The four-part dress is not only a beautiful costume but also has very special meaning for Vietnamese women. Two front pieces and two behind ones represent the father and mother of her husband. A short piece acts as a bib symbolizing the parents holding their baby in their lap. Five seeds in proportion at five fixed positions keeping dress straight, discreet symbolize five human virtues: humanitarian, politeness, responsibility, wisdom, and trustworthiness. The two tied front pieces symbolize the love of wife and husband.
Áo Tứ Thân was the dress of peasant women, which explains why it was often made with plain fabric in dark colors, except when it was to be worn at special occasions such as festivals or weddings. (vietadventuretravel). As the costume for working class, ‘áo tứ thân’ was usually made from dark fabric to avoid getting dirty. (discover-halong) Usually women in the fields would wear this as they work.
Nowadays, the Áo Tứ Thân is no longer commonly used in the daily life of Vietnamese people; however, it remains an indispensable part of traditional festivals in northern Vietnam including Lim festival which celebrates the famous Bac Ninh Quan Ho folk songs. In this festival, female folk singers often wear this attire with “non quai thao”- a kind of conical hat with fringe hanging at both sides, “Khan Mo Qua”- a black crow’s beak kerchief made of heavy fabric and “guoc moc”- a pair of wooden clogs.
From a translated poem, visually describing what a girl looks like in her traditional outfit
“A small turban, the hanging tail still high,
This morning I wear peach bib straps
Satin pantaloons, a blouse of new silk gauze,
And carry a flat palm hat with fringes.
My mother smiles: “Father, Look!
On her feet, sandals with curved tips
Our daughter is beautiful, beautiful,
When will she be wed?”