Ao Ba Ba (Vietnamese Silk Pajama)
“Chiếc áo bà ba trên dòng sông thăm thẳm
Thấp thoáng con xuồng bé nhỏ lướt mong manh
Nón lá đội nghiêng tóc dài con nước đổ
Hậu Giang ơi em vẫn đẹp ngàn đời…”
(“Vietnamese Silk Pajama is on the very deep and long river,
Appearing and disappearing alternately, the slim and small boat glides.
With palm-leaf conical hat worn, long hair like a stream,
Hau Giang river is beautiful forever…”)
Vietnamese woman in Ao Ba Ba rows sampan on Mekong Delta river
Above is a part of the most beautiful song about Vietnamese Silk Pajama. Composed by famous compositor Tran Thien Thanh, the song has drawn a romantic picture of the Mekong Delta woman wearing South Vietnamese Pajama and praise for the beauty of countryside in South Vietnam. Vietnamese Silk Pajama is the most popular style in Mekong Delta and other rural areas in South Vietnam before 1975. Although fashion trends have changed over the years, traditional Ao Ba Ba is considered as the symbol of Vietnamese beauty besides Ao Dai.
There are many stories about origin of Ao Ba Ba. The most popular story is about a hawker selling and buying goods around the world. One day, he came to Malaysia and met a group of people called Ba Ba wearing beautiful and tidy clothes. He brought these clothes to Cai Mon village, Ben Tre province in Mekong Delta, locals called them Ao Ba Ba. Since then, Ao Ba Ba has become more and more popular in South Vietnam.
Ao Ba Ba is worn as a top and bottom set consists of a shirt and a pair of pants made from silk. The silk shirt has long sleeves, button-down collar, scooped neck and 2 rectangle pockets. The back flap is a piece of cloth and the front flap consists of two pieces. In the middle of the front flap, there is a line of buttons running from top to bottom. Ao Ba Ba shirt is wide at the waist, it covers the buttock and splits at two sides of the waist. The front flap has two big pockets which are used to carry small items such as plain tobacco, matches, money… Being split on 2 sides and without collar, the shirt is comfortable to wear. Because of the usability and comfort, both male and female like to wear Ao Ba Ba during day and night. It is worn at home, at work, at market places.
Before 1960, rich men had usually worn white silk Ao Ba Ba sets. Rich omen had usually worn purple, light blue or pink silk Ao Ba Ba. They had usually worn with white silk pants. Since 1960, being influenced by Western culture, rich men had gradually worn modern clothes. However, many rich women had still worn Ao Ba Ba sets until 1975. Poor people usually wore sets which have brown or black color and were weaved by rude cloth. To go out, they often choose lighter colors.
Vietnamese people in the countryside still wear Ao Ba Ba
Since the 1960s, Ao Ba Ba for women was designed more beautifully and modernly. It hasn’t straight and wide as before, but fit body to show woman’s beauty in a very different way. In addition, designers also created more types of collars such as lotus leaf collar, swallow wing collar, heart collar… They also made raglan Ao Ba Ba style with patched sleeves. Some people like Ao Ba Ba shirt without pockets to make themselves more elegant.
The image of Ao Ba makes people think about simple and kind rural women in Vietnamese countryside. It symbolizes for gentle soul and beauty of Vietnamese people. Coming to Vietnam, if you have chance to visit the countryside in the South of the country, you will see a peaceful scene of locals wearing Ao Ba Ba, conical hats and checkered scarf working on paddy fields. Nowadays, although Vietnamese people don’t wear Ao Ba Ba on normal days, we still wear them at traditional festivals and teach our children about this beautiful part of Vietnamese culture.
A set of Ao Ba Ba for men
A set of Ao Ba Ba for women