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Vietnamese traditional ao dai: Potential greater than tourism ambassador
Jenna Duong 05:18, 2024/02/19
From the perspective of ao dai designers, the outfit needs official recognition as heritage and a methodical strategy to become both a cultural symbol and brand.

Epitomizing the elegance and grace of Vietnamese women, ao dai (long traditional dress) is a timelessly fashionable outfit. Irrespective of fashion trends, the ao dai will surely remain a dignified classic for ages and ages.

Special tourism promoter

 Vietnamese beauty queen Ngoc Han in ao dai costume, also an ao dai designer. Photo: Ngoc Han Boutique

After being worn by Vietnamese people for centuries as everyday clothing, ao dai is now an outfit for formal occasions such as weddings, traditional Vietnamese  Tet holiday celebrations, festivals, or diplomatic events. In the southern provinces, it is even the required uniform for female teachers and students in high schools. In addition, flight attendants, receptionists, bank tellers, restaurant staff, and hotel workers in Vietnam are often seen wearing the attire.

Nevertheless, to this day, ao dai is still seeking official recognition as a "national costume" or "national cultural heritage."

Fashion designer Minh Hanh is a staunch promoter of ao dai, seizing every opportunity at various diplomatic events. She has organized many ao dai shows for foreign guests. "Ao dai is always charming, and the material for making ao dai is always a fascinating mystery to the world. To this day, ao dai has never lost its international appeal," she said.

This stunning brocade ao dai outfit was designed by Minh Hanh. Photo: Nguoi Lao Dong

However, there is still no methodical strategy to turn the iconic attire into a cultural or tourism brand, unlike the way South Koreans have done with their hanbok, said designer Ngoc Han.

"The South Koreans have done such a wonderful job of promoting the hanbok that every traveler who visits the country wants to buy a hanbok as a souvenir or rent one to wear and take selfies with. For example, a ticket to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul costs about 3,000 won. But if tourists agree to rent and wear the hanbok when visiting the site, they get free admission," she said.

"We also have a myriad of famous historical sites like Hue City, Thang Long Citadel, or world-famous sites like Ha Long and Trang An. But we haven't opened any stalls displaying or renting ao dai, nor have we given preference to ao dai wearers like Gyeongbokgung Palace. That is, tourists would be entitled to free entry to Hue Imperial City and Thang Long Imperial Citadel if they wear ao dai," Ngoc Han added.

Miss Grand International 2023 contestants in Vietnamese ao dai costumes. Photo: MGI

Such promotional strategies are what ao dai is longing for. Relevant designers believe that the involvement of authorities from various fields is needed to write new stories for ao dai.

In particular, music videos, movies, songs, and inspirational stories are imperative to continue telling how the cultural significance, traditional beauty, and image of Vietnamese women through the ups and downs of time have made the outfit an icon.

Delicate ao dai carries cultural power and economic potential

Many foreign visitors to the S-shaped country, including world-famous people, have expressed their special affection for ao dai. They not only love to wear the costumes for photos but also buy them as souvenirs for their families and friends. Many international fashion weeks have invited Vietnamese ao dai brands to present their collections.

According to designer Minh Hanh, the economic potential of ao dai is enormous. In addition to the widely available and popular materials for ao dai, there are also unique traditional fabrics that are woven and dyed by hand by the Vietnamese people.

The "Vietnam's Ao Dai Week in Fukuoka" held in January 2024 showcases the beauty of Vietnamese costumes dating back hundreds of years. Photo: Ngoc Han Boutique

"I have taken brocade ao dai, silk ao dai, hand-embroidered ao dai, and others to many international exhibitions, where audiences are very fond and impressed by traditional Vietnamese fabrics. Many foreign guests have expressed their amazement at the delicate beauty of the brocades and the way the H'Mong and Ta-oi people of Vietnam weave brocades," she recalled.

Brocade is a highly distinctive class of fabric that is intricately woven and dyed. Designer Minh Hanh believes that brocade, with its inherent uniqueness, is suitable for high-end fashion. With materials imbued with national identity, such as brocade or silk, traditional Vietnamese fabrics can reach out to the world through ao dai.

"In addition, the use of traditional garment materials will be one of the prerequisites for the development of the textile and fashion industry as a leading economic sector in the future," she added.

The Ao Dai fashion show entitled "Where I Was Born" at the Temple of Literature. Photo: Di tich Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam

Many countries around the world have benefited from their traditional materials, such as the Japanese with kimono fabrics, the Indonesians with batik, French lace, or Indian sari fabrics. And the material is also a unique symbol that can be easily identified with a people, a country," said designer Minh Hanh.

Therefore, the road to conquering the world is still open for ao dai and traditional Vietnamese fabrics. Once effective promotion strategies are designed and pursued, the garment will surely go beyond being a tourism ambassador and become a typical cultural brand of Vietnam, attracting admirers around the world.

TAG: Vietnamese ao dai costume; Vietnam Culture
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