Vietnamese Women and Áo Tứ Thân (4-Part Dress)- One of the Vietnamese Traditional Costumes

The image of women in Ao Tu Than (4- part dress), four panel traditional dress in the northern rural area has gone into poetry and become a lofty and beautiful symbol of Vietnamese women in the past. Nowadays, we hardly can find a picture of a girl in the late nineteenth century. There is only the images reconstructed on stage or films.

A Vietnamese women in the past with Ao tu than
The basic 4- part dress consists of a flowing outer tunic, a long skirt, Yếm (Vietnamese brassiere or bodice), and a silk sash. The ao tu than is made from four narrow fabrics, two front flaps were unbuttoned but just crossed and were kept by the silk belt/sash around the abdomen- the popular image of that time. The two flaps is always opened and a little bit low- necked, covered with a Yếm generally sewed from white silk or the natural color of silk fibers. Those who were more well- groomed often dyed the Yếm in brown tuber water to have crimson (dark red), but if being carefully dyed, the Yếm would be brown and suitable for working people.

Vietnamese women in white Yếm
Today, the grandmothers and old women no longer wear these traditional outfits anymore, but in many ancient villages, the traditional costumes which were dyed manually are still kept carefully by the female elderly. These are the precious heritage which needs preserving to help the younger generations have a comprehensive view of the countryside of Vietnam, of the economical, industrious and hard working peasant women.

When dressing 4- part dress, Vietnamese old woman usually also wore Quai thao hat (a traditional Vietnamese flat palm hat), this hat is also called “nón ba tầm” (hat of three cubits). This wide-rimmed hat was described as "very massive, featuring a circular lid, the diameter is about sixty or seventy cm. Both sides had about six or seven small silk cords as round as the feathers… the chin strap are tied into the hat and have two tassels of black silk or raw silk” by a French doctor.

A simple Quai thao hat

The long dress was wore when the women went out of the house. When they were at home, even when working in the fields, in the hot weather, wearing Yếm was the best choice for them. We can see that the old Vietnamese girl’s way of dressing is even more free and scanty than the young girls today.

When working at home, women usually wear only a Yếm
However, whether staying and working at home or going out, women’s hair must always be neat, and they never let their hair naturally down. Northern women often tied their hair in a long roll on one side, covered the outside with a long narrow towel and then winded around their head from front to the back. The leftover part was hidden under the kerchief, and left a small curl of hair called ponytail on one side.

The traditional hair style of Vietnamese people in XX century
All the above- mentioned features make a dressing culture characteristic of Oriental nuances. The changes, the vicissitudes of history along with the exchange and acculturation have made the style of dressing of Vietnamese women also faded, changed significantly to be suitable with the development of society. As a result, 4- part dress, the pink Yếm, Quai thao hats, or with wood slippers only exist in nostalgia ...

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Vietnamese Women and Áo Tứ Thân (4-Part Dress)- One of the Vietnamese Traditional Costumes

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