Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     copyright 1996, Vn-families

Issue #6. Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, Vietnam 
Bulletin February 8, 1971.

This is a set of reprints from the Vietnam Bulletin, a weekly 
publication by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, during the 
period from 1967 to 1975. The original articles were not copyrighted. 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
Please direct all questions to [email protected]
Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118 -
           Jan 24, 1996.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118 - Jan 31, 1996.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118 -
           Feb 7, 1996.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
           VB710208- Feb 14, 1996
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208 -
           Feb 21, 1996
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
           - Feb 28, 1996
This article is about the male counterpart of the female ao-dai. While I
remember it being worn in certain traditional ceremonies  by officials
of the government of the RVN, as far as I remember, I have never seen it
worn by officials of the SRVN. It is probably because of its association
with the old Empire of VN. This is unlike the female ao-dai that is now
worn at public ceremonies and even by the female newscasters in VN.
By the way, any reference to "today" in this article means 1971!

                          By Van Ngan

Saigon (MF) � A revived interest in the national Vietnamese dress for 
men was demonstrated at an Lions International Club meeting held in 
Tokyo in 1969. The assembled Lions, along with thousands of Japanese 
observers on the streets and perhaps millions more at their television 
sets, were treated to a look at the Vietnamese national dress worn by 
the Vietnamese Lion delegates.

This was the first time Vietnamese men have worn their national dress at 
an international gathering since the fall of the late President Diem in 
November 1963. Before that time it was not unusual for Vietnamese 
diplomats to appear at official functions in their national attire. In 
Tokyo, however, the "fashion models" were private business men, 
delegates to the Lions meeting.

Anyone who has seen the exquisite costumes worn by Vietnamese women will 
recognize similarities in the traditional dress of the male. Both 
costumes are tailored from the same fabric, worn with the conventional 
snug collar and buttoned down on the 1eft side to the waist, with no 
crease in front or back. The male dress extends only to the knees. The 
female dress flows with graceful lines from a tight waist down to the 

The national Vietnamese dress has preserved its essential features 
through the ages. Vietnamese take great pride in wearing this dress for 
it is part of their nation, their history and their culture. It is part 
of Vietnamese social customs which includes respect for superiors, 
dignitaries and relatives. Elders in the family continue to receive this 
recognition as did once emperors, mandarins and court teachers, all of 
whom had traditional dress variations according to their status in 
Vietnamese society.

There are many variations on the basic theme. At the top of the list is 
the elaborate dress of the emperor and the mandarins. Their rank was 
shown in the display of color in the brocade and embroideries. Gold 
brocade with embroidered dragons was for the emperor only. Gold is the 
national color and the dragon heads the fabulous mythical animal world. 
Purple is the color reserved for high-ranking court mandarins, while 
blue is for those of lower rank.

Costumes worn for religious ceremonies also have their special colors. 
Dresses for ceremonial occasions usually have very wide and ample 
sleeves. Wedding dresses are similar to the popular fashions, and the 
color is usually purple or blue brocade. Dresses for mourning have 
frayed fringes or a line up the back and may be either black or white in 

Vietnamese dress styles underwent changes since the beginning of French 
influence in the country. Many Vietnamese employed by the French had a 
tendency to look down upon those who continued to wear the traditional 
dress. European styles were popular mainly among civil servants and 
university students. The majority of people, especially those in the 
rural areas, remained faithful to their national dress and it even 
became a symbol of silent opposition to French colonialism. During the 
colonial war against the French from I945 to I954, many people concealed 
their social status. The revolutionaries wore black, those who were pro-
French wore western clothes while others wore the simple pajama-type 
shirt and trousers. Following independence the traditional dress came 
back into its own and was once again the required attire for all ranking 
officials at government ceremonies or functions of the diplomatic corps.

When President Diem was overthrown in 1963, the national dress was so 
closely identified with his administration that it sank with him into 
oblivion. This neglect, however, was not officially inspired but rather 
a reflection of political turmoil, frequent government changes and 
resulting chaos. Today, there is serious thought to restore the 
Vietnamese national dress for men to its traditional and rightful place, 
for it is a symbol of pride in the cultural heritage of an ancient and 
proud Asian land.