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A Guide to Ao dai - Vietnamese Traditional Dress

vietnamese-ao-dai-Southern-Women-Museum Ao dai through the centuries

From time to time, Ao dai (pronounced: ‘ow yai’) has always been a representative of Vietnamese femininity and the pride of Vietnamese people. The image of Vietnamese women wearing Ao dai has left a beautiful impression on many travelers around the world who visit Vietnam. There are so many things to talk about Ao dai, but in this post, we will share with you some highlights about this Vietnamese traditional dress.

What is Ao dai?

vietnamese ao dai history

"Ao tu than" or "ao ngu than" (long robes with many layers) are deemed to be origins of ao dai

Ao dai is a 2-piece garment made of fabric with a long-sleeved dress and ankle-reached trousers. It is also considered as an everything-covered but nothing-hidden outfit thanks to its skintight form. Each Ao dai usually fits for one person alone, so most Vietnamese ladies get their own custom-made Ao dai for their shape of the body and favorite style.

vietnamese ao dai ao dai museum hcm

A royal version of ao dai

No one knows for sure the evolution of Ao dai since ancient times but the time marking a dress that the most similar to the Ao dai's today first appeared is in the early 18th century in the Nguyen Dynasty. The King commanded that both men and women should wear both pants and gowns. The gown must have wrist-length sleeves and a tall collar. Gradually, it became more and more familiar with the daily life of Vietnamese people and turned to a signature of Vietnam. It showcases charm, enchantment, and glamour.

How to Make Ao dai - Vietnamese Traditional Dress

Ao dai is unique not only in the way it looks but also in the way it is made. To make this traditional dress fit you the best, you need a tailor to sew your own creations after measuring your height, bust, waist, and hip size. The male version of Ao dai is also done in a similar way, but the sleeves and the body of the gown are much looser and not skin-tight.

vietnamese ao dai ao dai museum hcm wedding

Male and female ao dai in traditional Vietnamese weddings

Because Ao dai has 2 different parts which are the long gown and the trousers reaching all the way to the ground, the process of making Ao dai is complicated and may take a certain time to finish. A U-shaped stand collar is usually added at the end. But recently, women like to wear the type with no collar to show a bit of their shoulders. The tailoring skills are required in how to make the Vietnamese traditional dress not only fit one's body but also not wrinkling when you put it on.

Because the weather in Vietnam is quite hot all year round, the material used to make Ao dai should be thin, light and comfortable. It also creates a soft and gentle feeling for the dress. There are many such materials like silk, brocade, satin, and sometimes an added layer of lace, voile, and embroidery.

Find out more about Vietnamese Silk

When to Wear Ao dai

vietnamese ao dai holiday

Women wearing colorful ao dai to take photos during the Tet holiday

Up-to-date, the Ao dai is not as popular it as used to be, but it is still a symbol of this country, people wear it when there is a special occasion such as Vietnamese Tet, family reunion, or formal ceremonies like weddings and graduation day. Some high schools still require girl students to wear the white Ao dai on Monday morning. If you have a chance to pass by a high school on Monday morning, you may see the image of girl students dressed in long white gowns cycling on the streets.

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How to Wear Ao dai

To wear the Ao dai, you can dress it up like a shirt but with the line of snap buttons and end with a small hook on the right side. It may cause some difficulty for the first time trying, our suggestion is asking for a hand when you clothe yourself. Wearing a pair of trousers should be easier because it usually has a zipper and a small hook as fasteners.

There are several accessories that can get along well with Ao dai to embody this outfit such as the Non la (Vietnamese conical hat), the paper fan, and the Khan dong or Man (a type of headwear made by winding a long stipe of clothing tightly). You will usually see both men and women wear Khan dong with Ao dai, especially on their wedding day.

Where to Buy Ao dai

Since Ao dai is custom-made and hand-made, the price of one set is not low. It should start at about VND 500,000 if you bring your own fabric to the store, and about VND 800,000 for both fabric and the making fee. There are many things you can customize with Ao dai from the material to the patterns on it, so the price of Ao dai also varies on a large range to even millions of VND.


As an old town in Vietnam, Hanoi has many famous stores making the traditional dress of Vietnam.

  • Tien Trach - 15 Hang Chuoi, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Thanh Mai - one shop at 428 Bach Mai, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi and the other at 275 Cau Giay, Cau Giay District, Hanoi
  • Phan Hai - 43 Le Van Huu, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi

Find more Tailors in Hanoi

Hoi An

The "FedEx" tailor service in Hoi An has made its way to an article on Forbes. You can choose the fabric, design it, get body measurements, and have it done in only a few hours. You can walk around town and find many tailor shops on Hoi An streets like Tran Phu and Le Loi.

In Ho Chi Minh City

There are so many different kinds of fabric with various patterns to choose from for your Ao dai that you can find easily in Tan Dinh Market, Soai Kinh Lam Market, and Ben Thanh Market or some of the stores below:

  • Dong Khoi, District 1 with numerous of tailors and silk stores
  • Nhat Nguyet: 28 Mac Dinh Chi, District 1
  • Huong Collection: 67 Thu Khoa Huan, District 1
  • Nice Silk: 237 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
  • ABC AoZai Fabric Shop: 19 Ly Chinh Thang Street, District 3

See Where to Find Tailors in Ho Chi Minh City

You can also find some ready-made Ao dai in these shops above. One of the Ao dai in trend now is Ao dai cach tan (which means the new Ao dai). Its gown is cut short to knee-length; the collar can be U-shaped or none at all; its shape is not too body-tight, and you can wear it with many kinds of ankle-length trousers like silk or jeans.

vietnamese ao dai ao dai museum hcm 2

To learn more about ao dai, you can also visit the Ao dai Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

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Summary of A Guide to Ao dai - Vietnamese Traditional Dress

Ao dai is a Vietnamese traditional costume that can symbolize the essence of Vietnamese people and life. Although the globalization and adaption of both economy and culture keep spreading out, Ao dai remains the same value that cannot be faded. It is at the same time a symbol and a storyteller being side by side with this country to behold all the priceless moments of history. Anyone who loves fashion should give Ao dai a try when visiting Vietnam because it is a great souvenir from a trip to Vietnam.

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Guest - Orlando on Wednesday, 02 October 2019 21:36

A very nice article on the beautiful dresses

A very nice article on the beautiful dresses
Guest - marknvy on Wednesday, 26 December 2018 08:21

Interesting information, thank you.

Interesting information, thank you.
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