Today, the áo dài is significant for being a major part of Vietnam’s national traditional and formal wear. As part of its widespread usage as a traditional wear, its variants in colors have acquired their own meanings, especially within traditional events such as marriages ceremonies. Part of this development was driven through the áo dài’s rise to prominence via national and international pageants. It has also become more common to see áo dài in popular media as the áo dài’s renown has increased on the national stage.
In the present day, áo dài designers have begun to experiment with more new designs, approaches, and materials for áo dài to accommodate for modern life. This includes experimenting with indigenous patterns, usage of culottes and skirts in lieu of the quần and more.
It is common to see the áo dài as a uniform of some sorts in various capacities in Vietnam. For example, many secondary schools in Vietnam have white áo dài as the uniform for girls. Alternatively, some Vietnamese airlines such as Vietnam Airlines have áo dài as part of their uniform as well.
White áo dài represents youth and purity, and has since been used as a common school uniform for female students.
Red symbolizes happiness, fortune, and good luck. It is common to see this used for Tết, weddings, and other events in order to bring in good luck for new events.
Pastel colors tend to be increasingly used as unmarried women grow older, retaining the pure notion that white would represent. In contrast, stronger shades tend to be worn by married women.
At Vietnamese weddings, the bride tends to wear a red áo dài, and the groom tends to wear an áo gấm, a thicker verison of an áo dài. These áo dài are embroidered with gold patterns and symbols to bring good luck. Furthermore, both tend to wear khăn đóng that match in color to their áo dài. The bridesmaids tend to wear pink or other bright pastel áo dài, and the groomsmen tend to wear black or blue áo dài that are simpler than the to be wedded couple.
Pageants have been influential in growing the national prominence of the áo dài in Vietnam, and now are a common place for áo dài designs to be showcased. The history of this stems to the early to mid 1990s where the first Miss Áo Dài Beauty Contest was held in Saigon (1989), and later the Áo Dài winning “Best National Costume” at the Miss International Pageant in 1995. This award resulted in increased international prominence, and it is now increasingly common to see in Vietnamese communities pageants that feature Áo Dài.