The traditional Vietnamese dress is the Ao Dai. It is elegant and beautiful. Finding an Ao Dai can be a bit difficult, but it can be done.
Where to buy Vietnamese Clothing? The obvious answer is Viet Nam, but since most of us cannot afford a trip to Saigon we need to find a closer source for traditional Vietnamese clothing.
FIRST – A LITTLE INFORMATION
The traditional Vietnamese Costume for a woman or man is an Ao Dai. The Ao Dai (pronounced Ã¢â‚¬Ëœoh yaiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢) for a woman consists of a long flowing dress with a split panel skirt and a pair of loose fitting pants. The Ao Dai dress has a form-fitting bodice (top) with long sleeves. Attached to the bodice is a long skirt, which is made up of 4 panels. The panels attach the bodice at the waist (2 panels in front, two in back) and the length can be anywhere from below the knee to the floor. The panels flow around the legs of the wearer in an elegant swirl. The neckline can either be a boat neck (a simple curve below the neck) or a stiff Mandarin collar. The bodice of the Ao Dai can be constructed to button in a variety of ways – down the front, on the side, or the more traditional way, buttoning from the side of the neck diagonally across to just above the breast and under the arm.
The Ao Dai is form fitting for the woman. Anyone wanting an Ao Dai would go to a seamstress to be properly measured. The dress is be made especially for the individual. The Ao Dai is figure flattering and very beautiful on the wearer.
The traditional fabric used to make the Ao Dai is cotton or silk. Cotton and silk are very cool and comfortable fabrics and are perfect for the hot, humid jungle environment of Viet Nam.
Traditionally, the color of the Ao Dai for a woman denotes her age or marital status. White means the girl is young and unmarried – early and late teens. Pastel colors are for unmarried woman who are older – mid-late 20’s. The deeper colors such as red and blue are for married women.
The Ao Dai for men is shorter and does not have the split panels. The Ao Dai top for men ends around the knees. The collar type is the Mandarin collar and the colors are dark. The Ao Dai for men are not form fitting as it is for the woman.
WHERE TO BUY AN AO DAI
Because the Ao Dai are custom made you will not likely find it “off-the-rack” in any store. You will have to find a Vietnamese seamstress. This may take some searching on your part. Most Vietnamese coming to the U.S. (or any Western country) have settled in the larger cities. In the U.S., Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, and San Francisco have large Vietnamese populations.
Look in the phone book for Vietnamese businesses, especially grocery stores and video stores. You should be able to find the name of a good seamstress from them. These merchants would also be able to give you the best source for Vietnamese silk fabric.
There are often Vietnamese associations, who can be contacted for information. For example, in Chicago there is the Vietnamese Association of Illinois.
There are very few companies for purchasing Ao Dai online. Ordering the Ao Dai online is not much different than ordering other clothing online, with the exception of measurements. You will be required to enter your measurements on the website instead of a standard size to ensure you get the best fit possible. The site will display the different styles and fabric choices available. The cost is quite reasonable Ã¢â‚¬â€œ between $80.00-$150.00.
Auction sites sometimes have Ao Dai listed. This will not be the elegant, form-fitting Ao Dai traditionally worn.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
There are patterns available for the Ao Dai from vintage and ethnic pattern companies and cost around $16.00. The patterns are sold at sewing supply stores and online. The pattern is relatively easy to use and the dress is not difficult to make. Simply use the search term “ao dai sewing pattern” in any search engine and you will find online sources for the pattern.
If you do not sew, a local seamstress can make it for you for under $100.00. A medium Ao Dai dress with the pants will take 6 yards of fabric. The fabric for the pattern does not have to be Vietnamese silk if you do not want to spend a lot for the dress. A simple cotton or inexpensive silk can be used from your local fabric store. The beauty of the Ao Dai is in the design and fit. Any lightweight fabric will produce an attractive dress.
Whether you have it custom-made or purchase it on the Internet, the Ao Dai is a beautiful addition to any wardrobe.
Written by Connie Folleth – 2002 Pagewise