Vietnamese ancient history has experienced countless periods associated with specific stages of cultural development, customs and habits, especially the impressive mark of Vietnamese women costumes, along with the unique custom of tooth blackening which eventually died out several decades ago.
1) Before the 20th century
Hung King period with Dong Son culture – Before the Han
Under the reign of Hung King, women usually wore short sleeves to the belly, splitted chest tops, tight in the body and inside dressed up with brassiere that decorated with rice paddies. There are also short sleeves, square neck, open shoulder and chest or close chest.
On the shirt are decorative patterns. The waist has three rows of dots decorated evenly round the belly. The patterns on Dong Son bronze drum or inscriptions on the bronze handle from this Vietnamese ancient history period shows that the Vietnamese costumes for women have been shaped clearly.
This is also the root of cultural identity expressed in the traditional costume of the Vietnamese today. Accordingly, both women’s and men’s outfits are distinguished, in that women’s outfits are more diverse and artistic.
The precursor of modern Ao dai and Vietnamese costume – the bun and the shirt fastened on the left – is also considered to have appeared from this period.
11th and 13th centuries – Ly Dynasty
As one of the most prosperous periods of the feudal dynasty, the Ly dynasty issued regulations on costumes to distinguish between the various classes of people and mandarins. The king also expressed the self-reliant spirit of the nation by not using silk and satin of the Song Dynasty to sew costumes but the domestic fabric materials.
The most striking feature of women clothing in this period is the development of a new level of decorative patterns. There are no longer simple and rudimentary images and replaced by the delicate twisted patterns, hooks, etc., elaborately sewn on costumes, expressing the meaningful harmony between nature and human life.
15th – 16th centuries – From Tran Dynasty to the Early Le Dynasty
Different clothing styles during the 16th and 17th century (Source: Google)
One of the most prominent contributions of the Tran dynasty was the defeat of the Mongolian invaders. Due to the continuous confrontation with powerful enemies, the concept of sacrificing everything for the country was always in the mind of the soldiers, affecting both the costume and aesthetic conception of the whole nation.
The traditional clothing of women in this Vietnamese ancient history period was divided into two stages. In the 13th to 15th centuries, the costume highlighted a wide sleeved blouse with a large collar and a brassiere inside. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the late Tran dynasty and early Le dynasty, the collar was sewn in a more discreet manner, with a rounded neck and neatly trimmed sleeves. However, colors were more sophisticated and eye catching.
15th – 16th centuries – Le Dynasty
Fashion styles of Le Dynasty Women (Source: Google)
It can be said that the Le period was the period of sublimation of Vietnamese women’s clothing when this period appeared so many different designs and models. In general, the Le dynasty costumes had a sophisticated design with many layers of gowns and eye-catching colors.
With much influence from Chinese culture, traditional Le dynasty dresses had not yet escaped the shadow of this powerful land. The clothes of Vietnamese women in the Le dynasty bore some similarities with the Chinese Hanfu gown with wide sleeves and a waistband that is used to hold the gown together. Due to the strong influence of Chinese culture, the outfit was not widely responded.
16th century – Mac Dynasty
The clothes of this dynasty were very close to the four-part dress of the village Vietnamese women in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the appearance of a “fashion trend” –having long hair andwearing a long four-part dresswith round neck
Even more fashionable, aristocratic women also brought to the costumes the colorful stripes down the legs, contributing to the graceful and elegant beauty. Jewelry was also more diverse in style and color, with round and flat bracelets , eye-catching and beautiful gourd-shaped or lotus-shaped earrings.
17th – 18th centuries – the late Le Dynasty
Colorful layers and shapes of Vietnamese costumes during 17th – 18th centuries (Source: Google)
Under the sovereignty of the late Le Dynasty, different styles of clothing and traditional dresses had made its first impressive appearance during this period in Vietnamese ancient history. The typical costumes of women of the post-Le dynasty were designed in a discreet way with many colorful layers and the most outstanding part of the outfit was the wide sleeves. The maid’s outfit had a round neck, short or long sleeves, single or layered skirts.
18th century – Post-Le Dynasty – Tay Son
Tay Son women’s clothing was quite sophisticated with elaborate embroidery and sewing, and especially women’s dresses were similar to military uniforms because instead of dresses, they wear pants. In the early 19th century, women were banned from wearing skirts because of the so-called vulgarity.
19th century – Nguyen Dynasty
The social life during this period had a significant influence on the costumes of the people. While the costumes of the ruling class were increasingly and ridiculously mixed with half-season reform, the traditional dresses such as Ao dai, four-part dress (áo tứ thân), kerchief (to be tired in a triangle on the forehead) and so on , had become the breath and cultural convergence of the whole nation.
Meanwhile, the “yếm” – a traditional Vietnamese bodice used as an undergarment– crossed the barrier of royal palaces to appear in the daily activities of Vietnamese women when working on the fields or participating in festivals. Furthermore, the introduction of Western fashion with wide tutus and modern dresses was gradually favored by young aristocrats, including Queen Nam Phuong – who preferred wearing Western costumes and was one of the most gorgeous wearers of this style.
2) After the 20th century
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ao dai began to become an indispensable costume in Vietnamese social life, from queens and princesses in royal palaces wearing Ao dai which were hand-designated with luxurious silk and gold embroidery, to the commoners dressing up for school, work and supermarket.
Ao Dai Le Mur finished off with a conical hat (Source: Google)
For a long time in the 19-20 century, Ao dai had become a kind of casual clothes for both men and women in Vietnam. Having undergone many historical changes, along with the introduction of Western fashion trends, Ao dai has been innovated based on a certain trend.
However, in any reforms or changes during Vietnamese ancient history, from Ao dai “Le Mur”, waist chiffon dress or boat neck based on the trend of Tran Le Xuan to the long dresses near the ground as today, Ao dai has never failed to show the unmistakable ability that not many types of costumes can do: enhance the body shape and attractive beauty of Vietnamese women.
- Learn about the revolution of Vietnamese men’s clothing over the past century.