History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress) has long been a traditional costume and a typical cultural feature of the Vietnamese people. Through each period of historical development, ao dai has been constantly changing but still ensures the traditional gentle beauty of Vietnamese women. Let’s look back at each of the developmental stages of this unique costume.

Giao Linh Ao Dai

Up to now, no researchers can accurately determine the history of Ao Dai and the time of appearance of Ao Dai. According to the Chinese, Ao Dai came from Cheongsam, but Cheongsam only appeared in 1920 and Ao Dai appeared thousands of years ago.

Giao Linh Ao Dai Vietnam - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)- History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

The image of a Vietnamese woman in an Ao Dai is recorded in French documents.

Giao Linh Ao Dai Vietnam

Giao Linh Ao Dai is the first Ao Dai style in Vietnam.

Giao Linh Ao Dai (1744) is the most primitive design of the Ao Dai. Giao Linh Ao Dai is also known as the Doi Linh Ao Dai, sewn wide, split into 2 flaps: front flap and back flap (each flap is combined by 2 pieces fabrics), wide sleeves, dress’s body long to heels. It is worn with a colored belt and a black skirt. This dress has a cross-collar type the same as Tu Than Ao Dai.

Tu Than Ao Dai or Vietnamese long dress of 4 flaps (17th century)

According to researchers and artists at Ao Dai museums, for convenience in working of women, Tu Than Ao Dai is sewn to separate the two front flaps to tie together, and the two back flaps are sewn together.
4 flaps represent 4 virtues of an East Asea woman: Cong (the art of sewing, cooking), Dung (clean, neat appearance), Ngon (polite speech), Hanh (gentleness).

Tu Than Ao Dai in Vietnam - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Ao Dai of Tu Than is kept at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

Ngu Than Ao Dai or the five-flap Vietnamese long dress (Gia Long Dynasty, 1802-1820)

On the basis of Tu Than Ao Dai, by the time of King Gia Long, Ngu Than Ao Dai appeared. 2 front flaps are sewn together, and 2 behind flaps are, too. Especially, there is more a small flap hidden inside. This dress style is sewn widely, having a collar, and was very popular until the early twentieth century. The dress represented the status of the wearer in society. The aristocratic mandarin class often wore a Ngu Than Ao Dai to distinguish it from the working classes in society in the present.

Ngu Than Ao Dai in Vietnam

The five-flap Vietnamese long dress in Gia Long Dynasty.

Lemur Ao Dai

Lamur Ao Dai’s style was transformed from Ao Dai Ngu Than created by painter Cat Tuong in 1939. Lamur Ao Dai is named after her French name. The dress has only two front and back flaps and is sewn close to the body. The sleeves are straight and with small hems, and buttons are placed on the side to add femininity. The style prevailing until 1943 was forgotten.

Ao Dai Lemur in Vietnam - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Ao Dai Lemur in Vietnam.

Le Pho Ao Dai

This is a combination between Tu Than Ao Dai and Lamur Ao Dai by painter Le Pho, so it is called Le Pho Ao Dai. She reduced the size of the Ao Dai to fit the body of a Vietnamese woman. The collar is rather stiff and rather high, and the flap is long. All made up refined and attractive. From the 1940s to the 1950s, Le Pho Ao Dai became extremely popular. The high collar Le Pho Ao Dai is considered the original model of the current Vietnamese Ao Dai design.

Le Pho Ao Dai - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Le Pho Ao Dai.

Tran Le Xuan Ao Dai

At the end of 1958 when Ms. Tran Le Xuan was the First Lady of the Republic of Vietnam, she designed a new innovative Ao Dai with the collar part called the Boat Collar Ao Dai, Open Collar Ao Dai, Cut Collar Ao Dai; folk called the Tran Le Xuan Ao Dai or the Mrs. Nhu Ao Dai. Some western critics claimed it was suitable for the tropical weather of Southern Vietnam. But this dress made the followers of Confucianism at that time angry and condemned it to be incompatible with fine customs. This type of dress without a collar has still been popular today.

Tran Le Xuan in the Ao Dai designed by herself - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Tran Le Xuan in the Ao Dai designed by herself.

Raglan Ao Dai

Raglan Ao Dai, also known as Giac Lang Ao Dai, appeared in 1960 created by Dung Tailor in Dakao, Saigon. Raglan Ao Dai with outstanding features hugging the waist. The biggest difference of the Raglan Ao Dai is that it fits the body more closely, connecting the sleeves from the collar to a 45-degree angle to help the wearer be more flexible. The two flaps are connected by a row of buttons on the side. This is the Ao Dai style that contributes to shaping the style of Vietnamese Ao Dai later.

Raglan Ao Dai in Vietnam

Raglan Ao Dai.

Vietnamese traditional Ao Dai (from 1970 to present)

Vietnamese Ao Dai through periods has changed with many styles and materials. Ao dai was also transformed into wedding gowns, innovative dresses … However, in any case, the traditional Ao Dai of Vietnamese women still retains its graceful, attractive features that cannot be replaced by any dress.

Vietnamese traditional Ao Dai

Traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai is worn a lot on holidays and Tet.

Ao Dai in modern style

Ao Dai in modern style.

Ao Dai in modern style

Ao Dai in modern style.

Ao Dai for men in modern style - History of Ao Dai (Vietnamese long dress)

Ao Dai for men in modern style.


The Vietnamese long dress has been more and more perfect. It becomes a symbol of Vietnamese culture, honoring the beauty of Vietnamese women. It is an endless inspiration for Vietnamese art.

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