Monday, November 12, 2007

ÁO DÁI: The Elegance of Simplicity and Subtle Sensuality

Is there any traditional dress with striking simplicity yet elegant and provocative as the Ao Dài? A conservative dress than reveals no skin at all and yet flatter the natural curves of a woman’s body. What appears to be an ordinary dress fiercely embodies the extraordinary beauty of Vietnamese women.

It is very hard not to fall in love when seeing a woman dressed in Áo Dài wearing it with pride... seemingly floating as she pass by like a gentle dream. The grace, the form, the refined sensuality.

The Áo Dài is relatively a new design. Its original pattern dates back to the 1700s compared to the thousand-year history of Vietnam. It faced numerous modifications as it adapts to the ever changing time but the form remains the same.

From Southeast Asia’s first ever couturier... Monsieur Le Mur (a Vietnamese) in the 1930s to the innovative local designers like Tram Kim and Dung in the 50’s -- the Áo Dài was transformed to what we see today. Fashion geniuses like Ralph Lauren created an entire collection of Áo Dàis as well, a testament that this dress is distinct and special.

Áo Dài is pronounced as ‘ao-jai’ in the South and ‘ao-zai’ in the North. It literally means a "long dress" or "long tunic".

Vietnamese women wear the Áo Dài on traditional and festive occasions. Usually with special fabrics -- from floral to checkered, from silk to see-through fabrics. Plain white Áo Dài is the uniform for female students in Vietnam. Many companies and government bureaus also require their female staff to wear the Áo Dài.

The striking contrast of women dressed in Áo Dài walking in the streets of Hanoi against the modern tall buildings is mesmerizing. Watching women dressed in Áo Dài riding a bicycle along modern cars and motorcycles in Saigon is awe-inspiring. A tradition I hope will not vanish with time.

The Áo Dài is not just a traditional dress;
it is an affirmation of elegance of a Vietnamese woman.

The Áo Dài is not just a national symbol;
it is a global icon.


-- Pisanu in Bangkok

*Photo credits: Duyen Chao, the Nervous and Ytuong Sang Tao.
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Bjarne of Norway said...

This is very well written. Another one of your best posts! I love how you "love". Your passion is admirable. My hats off. :)

Friedreich said...

I agree with the part that it is indeed a global icon.

Nam said...

Ao Dai's sensuality lies in the fact that it is a sexy dress without being too revealing. Sometimes, one looks sexier if one leaves something for the imagination.

One of the biggest mistakes a lady who wears Ao Dai could make is to wear Ao Dai that has been made for someone else or ready-made Ao Dai. If one must wear one, it has to be tailor-made to fit one's individual figure. It is only then Ao Dai could be seen at its most elegant.

David Tennant said...

What a lovely input, Nam. It is indeed an elegant dress. I alson noticed how Pisanu avoided the word "sexy". Adds to the classy air of Ao dai. Lovely.

M. Rosenberg said...

Pure poetry.

Twisted Tomato! said...

I was in Beijing last week. My partner and I were glued to the telly all day inside our hotel room while while my folks were out ravaging the local flea market. I watched on the English channel (well, they only have one in Beijing) that the Chinese traditional dress (Tiong Sam? is that what they call it? not sure) is making raves in the fashion scenes in Paris, London and New York. The Chinese designer, Tam, is attributing this phenomenon to China's recent economic miracle as the world shifts its attention to China and the giant's culture. The Chinese notes that more and more designers are making Chinese-inspired clother with Western cut. I would like to think that a nation's economic might do have a significant effect in the promotion of its national culture.

I bet that in the year 2020 and beyond, Southeast Asia will inspire much of the global art, such as painting, haute coutoure, cuisine and cinema. I can't wait to see the 60-something Tom Cruise wearing the Filipino "Barong" or the sexy Angeline Jolie clad in a "Baro't Saya (Filipiniana)" gown.

How's that?

Pisanu for BISEAN said...

*gasp!* You were in Beijing Tomato? Is there by chance you were with Ryan? *wink wink* Love is in the air...woohooo!LOL

Yeah Chinese traditional clothing is big now. Well, it has always been anyways. Hehehe.

Twisted Tomato! said...

@Pisanu...hehehe sorry dude but my babe's name isn't starts with a letter "M"...just like the pseudonym of Tommy's beau when you guys "almost" went to Siargao last April (boo-hoo! too much details will kill me!)

Sanne Dee said...

This is a nice touch on our traditional costumes in ASEAN, bro. I was brought to another level of appreciation for this dress by your description. Almost mesmerising! Long 'Wai' to you.

Akihiro said...

you made it sound like the ao dai is the dress of choice in heaven.

how do you internalize when you write something like this? if i didn't know you, i would think that you are actually a vietnamese writing biased praises of this dress.

but lo and behold man! you are not a vietnamese! all i can say is WOW! you never fail to blow my mind dude!

curbside_puppet said...

there is something so enigmatic about the ao dai that is quite hard to explain. i guess it makes a woman look and feel confident yet vulnerable.

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