Costumes,  Local Guide

Thiết Lập Tailor – Saigon “Witch of the curve”

For decades, Áo Dài has been seen as one of the biggest symbols of the Vietnamese, especially for the ladies. The fame of Áo Dài does not simply come from such distinctive and elegant look it showcases, but also from the long-lasting story behind it. Having a South Vietnam culture tour to Saigon, many of the outlander visitors are so down for a set of tailor-made Áo Dài as a type of souvenir. However, getting to know where to head to is actually a big problem. Today, we are taking you to the most famous Áo Dài tailor shop in Saigon which has been around for over 60 years.

The origin of Áo Dài

Áo Dài derived from an older fashion icon of the feudal time, which is known as Áo Giao Lãnh, a popular four-tail outfit during the XVII century. As time goes by, the initial shape of Áo Dài has been gradually formed and regarded as an iconic fashionista amongst Saigonese ladies in the 60s and 70s of the XX century.


Saigonese ladies in the past (Source: Google)

For the time being, most native females choose Áo Dài as their biggest fashion alternative followed by the miniskirt and other European creations. During this time, Áo Dài would be witnessed in almost every single corner of life, at school with the flappy white silk, ball nights with the stunning gaudy cloth or even in the middle of a hectic wet markets when Áo Dài could not go without the presence of Nón Lá, a traditional conical hat made from palm leaves. Ever since Áo Dài and Nón Lá got paired together, the two quickly becomes the most emblematic image of not only South Vietnam culture, but also the rest of Vietnam in general.


Áo Dài and Nón Lá (Source: Google)

Thiết Lập – a “Saigon Witch” has been living her heyday for over 6 decades

Thiết Lập is one of the very first tailor shops successfully set the base and brought Áo Dài to its highest rank on the chart of Saigon fashion back in the 50s of the last century. As of now, Thiết Lập family has been around for three generations, and a proud brand “Witch of the curve” is still something undeniable.


Thiết Lập tailor shop (Source: Google)

One of the most sought-after Áo Dài tailor shops in the second half of the XX century was Thiết Lập, now found at 268 Bis Pasteur, District 3. Until now, Thiết Lập has been preserving its fame for roughly 64 years.

As shared by Nguyễn Văn Vinh, a third successor reaching his 50s, what makes a proper look of an Áo Dài is the combination of small belt waist, loose lappets with a good amount of drooping. Other than these, regarding designation, a good tailor is expected to add in various styles, such as halter, jewel, square, round, scoop, turtle, heart, lotus leaf and boat. Amongst those listed, the traditional turtleneck remains as the ladies’ all-time favorite.


The measurement of Áo Dài (Source: Google)

The first generation of Thiét Lập family is basically Northerners who fled South looking for a new life. Coming to Saigon, with a big passion to open an Áo Dài store, the couple had searched in details both the East Asian and European female body shapes in order to come up with the finest ratio.

After only two years of learning, Thiết Lập became a big sensation in the contemporary field of fashion with its elegant and painstaking cut lines, along with the standard curve and form, Thiết Lập successfully brought a new breath of steaminess yet maintained a traditional Oriental discretion of the old Saigonese women.


Saigon school girls in the 60s (Source: Google)

However, that is not the only factor keeping the brand of Thiết Lập for ages. Thiết Lập’s dresses were soon preferred by many female celebrities and hence became the biggest dream in the hearts of Saigon girls at the time. The magic behind this Witch of Saigon comes from its own magic trick of turning a big-sized body into a smaller look and vice versa.

Apparently, in order to get a good set of Áo Dài made by Thiết Lập, customers may need to toss a worthy amount of money. Vinh Nguyễn told his fans that Thiết Lập is not coming up with a fixed price for a set. Obviously, it depends on each body curve, shape, material and the situation each customer aims at putting on the Áo Dài for.


Áo Dài today (Source: Google)

If you ever come over Thiết Lập for an order, you may be asked to leave the shop leaving your deal price in secret. Talking about such rule to be beheld, Vinh Nguyễn explained that given agreement preserves each customer’s information as an utmost confidentiality, and ever since, Saigon locals have spread a word-of-mouth admission: “Only the well-off are able to have their dress done by Thiết Lập”.

This Witch of the curve is still there after full of ups and downs for a good reason. A big brand will never die, and that is the reason why you should not forget Thiết Lập in your South Vietnam culture tour to Saigon.

Yennie Nguyen

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