In the feudal era of Vietnam’s history, it had strict rules on costumes. Costumes in Vietnam are very diverse and show social hierarchy. Clothes of normal civilians were simple and even trivial in brown or black. Mandarins and royal family wore much more sophisticated and luxurious ones. Particularly, the Kings wore special coats in golden – the color symbolizes for power and nobility.
In around 12th century, Vietnamese women wore “ao tu than” (four-panel traditional dress). “Ao tu than” consists of four panels in same or different colors (usually in brown, black, pink or light green). The dress goes with a bright pink or white “yem”, a “non quai thao” (“quai thao” traditional hat), a “khan mo qua” (crow’s beak kerchief) and “guoc moc” (wooden clogs). It had been most common in Northern Vietnam till 20th century. Nowadays, “ao tu than” is only used in special occasions such as wedding, traditional festivals, etc.
Since 18th century, Vietnamese peasants have worn “ao ba ba” (so-called “ao canh” in the North). “Ao ba ba” has a simple and versatile design which looks like a pajama. The shirt has long sleeves, buttons and two split flaps at the front. That costume is made of silk and can be any color (usually in white, black or brown). “Ao ba ba” is combined with a silk pant in black or same color with the shirt and “guoc moc”. In Northern Vietnam, women wear “khan mo qua” when using that costume and men combine it with a piece of cloth wrapped around their head. “Ao ba ba” was not only worn by peasants but also popular in the cities. At present, it’s still preferred by a part of Vietnamese with many stylized designs.
Also in 18th century, “ao dai” (Vietnamese long dress) emerged and was widely worn by both men and women. The dress covers the body from neck to knees and is split from the waist down. For female, “ao dai” is made from soft and colorful textile with many colors depending on the user’s age and preference. Moreover, they also wear “ao dai” with “non la” (leaf hat) or “khan dong” on the heads. For male, “ao dai” is simple designed and usually in black or purple. As its elegant beauty, “ao dai” is still very popular now in schools, offices and special occasions (wedding, festivals, etc). Furthermore, “ao dai” is considered as traditional costume of Vietnam and makes deep impression for tourists coming to Vietnam.
Beside these mentioned costumes, each of 54-ethnic community of Vietnam has their unique costumes which contributes a colorful puzzle to Vietnamese culture. Coming to Vietnam, travelers can catch a Thai in brocade, and many other ethnic groups in their traditional clothes.
Another blog: What to buy and shopping in Vietnam