Vietnamese wedding dresses have a long history steeped it Vietnamese tradition. It is important to understand the national Vietnamese dress before exploring the wedding dress. For both women and men, the national dress of Vietnam is called “Ao Dai” – for every day wear and for special occasions.
Ao Dai means “long dress”. Early versions comprised of 4 to 5 panels of silky, flowing fabric, layered over loose-fitting trousers of the same material. The number of layers usually signified the wealth of the person wearing it – the more panels or layers, the more wealth. Some of the very wealthy would even wear more than one ao dai at the same time.
Presently, most ao dai consist of only two pieces – a dress worn over loose silk pants, the dress varying in length from just below the knee to the ground. The dress consists of two to four panels, has a well-fitted bodice and is split on the sides from the waist down. Early versions had buttons up the front or side, but in recent years, the seams run diagonally from the neckline to the underarm and seem to be the preferred style.
The necklines usually vary between two styles – the “boat” or the “mandarin” style. The “boat” style is more open, off the neck and preferred in warmer climates. The “mandarin” style is a high stiff collar – the length of the collar depending on the person wearing it. Sometimes, the collar is formed by the many layers (or colors) of the ao dai – as many as seven at once. Occasionally, a low-scooped neck style will be worn, but these are less common. Most ao dai are custom tailored, made to fit each individual body. Some of the lesser quality ao dai are now being mass produced, but they are less fitted and designed.
Colors vary with the ao dai now, but originally were indicative of a person’s age and social status. Schoolgirls continue to wear solid white, symbolizing their purity. As a girl ages, she begins wearing soft pastels. The bolder colors are reserved for married and mature women.
For her wedding, the bride wears an outer robe (the ao choang) over the ao dai to create a more formal look. Red is considered the marriage gown color, although bright pink may also be used. At times, gold silk trims the ao dai and/or the ao choang. Unique trimmings are often painted or embroidered on the garment. The couple’s names, Chinese characters or beautiful images are used as trimmings along the collar, cuff or back.
The bride’s head is adorned with a matching headpiece, either the non la (a cone-shaped hat made from dried, woven leaves) or the khanh vanh. Many say this most popular style resembles a flying saucer.
During the wedding day, the bride and groom may change their clothes as many as three or four times – from a western-style wedding gown and white tuxedo, to the ao dai for both the bride and groom, to formal evening gown and black tuxedo.
Overall, the ao dai is a graceful, stately costume, flattering to almost any figure. It has become a popular garment in western culture as well, with numerous internet sites available for ordering ao dai – as a custom made or a pre-made dress.
Ao Dai Is Graceful National Dress of Vietnamese Women, My Tho, Tien Giang, Vietnam Photographic Poster Print by Stu Smucker, 30x40