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Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Ao dai. Remembering Saigon, Vietnam

Y Lan is another of a select few of modern Vietnamese singers who please me. In fact I find her very intriguing. I tend to use the word modern in the sense of post 1975 and old as anything before.

The Ao dai is the national women's dress. It has survived the years and not become anachronistic because it has adapted to changes in fashion. Whilst I was in Vietnam the hem length was always being varied as was the collar. When I arrived the collar was very high, then it became lower until it disappeared completely.

Allowing for the fact that most of the old photographs of Vietnam are in black and white there would appear to be little to compare in style with a young Vietnamese of the 1960s or 70s with that of one fifty or even twenty years earlier. The girls were probably much healthier than in years gone by, however a slender body is a necessity. One of the ghastly horrors to be seen in France today on the odd occasions a young woman might be seen in an Ao dai is to see the feet clad in 'baskets'. I believe that is the word the French use. Elegant shoes or sandals are a must.

Once when I was there a rumour spread quickly around Saigon that the Vietcong did not wear bras. This must have been to boost the sales of someone's shop.

School girls wore white, except for a catholic school I knew which wore pink. Pastel colours were largely favoured. North and central Vietnamese would never receive anybody at home without being correctly dressed but the Southerners tended to wear loose fitting pajama style clothes.

I found men very casual or slack about clothes. The Ao dai did exist for them but except on formal occasions or sometimes for a wedding it was rarely worn. I tend to remember the Hoa Hao wearing it though.

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