part of Vietnamese culture.