Note from Virtual-Doug: I recently promised the students from one of my writing classes that I would post the best essays to the blog. This is the second of six.
Student Essay One - Ancestor Worship
I have added some photos so the reader can better see what the student is writing about. Be sure to click on the photos to see a larger version For obvious reasons, I have not included the name of the student, but she knows who she is. I am so proud of my students – they are the future of Viet Nam, and the future is bright. Enjoy.
Visitors to Vietnam are impressed by the traditional dress for women in Vietnam. It is called “Ao dai,” and its literally meaning is “Long Dress.” When they depart they can not forget the beauty of women dressed in Ao dai. The Vietnamese Long Dress, what is it? How beautiful actually it is? Why is it charming? And why do visitors always remember it after departing? You will find out the reason why after reading the following text.
Ao dai is the women’s national dress of Vietnam. The Ao dai is pronounced “Ao yai” in the south, but “Ao zai” in the north. Ao dai is a two-piece garment made of cloth, it is full-length and worn over loose silk trousers that brush the floor. It flatters every figure for those who wear it. The Long Dress splits into two flaps, a front and back panel from the waist down, made comfortable and easy to move in. The Ao dai’s body hugging top reaching to the ground makes it is very sensual.
Today, the Ao dai length is maybe shorter than that in the past; it is only below the knee. Different women wear Ao dai in different colors without the same patterns and designs. The colors of Ao Dai show us to know the age and the status of the wearer. Schoolgirls usually wear white Long Dress, the color of white symbolizes their purity. When they grow older a little, they turn to the pastel shades. Married women wear strong and dark colors with more patterns.
Early version of Ao Dai date back to 1744 when the king Vu Vuong of Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. Ao Dai at that time were wider and simpler than that of today. Originally, the Ao Dai were loosely tailored with four panels, tow of which were tied in back. In 1930, the Ao Dai as we know now appeared. Influenced by Europeanization wave in 1935, Le Mur Nguyen Cat Tuong, Vietnamese fashion designer modernized the Ao Dai, He lengthened the top to reach the floor, fitted the bodice to the curves for the body, and then moved the buttons from the front to an opening the shoulder and side seam.
There is also a similar costume for men and is also called “Ao Dai,” but the man’s dress is shorter, just at knee length, and more loose-fitting. Men wear it less than women; they usually wear it on ceremonial occasions such as weddings or funerals. The king always wore the Ao Dai sewed of the brocade with embroidered dragons on it. the high mandarins usually wore the color of purple, contrary to the blue worn by the mandarin of lower rank.
From 1939 to 1945, the traditional Ao Dai were restored. During the 1950’s, there was a major design change and the modern Ao Dai was born. Two Saigon tailors that had a large influence on the development of Vietnamese Ao Dai are Tran Kim from Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung from Dung Tailors. They produced the gowns with raglan sleeves which created a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm, and today this style is still preferred.
From 1958 to the beginning of 1959, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu led the movement of low-necked, and a décolleté Ao Dai. From the early 1970’s to 1975’s, it was the period of the mini and hippy Ao Dai that was loosely worn with tights and flares till the year 1989. Since 1975, the traditional returned and displayed its beauty to the new times. At that time, people encouraged schoolgirls to wear the white Ao Dai to school.
The year 1995 was the crowning year of the national Ao Dai because Truong Quynh Mai’s Ao Dai was chosen the most beautiful national costume in Tokyo. Therefore, the renovated Ao Dai model of that year suited well modern times, it was extremely beautiful at tight sleeves, fitted bodice, high collar, flowing pants, especially at tightened at the breast, waist and back.
The Ao Dai today has been becoming more and more popular. It is diversified. There are plentiful of designs, materials, and colors. Velvet, silk, satin, tapta Ao Dai, embroidered, painted or printed with flowers pattern have been creating more and more exquisite and elegant. thus, it has become standard outfit for many office workers and hotel staff. Moreover, it has now been the favored dress for most formal occasions.
The popularity of Vietnamese traditional Long Dress is not limited to Vietnam. Furthermore, it also spread beyond the Vietnam’s borders. To overseas Vietnamese, although they live far from their hometown, they always want to bring with them the cultural tradition of their country. They want to show their heritage to all the countries all over the world. In 1982, Tran Kim opened a new branch of Thiet Lap Tailors in California. The Vietnamese Ao Dai has also inspired French famous designers such as Christian Lacroix and Claude Montana.
The Ao Dai now is being mass produced to make it more available and cheaper. It seems to be gradually shortening, and at present it is usually just below the knee. the colors are no longer rigidly controlled but flexible and plentiful with the development tendency of fashion. Despite the fact that the Ao Dai covers the whole body, it is cool to wear. Synthetic fabrics are preferred because they do not crush, and are quick drying, making the Ao Dai a practical uniform in daily life.
Ao Dai was the national symbol of Vietnam. To the whole Vietnamese people, it has been always synonymous with their grace and beauty. Over many years in Vietnam’s history, it still kept its symbolism and image in the hearts of all Vietnamese. Today, in term of the timelessness, Ao Dai remains the national dress for both men and women. The Ao Dai has been perfected step by step to overcome all ages and time to reach with all people not only in our country but also in the world. To Vietnamese people, rich or poor, old or young, the Ao Dai are always their favorite choice in most special occasions.
For many years, the image of graceful schoolgirls in their lissome white Ao Dais and their pretty straw hats went into poems, proses, or even to the music of many Vietnamese poets and musicians. It is the Ao Dai that is their endless stream of emotion. In spite of the fact that the influence of Western fashion made the Ao Dai change much, it still kept a timeless article of clothing that has the strength to unify people.
From the international viewpoint, Long Dress is an elegant, demure, and sexy garment that suitable for people of all ages. Anthony Grey described the Ao Dai in his novel, Saigon, as “demure and provocative….women seem not to walk, but to float gently beneath the tamarinds on the evening breezes.” The Ao Dai covers everything but its thin fabric hides almost nothing. That’s true! Ao Dai is so charming and so sexy that it made visitors to Vietnam never forget.
In short, Long Dress of today has many variations compared with the past Long Dress. However, it always keeps it traditional features that flatter the decency, discreteness and harmony for those who wear it. Therefore, it is not easy at all to think of a more elegant, demure, and yet sexy attire that suits Vietnamese women of all ages than the national costume, the Ao Dai, the heritage that I myself feel very proud of when I wear it.
Ao Dai the national custome – by Claire Ellis