Traditional Confucian culture extolled community and family. Women were not considered as individuals but only as instruments for perpetuating the family lineage. The woman’s duty was as wife and mother. She had no need to show herself by wearing fancy clothes or using make-up, especially after marriage. A serious woman’s dress was modest and did not display the graceful curves of her body, especially her breasts and buttocks. Some teenage girls even wrapped their breasts to diminish attention and to avoid being considered coquettish. Even the word “vu”(breast) was considered vulgar and banished from decent conversation.
The ao dai, with its aesthetics, abolished such Confucian taboos by replacing the Confucian spirit of community with Western individualism, for a woman in an ao dai asserted herself as someone with an independent identity.