Piece of the week

Ellimay Rodriguez-Mujica | The Spectrum

How time shaped the Ao Dai

This week on Piece of the Week is the Ao Dai, a Vietnamese garment. The Ao Dai consists of a brocaded floor-length tunic with two slits along either side, a form-fitting bodice, and loose-fitting black satin pants. It was gifted to the collection by Shirley Friend McAlister in 2008.

The Ao Dai is a traditional Vietnamese ensemble introduced to the region during the 1740s by Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat. During its introductory period, both men and women wore Ao Dai in a variety of colors. Since its introduction in the 1740s, the Ao Dai has been treasured in the homes of many Vietnamese. Today, it is worn primarily by women and has been called the national dress of Vietnam.

The modern use of the Ao Dai resulted from its advancement during the 1930s. Vietnamese designer Cat Tuong lengthened the tunic further and had it hug the body rather than hang loosely. The compression of the bodice to display curves in the traditional tunic is thought of as a combination of Western and traditional styles. By the 1950s and 1960s, Vietnamese women were accustomed to the tight-fitting bodice and decided to extend the collars even higher, marking the second modification to modern Ao Dai.

The appearance of the Ao Dai in films during the 1990s furthered the appeal of the garment by Western audiences. The films, Indochine consist of Ao Dais created by French designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud and The Lover has Ao Dais crafted by Vietnamese born designer, Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle. Each designer incorporated the tight-fitting, high collared Ao Dai from the 1960s. The popularity of the Ao Dai reached a peak in Western fashion in 2008 when Prada incorporated the Ao Dai into their Spring/Summer collection.

In modern times, the garment is worn regularly by Vietnamese women and tourists in Vietnam. The practicality and history of the garment have made it a favorite among natives of the country. The continual use and advancement of the Ao Dai underscore the importance of tradition through clothing for many cultures.

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