When did the ao tu than appear ?
No known document records this garment's emergence. However, its appearance is likely tied to when Vietnamese learned to plant cotton, spin, and weave 30- 40centimeter broad cloth on a rudimentary loom. Also, it may come from when they learned to plant mulberry, raise silkworms, spin, and then weave. thin, soft cloth such as crepe, gauze, and fine, thin silk.
The four-panelled traditional dress is a gauze or silk robe worn over a white or yellow shirt. The robe consists of four narrow pieces of fabric that run the length of the body. Two pieces are joined at the back down to the heel. The front two pieces are joined with the two back pieces down to the waist and then tied together into a knot under a green, pink, or yellow belt. The robe is usually brown, black, or ebony gauze.Women attending spring festivals often wear an ao mo ba, which is a set of three robes: the outer one is black or brown gauze, while the two inner ones are either light yellow, lotus coloured, or sky blue. In the old days, women wore skirts, but later they had pants made of black coarse silk or black satin; some women wore red crepe.
This poem from the first half of the century gives an image of a girl in her traditional dress:
A small turban, the hanging tail still high,
This morning I wear peach yem straps
Satin pantaloons, a blouse of new silk gauze,
And carry a flat palm hat with fringes.
My mother smiles: "Father, Look!
On her feet, sandals with curved tips.
Our daughter is beautiful, beautiful,
When will she be wed?"
"Perfume Pagoda" by Nguyen Nhuoc Phap
A fashion reform occurred in Ha Noi during the mid-twentieth century, while Viet Nam was still under French domination. Men began to dress in Western style, and women began to wear a modern robe that was a renovated ao tu than. Ha Noi women welcomed the new fashion and used French silk- particularly dark red and violet - and soft, thin Indian cloth to make the colourful, modern ao dai.
The reform movement also affected girls in the countryside. However, many people strongly opposed the changes, including the poet Nguyen Binh.
With your velvet turban, your rustling satin pants,
Your modern ao dai, Dear, you make me unhappy!
Where is your yem of floss silk?
Where is the silk belt that you dyed last spring?
Where is your four-panelled dress?
Your black scarf, your trousers of black, raw silk?
- "Country Folk" by Nguyen Binh
Nowadays, women wear the traditional four panelled dress only on festival days and to sing folk songs and love duets on stage or perform in plays such as the cheo opera, Quan Am Thi Kinh (The Goddess of Mercy). Today, although there are many types of renovated ao dai, the ao tu than is the basis of the graceful modern ao dai. To learn more about the garment's history, visit the History Museum near the Red River or the Museum of Ethnology in western Ha Noi.