The Áo Dài gown is a gown that, when worn, has two flaps, one in the front and the back, with any buttons and fasteners being kept to the upper body in order to allow free movement of the legs. While the length of the gown has traditionally extended to the ankles, it has varied over time. Examples of this include Áo Dài Hippy and Áo Dài Mini.
It is common for áo dài to be custom-made to fit and is traditionally made of silk, albeit, some modern áo dài have been exploring other materials such as chiffon, lace, or even other fabric patterns stemming from other cultures such as Thai or Muslim. Additionally, it has become more common for the fabric to embellished with embroidery, beading, and other patterns.
The color of this gown does have symbolic meaning, with different colors having different meanings, which will be discussed later.
Traditionally, the collar of the áo dài used is the mandarin collar, a flat band that goes around the neck, almost like a shirt collar.
However, during the 1950s and 60s, Madame Nhu, popularized the notion of the boatnecked, or collarless, áo dài. These styles attempt to highlight the neck of the wearer.
The way that you put on an áo dài is to fasten from the front. Traditionally, áo dài’s top five buttons here meant to represent the five cardinal virtues: humaneness, righteousness, proper rite, knowledge, and integrity.
The sleeves are sewed on at the shoulder in order to minimize wrinkles in the upper body area. This was introduced in the mid-20th century, and was done to improve the form of the Áo Dài.
A popular style of pants worn with áo dài is the white Quần Xéo, or bias-cut pants. These pants are made such that they are tight at the hip, but loose at the ankles. The effect is that the wearer’s feet can be “half hidden in the billowy folds of [their] pants.”
A key part of the evolution of the áo dài is how the fit of the waistline and pants have been modified over time.
Originally loose-fitting, the áo dài has been been tightened from its predecessor garment, the áo ngũ thân, so that the flaps are more narrow and clothing around the torso tightened.
Essentially a long strip of cloth, woven tightly to form a turban, these are now made such that one does not need to wind it when taking it on or off. This is used primarily at traditional and formal events such as weddings.
Also called a rice/farmers hat, this is conical hat originally used to block out the sun. Often times these are composed of dried bamboo leaves woven around a frame.