Vietnam’s Beautiful Ao Dai

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Liz Waid and Colin Lowther tell about the history of Vietnam’s traditional clothing – the Ao Dai. It has developed and changed throughout Vietnam’s history.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1 

Vu Ngoc Anh stands on a performance stage. Bright lights shine on her from above. Hundreds of people are watching her. They are interested in her beautiful clothing. She is wearing a kind of traditional Vietnamese clothing called an Ao Dai or Ao Dai.

Voice 2 

Ngoc Anh walks slowly across the stage. Her Ao Dai moves gently side to side. This is because it is made of soft silk – a light, flowing material. The Ao Dai is two pieces of clothing. The bottom part is loose trousers or pants. The top is a long, fitted shirt or gown. Ngoc Anh’s trousers are white. Her gown is a golden, yellow color. It covers her arms, down to her wrists. And it fits tightly around her chest and neck. It is long and hangs almost to the ground. The gown is split at the sides. It opens on the sides from her waist to the floor. As Ngoc Anh walks across the floor, she looks as if she is floating.

Voice 1 

On that night, Vu Ngoc Anh won the 2012 Miss Vietnam Ao Dai competition. The judges thought she looked the most beautiful in her Ao Dai. It is a great honor to achieve the title “Miss Ao Dai”. This is because the Ao Dai is more than just traditional Vietnamese clothing. It is a symbol of the history and beauty of the Vietnamese culture and people. Today’s Spotlight is on the Vietnamese Ao Dai.

Voice 2 

The Ao Dai has a long history in Vietnam. Experts believe forms of the Ao Dai have existed for hundreds of years. It is part of Vietnamese identity. But that does not mean it has stayed the same. The people making Ao Dais have used their designs to react to changes in culture. At different times, French or Chinese culture has influenced Ao Dai designs. Sometimes people changed their designs to be more like other cultures. At other times, people designed Ao Dais to show that Vietnam was a free and independent country.

Voice 1 

During the 1930s, one of the most famous designers was Nguyen Cat Tuong. He was also known as Le Mur in French. He made a new design that was particularly for women. He was influenced by some of the new French clothing. But what he designed was not French. Instead, it was a new, modern version of the Ao Dai. Before, the Ao Dai was loose and plain. But the new design was more fitted.

Voice 2 

This modern Ao Dai became very popular in parts of Vietnam from 1960-1975. After 1975, Vietnamese women did not wear the Ao Dai as often. The Vietnamese economy was struggling. Most people did not think paying for a nice Ao Dai was necessary.

Voice 1 

However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Ao Dai  became popular again. In 1989, a Ho Chi Minh City newspaper began the first “Miss Ao Dai” competition. Sixteen thousand people attended the competition. But this was only the beginning of the Ao Dai’s new popularity. From Ho Chi Minh City, Miss Ao Dai competitions spread around the world. They went to places like Long Beach, California in the United States and the city of Toronto, in Canada. Today, there are many countries that have large populations of Vietnamese immigrants. When these people moved out of Vietnam, they brought the Ao Dai with them.

Photo by Héctor J. Rivas
Voice 2 

Originally, each woman’s Ao Dai was made just for her. Ao Dai makers sewed each Ao Dai using only a sharp needle, thread and her hands. A woman visited her Ao Dai maker many times to make sure her Ao Dai fit perfectly. Today, factories produce Ao Dais in large numbers. These Ao Dais are sold in Vietnam and around the world. The export of the Ao Dai has influenced global clothing designers as far away as Paris, France and New York City.

Voice 1 

Even now the Ao Dai continues to change. Women want different things from their clothing. They want to keep the Ao Dai. But they want to react to changes in global clothing as well. Still, wearing the Ao Dai has special meaning. Kimlai Yingling is a Vietnamese American writer. On her website, she explained what the Ao Dai meant to her as a child.

Voice 3 

“I remember when I was a little girl. I would walk into my mom and dad’s rooms. Behind the door hung long pieces of fabric. I knew these beautiful pieces of material were going to be made into Ao Dais…I remember staring up at my mom when she wore her Ao Dai. I would think how beautiful she looked. I could not wait until I could have an Ao Dai for myself.”

Voice 2 

We asked Vietnamese Spotlight listeners when Vietnamese women wear the Ao Dai. Listener Cong Le explained,

Voice 4 

“Women usually wear the Ao Dai during official holiday celebrations.”

Voice 2 

Listener Trinh Hoang said,

Voice 5 

“I think all women in Vietnam wear the Ao Dai at least one time – when they get married.”

Voice 2 

And Nguyen Tran told us,

Voice 6 

“When I studied in high school, I wore the Ao Dai six days each week.”

Voice 1 

In Vietnam, women wear many different colors of Ao Dai. Usually younger women wear light colors. And older women wear darker or bolder colors. Spotlight listener Tuan Anh Nguyen explained,

Voice 7 

“Every different Ao Dai color and design shows the beauty and character of the person wearing it. For example, students wear a white Ao dai. This shows purity, innocence, and young beauty. A woman may wear a pink Ao dai at her wedding, when she marries. This shows graceful beauty.”

Photo by Rod Long
Voice 2 

The Ao Dai continues to be popular in Vietnam. And people in Vietnam are proud to share the Ao Dai with people around the world. As Tuan Anh writes,

Voice 7 

“The Ao Dai is the pride of the nation. It is the pride of every woman, every time she puts it on.”

Voice 1 

Have you ever seen an Ao Dai? Does your country have any special clothing? Tell us about it. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2 

The writers of this program were Robin Basselin and Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Vietnam’s Beautiful Ao Dai’.

Voice 1 

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What is the traditional clothing in your country? Have you ever seen an Ao Dai? Write your answer in the comments below.

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