Find out more about Vietnamese traditional dress and the reasons behind the garments.
Vietnam is a country of diversity, with more than 50 ethnic groups and an array of mountainous and urban communities with a whole host of different traditions. The variety of Vietnamese traditional dress is therefore vast, with some prominent and subtle differences in various parts of the country.
This is one of the best-known pieces of Vietnamese traditional dress, most commonly worn by women. It consists of a long, fitted silk tunic worn over loose trousers. While young girls often wear white ao dai to reflect their purity, older girls who aren’t yet married tend to wear soft pastel colours. Rich and bright colours are usually worn by married women. The first version of the ao dai dates back to the 1740s, but the look of the ao dai today dates back to the 1930s, when a chicer version of the garment was designed, influenced by the French fashion houses. Men do wear ao dai too, but this is usually reserved for special occasions.
Ao Tu Than
This four-piece dress was mostly worn by women in the north of Vietnam. It is largely obsolete now, but can still be seen worn at special festivals and events in Vietnam, such as Tet.
Ao Ba Ba
This two-piece outfit is worn by both men and women. It’s more common in southern Vietnam, particularly around the Mekong Delta, and consists of a long-sleeved, buttoned silk shirt with a scooped neck and high splits from the bottom up on each side, worn with silk trousers.
This traditional outfit is worn by Vietnamese men at special occasions. Described as a brocade tunic, the material is thicker than the ao dai and other forms of traditional dress.
The conical hat (non la) is a common hat spotted in Vietnam. It originally had a practical use as it helped to keep the rain of peoples’ faces as they worked in rice paddies or in other outdoor jobs. It also helped protect the face from the strong sun. They’re made with natural local materials, usually bamboo, palm leaves or tree bark. The shape of the conical hats means they have even more practical uses than this, also used to carry shopping from the market or as a bowl to drink water from!
Ethnic groups who live in the more remote hills, mountains and lowlands each have their own distinctive style of traditional dress. The origins of the different styles of dress are usually led by practical matters. For example, people who live in lowland regions often live in houses on stilts over the water. They tend to wear more practical trousers, but shirts have symbols inspired by their surroundings, such as forest flowers. People who live in the mountains tend to wear garments that are easy for working in the fields and traversing mountain passes. However, one thing all such traditional costumes have in common are bright colours and genuine creativity in terms of design.
Vietnam is a country which produces a huge amount of silk. This tradition is rooted in history – King Ly Thai Tong was encouraging silk production in Vietnam as far back as the year 1,000 – in a drive to further Vietnam’s economic development. Continuing to this day, silk garments can now be found across Vietnam. As well as ao dai made from silk, many people also wear silk shirts and scarves. Interestingly, silk painting is another typical Vietnamese tradition.
Vietnamese traditional dress gives amazing insights into the colourful country of Vietnam. Join us on small group tours to find off-the-beaten track localities and traditions in Vietnam