Classic Vietnamese Beauty: The Ao Dai

ao dai

Regular readers will know of my opinion that Vietnamese women are the most beautiful in the world. And that beauty is never more apparent than when they are wearing their traditional dress, the ao dai (pronounced “ow yie” by southern Vietnamese, and “ow zie” by northern Vietnamese*, with a downward inflection). Read on for more about this incomparable outfit – as the sheer beauty and elegance of Vietnamese women in their ao dai is almost indescribable, I’ve included videos and lots of photos!

*The way northern Vietnamese pronounce the letter d is actually softer than a z in English – kind of half way in between a z and a soft g. The English d sound in Vietnamese is represented by a d with a crossbar – I have no idea why the French decided on this convention! (Frenchman Alexander de Rhodes converted the Vietnamese alphabet from Chinese characters to the Roman alphabet in 1651.)



Above are examples of the classic white ao dai, worn by young, unmarried girls in Vietnam to symbolise their “virginal purity” (it is their standard high school uniform, for example). As can be seen, the ao dai is a two piece outfit consisting of a long-sleeved, body length gown of soft, flowing fabric, over light and loose fitting full-length pants. Yet in spite of the fact that it covers the entire body, the ao dai is actually quite sensuous, as the top is both figure hugging and has long slits up the side, which frequently show a seductive flash of bare midriff (as in the photo above).

Once they finish school (but are still unmarried), young Vietnamese women tend to prefer soft pastel shades, such as these ao dai below:



Only once they are married do they normally wear ao dai in stronger, more vivid colours, such as these examples below:



The modern ao dai has actually only been around since 1930, when Vietnamese fashion designer Cat Tuong lengthened the top so that it reached the ground, made the bodice conform to the curves of the body, and moved the buttons from under the neck at the front to an opening along the shoulder and side seam – surely the greatest fashion triumph in history! Early versions of the ao dai date all the way back to 1744 however – here is an example of a more traditional ao dai:


In the austere climate of early communist rule, the ao dai almost disappeared after the Vietnam war, as its extravagance and elegance was considered too excessive for hard work. Mercifully however, it has come back with a vengence in subsequent decades, both amongst expatriate Vietnamese and in Vietnam itself. It has since spawned many modern stylistic variations – here are a couple of examples:



This last one in particular shows just how provocative the ao dai has become, even to the point of being overtly sexual: see through fabric is now quite common, and some (such as the one above) have even removed the sleeves to show more skin!

The resurgance of the ao dai has even inspired a new generation of Vietnamese artists to create works such as this stunning Flash sequence (I very strongly recommend you watch this one – it also features a beautiful soft Vietnamese pop soundtrack). Here is the story behind the creation of this presentation – it was commissioned by, who have some awesome calendars, posters and cards with lovely, arty photos of ao dai.

Here are a couple of video clips featuring the ao dai:

As this last clip is a music video, it is obviously somewhat stylised, but Vietnamese high school girls really do look like this!

Here’s a few good links:

Everything you wanted to know about the AO DAI! (and probably a lot more besides!)
ao dai Vietnam pictures from southeast asia
ao dai vietnam pictures from summer fun
ao hoc tro pictures from school spirit
a search for ao dai on Flickr

And a very big thankyou to Bubalabobo, who not only suggested this great topic, but also helped me to track down a lot of the source material for this very lengthy post!

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0 thoughts on “Classic Vietnamese Beauty: The Ao Dai”

  1. is there an article of clothing that more perfectly illustrates class and glamor than the ao dai? and it is the vietnamese women that these look best in it. western women just do not have the figure or even look right wearing it.
    (yeah, the chinese have the qi pao, and the japanese and koreans have similar, but it can be worn with ease by western women and so not the same.)
    i guess men wear it too or at least have a version for them to wear.
    great post dr. lee.

  2. Thanks oedipusrex!

    Yes, there is a version for men, but it is only worn very rarely on ceromonial occasions, and I figured it wouldn’t be of much interest to Asian Sirens readers – besides, this post was already lengthy enough! πŸ˜‰

  3. holly scheiß! nice post doc. like oedipus said, there are no other women article clothing that epidomize femininity(i hope i spelled that right πŸ™‚ ) I am so glad i am vietnamese…too bad for you big doc πŸ™‚ but i bet you enjoy ao dai just the same….no need for boobster here..that little skin triangle where the dress split is enough for me…3 cheers for doc man! πŸ™‚

  4. hey doc you violated non-english…we have to ban you now πŸ™‚ let me help ya…

    “cam on”

    you are welcome “khong co chi” nice post…now go find half naked women wearing ao dai :))

  5. the only other article of clothing that i would considered feminine is the kimono but it seems too cumbersome and hard to take off πŸ˜‰ hides too much of the woman’s form.

  6. Yeah, the full kimono is actually quite unsexy, IMHO. The yukata (the simplified summer kimono) is fine, but no comparison with the ao dai!

  7. I find the good ole’ thong quite sexy also…and feminine. How about you guys? I do love every one of these beauties above though. Vietnamese women are like asian beauties at their finest. Very elegant to me.

  8. Of added sensual pleasure is the translucence of many of the white slacks worn under the long top – especially coupled with lacey panties.

    I always order a calendar from:

    because it features some great photography of Vietnamese women in ao dais. Proceeds from the sales of calendars and other products go towards support of Vietnamese orphanages, so it’s even more of a win-win purchase.

  9. Thanks for the link Boxster2004! It looks like they were the ones who commissioned the Flash sequence I link to in my post, so I’ve added info about this company to my article – not sure how I missed it in the first place!

  10. I think it is safe to say I could never be an effective teacher in a Vietnamese High School.

    Great post, Doc. Thanks

  11. Superb post Doc! Great explanation and illustration of the various types and their significance. There’s not a more beautiful national dress than the ao dai, and there’s probably no women more beautiful than Vietnamese to wear them. You can see that the dress and the woman are really integral, one enhances the other.

    I’d love to see more women wear them generally; here in the Bay Area at Vietnamese weddings etc. the women always wear ao dais, but I don’t see any reason why more of them don’t wear them everyday–they probably don’t want to appear FOB-ish; but some of the modern ones like this, or
    this would look great every day. Any petite, slender woman with long hair (I do think long hair is a part of the whole effect–it imitates the fluidity and flow of the gown; short hair would kill the whole look) could wear them. You see some women wearing cheongsams, but they are far from the feminized elegance of the ao dai.

    There’s a saying that “it covers everything but hides nothing.” You’ve got to give credit to any culture that would cultivate a look for its women like that.

    Unless someone can come up with some amazing stuff, I think the whole national dress thread idea (kimono, cheongsam, sari, etc.) is done with this one! There’s no topping a Vietnamese woman in an ao dai.

  12. And once again, thanks for all your help with this post Bubalabobo, not to mention suggesting such a great topic in the first place!

    I absolutely agree that the beauty of Vietnamese women and the beauty of the ao dai are integral, and long, straight hair is necessary to maximise the effect. IMHO, a Vietnamese girl in an ao dai is the epitomoy of elegance, grace and beauty (in the truest sense of the word). I also wish expat Vietnamese girls would wear them more regularly!

  13. I agree with you on that one Doc!–we should see more of these.

    Christine, you have to get your college coeds wearing these things!… I will promptly re-enroll!

  14. Looks like they block direct links!

    I agree about the girl in the green dress – I wanted to get this photo into the article, but I thought the other photo of her in the same dress with another girl in an orange dress (who I think is even hotter!) was better for the article.

  15. Yeah, those two are total stunners! It looks to be pages from an ao dai manufacturer’s catalog.

    I’ll try again!

    In digging around for this I was impressed by the variety of modern styles of ao dai, which makes me hopeful that we can see more of them.

  16. Bubalabobo, seems if you send another beautiful girls with ao dai, i will make plan to move to Vietnam.
    How about that???
    Those are very beautifull.

  17. I’d like to do that myself! I might have to make some vacation plans…

    Luvjgirls, you have to encourage your lady to be an ao dai fan–you’ll befit!

  18. Luvjgirls, if you do not mind, share your lady picture when she use ao dai.
    and let see what commentator say.

  19. Great profile! It is refreshing to see a Vietnamese American girl who both looks truly Vietnamese and is proud of her heritage (and not some trashy Tila Tequlia wannabe!). You must be bummed out that she’s your ex. πŸ˜‰

  20. I think if my wife and I ever split, I’m gonna travel to vietnam and do a little wife shopping/searching.

  21. Ouststanding profile. Love the pic of her with Lily. She certainly has a wild mix of friends, some looking like traditional sweet Viet girls, a couple more like female impersonators (the “blond”)!

  22. oops…
    I acquiesce with the comments re: ao dai. It is sublimely pulchritudinous. I prefer the classic ao dai-tailored, solid or white without any adaptation, ornateness & modernization to enhance the graceful, sinuous lines of the wearer’s femininity & movements. In my beloved ao dai, I am transformed from an ugly duckling to a swan. Ao dai is Viet Nam, part mystery, part revelation…

  23. my head hurts from reading all the big words…what i got from cat was that she likes ao dai the old fashion style πŸ™‚ let us be the judge if you are really an ugly duckling or a swan eh. πŸ™‚ send doc a pix πŸ™‚

  24. Yeah cat-tien, you have quite an English vocabulary for a Vietnamese lady! And I agree with LawBoy – would love to see how you look in your ao dai. πŸ˜‰

    I’m also wondering where Kim Nguyen has been lately – we want to see her in an ao dai too. πŸ˜‰

  25. Hey Mr/Dr. Lee,
    1/ Learn humility… the first line of your comments was vacuous & chauvinistic… NO… i am not a feminist & you’re forgiven…
    2/ You’re not the only dr. … down, down with self-aggrandizing… seek enlightenment…
    3/how one’s attach a pic? will grant you both this one-time only wish…
    Enjoy your day! Thanks for the lovely comments re: ao dai

  26. Hell…even I’ll learn humility, if we can see some pics of cat. ^_^ I forget what humility is, though.

  27. Cat-tien, I fail to see how the first line of my comment could be interpreted as vacuous – I merely commented that your English vocabulary was surprsingly large for a (presumably) non-native speaker. This is meant to be a compliment! As for the chauvnistic part, my comments did not mean to imply that ladies usually have a smaller vocabulary than men – I just though it was nicer to refer to you as a lady rather than just a ‘person’. And I have no idea where your impressions of self-aggrandisement and lack of enlightenment come from!

  28. As for posting an image, upload it to a photo sharing site, and post the image URL here with the following syntax without spaces (I have to put them in there so it displays as text):

    [ img ] insert image URL here [ / img ]

  29. I guess Cat-tien doesn’t like you using the ‘Dr.’ in your name. Anyway, she recommends enlightment which is a good, spiritual thing.

    Cat-tien is this the first time you post? Are you a doc too?

  30. additionally, i fail to see how “dr.” is self-aggrandizement. it is an epithet that was jokingly coined because lee is extensively knowledgeable about biology. the moniker also connotates an authoritative position here, which is a good way for us to distinguish him from the other commenters – he is a moderator! while enlightenment is always good, i don’t see it as very relevant here. in general, the internet should not be taken seriously.

    as an aside, i appreciate that you wrote some very poetic lines re: ao dai, as you have put it, but i unfortunately have to comment that -i think- your use of the word pulchritudinous is a little off. from what i understand, it is used typically to describe persons only, and not objects. i made this mistake a few years ago without really knowing its definition (in latin, the word for beautiful is pulchra, which led me to just assume pulchritudinous meant very beautiful in english), but i received some marks off for this error – in particular, my teacher thought i had been awkwardly pulling straight from a thesaurus.

  31. my head is starting to hurt again with all these smart people….i wish i can speak gooder english too :))

  32. Yeah, I was originally just ‘Lee’, but a lot of people around here started calling me ‘Dr. Lee’ as a joke (in reference to, as Christine suggests, my extensive knowledge of biology and plastic surgery), so the name stuck. And I also have to agree with Christine that your use of pulchritudinous in this context is somewhat awkward – my vocabulary isn’t bad either, but I prefer to use terminology that will be more comprehensible to the majority of our readers whenever possible!

  33. all right that is enough, quit calling me boob-boy πŸ™‚ like you yahoos dont like soft fluffy boobs :))
    hey does this mean we can all doc vagina-boy? πŸ™‚

  34. Hello Dr. Lee, christine, LB, & “comrades”,
    1/Hm… unknowingly i have caused some reactions based on a few assumptions/interpretations… I wrote 1. &2. because of Lee’s “Yeah cat-tien, you have quite an English vocabulary for a Vietnamese lady!”… he assumed… i assumed that it was a male’s ego… the chosen words were meant to be sarcastic or wry… instead creating nebulousness… apologies… i am learning & thanks for sharing…
    2/ “Pulchritudinous” can be used literally, figuratively & humourously… objects, people, ect… it pertains to “beauty” that delights one’s senses or excites intellectual or emotional admiration… glad to know we all want to learn… Here is one of man defs: Today’s Word:
    Pulchritudinous (adjective)

    Pronunciation: [pΓͺl-kri-‘tud-nΓͺs or -tyud-nΓͺs] Listen

    Definition: Possessing physical beauty.

    Usage: Doesn’t sound like its meaning, does it? But this word can be used to describe anything that is exceedingly beautiful.

    Suggested Usage: The natural world offers a lot of inspiration. A beautiful sunset, for example, is usual enough, but a remarkable one deserves to be called pulchritudinous. “My favorite resort is on Mt Pisgah in the Smokies. It offers a pulchritudinous view over the rolling mountains.” Of course, you could confound people who don’t subscribe to our WotD feature of YDC. Tell those colleagues to “have a pulchritudinous day.” But always say it with a smile!

    Etymology: Latin pulchritudin-, from pulcher “beautiful, fair or handsome in shape and appearance.” In a spiritual or moral sense, pulcher means “fine, noble, honorable.” Also, it’s akin to the Latin parere “bright or shining.” In light of the Latin connotations, pulchritudinous amounts to the highest praise that one can give a beautiful object or person.
    –Dr. Language,

    Thanks for sharing your intellectual curiosities… knowledge is power right! Take care…

  35. Love the topic, reminds me of my country, sorry doc but I haven’t got the use of ao dai for awhile since I go to american catholic church.
    Doc, I will send you a picture of me in ao dai if I can find one.

  36. Thanks Kim! I’ll look forward to it. πŸ™‚

    And yes cat-tien, my original choice of words was meant to be in jest (hence the whink). I think you took them a little more seriously than I intended – we joke around a lot here! Anyway, I’m glad we got our misunderstanding sorted out. Now, don’t forget to post a picture of you in your ao dai. πŸ˜‰

    P.S. I’ve never liked ‘pulchritudinous’ because, as you say, it just doesn’t sound beautiful!

  37. That’s a very difficult word, not as beautiful as the meaning.

    Who is that Tracy chick? Stunning and brainy too, it seems. She seems taken, too bad.

    I only had time to read this big article now, I’m enjoying the ao dai quite a lot, plenty of elegant women!

  38. why do people insist on getting on a blog about boobs and butts and try to show us how smart they are…cant we just enjoy the views and not overwork the Roget’s Thesaurus? unless you want to show us your boobs and ass, get off your highhorse will ya…we’re too stupid here to understand what you are trying to say.

  39. Hey guys, you’ve probably pissed off cat-tien now, so she won’t show us her ao dai pics! We have to be nice to the ladies you know. πŸ˜‰

  40. Unlike LawBoy, I like food, shelter, boobs and some brains too (besides the beer). He’s scaring off the smart chicks around here, I protest!

  41. All right then, cat-tien kindly put your pictute(s) on A-S now in oreder to stop or avoid further speculation about you.

  42. sorry dazn but who cares about her brain. plus christine is a pretty smart girl but she doenst come across as a pompous ass. plus dazn, is this really a forum to show off your robust vocabulary? if you like her brain so much have her email you her thesis, i just dont like her spouting off her mouth viet chick or not, personally i dont really care for a show off. lets not have a double standard, we surely didnt like the guys who show up here shooting off their mouth, like that ph.d guy, why would someone get a pass just because she has a vagina. sorry bro but i stand by my comment about cat. “put up or shut up”

  43. btw school starts tomorrow so i am back πŸ™

    happy to see you guys, not happy to open a textbook again. break was too short! πŸ˜›

  44. Lawboy, for me ….. just bring me the girls, with or without ao dai.

    Christine, finally you back to school again. Don’t forget to use ao dai.
    Nice to hear you again.

  45. sorry doc…normally i would be pretty cool about this, but cat just came across as a smartie pants πŸ™‚ if i offend, xin loi em cat tien…btw that is a singer’s name. if she is as good looking as the real cat tien…i would really be sorry :))

  46. LawBoy! Lol, what got into you, man? Was just joking as usual. But ok, i forgot the smiley. Take it easy, we share the same taste for boobs and Thitima! πŸ˜›

  47. Let’s forget about that one Cat tien, shall we?
    I think it is better for our health, otherwise maybe we have to take an implant surgery (heart implant).

  48. Arf, I think no need.
    He / She, ok whoever he/she is already make us like a crazy dog which chasing a small bone in order not to get starving for a year.
    And of course you already called he/she to come back. Right?
    What do you think?

  49. Lawboy!!!
    1/ you sounded like lawnboy… anyway, since u r Viet… there’s a saying “ga cung mot me cho hoai da nhau…” so… let it be…
    2/ i am not mad, pissed, offended, cantankerous, etc… cat-tien is a creature of equanimity
    3/ i don’t know who cat tien the singer is but… yes… you’d be VERY sorry
    4/ don’t have access to the internet in recent days… pc broke…
    5/ah… what bunch of puppies… lovely… yummy!!!
    arf: re: chasing bones… for any dog, bones are bones… indiscriminately… enjoy…

  50. So Cat Tien, finally you come back after your dissapear in several days ago. Anyway, if you want to share your pictures in ao dai, kindly do it soon.

  51. Arf, of course we don’t.
    But you see, she is already come back.
    Right now, better we are waiting for yummy boobs tenderloin.
    What kind of cat did get your tongue? Better you elaminate.
    Is it better?

  52. Yes, lets get some of these many promised ao dai photos posted! I want some yummy boobs tenderloin!

  53. touchy touchy em. you can call me whatever you want caty….as long as you show us your pix in ao day. since you think we are chicken from the same mom….whatever that is. not too much into the fortune cookies stuff. :), we will let it be, but try to tone down on the vocab babe, we are not that smart. πŸ™‚ show us you boobs instead, surely that will make niner happy. or your tenderloins πŸ™‚

  54. Guys take it easy don’t too rush.
    yummy boobs tenderloin will be ready soon, isn’t it cat tien.
    But don’t forget in well done.
    And I am sure, all of us will be very happy. I guarantee that.

  55. C’mon now Niners, man…you know what kind of cat did get my tongue…MEOW!^_^
    And cat-tien…I don’t think I could ever possibly indiscriminately enjoy bones. Now some meat on the other hand…that’s a different story…:) I know…how about some tenderloins of the boobs type. -_-

  56. Arf, I got your point of course. And seems yummy tenderloin rare or well done boobs is very welcome.
    Daznlover, where were you? It’s a quiet long time ago dialogue man.
    I think this is not about funny, but about how a person who said would give something but then cancelled by him/her self because someone’s talking but we already did apologize, didn’t we?
    Then what? You see, there is nothing. It makes out of our mind. This is not a logic decision.
    That’s why we made a joke about yummy rare / well done tenderloin boobs. How about you?
    Keep smiling ok and take it easy :)))

  57. I’m going to introduce the term “yummy boobs tenderloin” to as many people as I can. That is the best phrase ever and just rolls off the tongue. Niners, you’ve got to trademark that!

  58. Thank you my brother.
    Trademark? I have to think twice before do it. I do not want to make competition with another guys who already has one before.
    Cute isn’t it?

  59. While Niners is cooking the boobs tenderloin to a yummy well done, one thing not mentioned in this thread are the funky hats that sometimes are worn with the ao dai. Up close they look like a coiled dart board made into a hat. I don’t think they are a particular complement the dress.

  60. where are Dicks???? hm…
    i had 2 in word but could not copy & paste in my comment… so… i did try…
    arf… if you wished to call names, do have the audacity to be superfluous…

  61. ah… that weenie… noooo… diiiiiiiiiiickssssss…
    bubalabobo… i did try to email using “CAS”, couldn’t attach… anyway, there are copious beauties in ao dai to last you a life time… ta-ta…

  62. Hi Dr. Lee… the master has spoken…
    LawBoy… com’on, you know what CATs look like… anyway, thanks for the laugh…

  63. That’s it, I am officially done with ao dai’s forever. Never again will request to see pics of girls in this type of clothing again. NEVER. That is a promise. Let’s move on. And I shall. Of course I may change my mind in the future.

  64. Here we go again. We are waiting, and please give a note, this time there will be no any delay.
    Guys let’s back to work on A-S, bring as much as you can ammo.

  65. Hi Dr. Lee,
    Thanks for your reply but… i checked my email & there’s nothing from you… did you send it CIA style or what??? i looked in the trash bin to be ascertained… nothing… thanks…

  66. You used a Yahoo address, which often delete perfectly legitimate emails for no good reason in my experience – please try again with another address!

  67. If cat-tien is using yahoo, then maybe the email from Doc went straight into the Bulk (spam) folder. Better look there.

    Yes, LawBoy, we will wait to see cat-tien in her ao dai and then see you eat your words, lol.

  68. Arf, what do you think about Cat Tien? According to my oppinion, those pictures are not close enough to see how she looks. But the ao dai, yes looks good, I think that is super satin.

  69. I think I just ate my words…or was that some chicken adobe and twelve beers? Not quite sure anymore. Niners you ROCK! man.

  70. No, it’s not… it’s organza/silk/crepe… quite sheer & lustrous… so nothing came between me & my ao dai… anyway, thanks you, carnal comrades, for your inputs… take care…

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