The Vietnamese “Ao Dai”, the long gown worn with trousers by Vietnamese women, has become the symbol of the Vietnamese feminine beauty, and the pride of the Vietnamese people. This national pride culminated in 1995 when Miss International Pageant in Tokyo gave its Best National Costume award to the Vietnamese representative Truong Quynh Mai. Even before such international recognition, the Ao Dai had long been the source of inspiration of artists and poets and thus had become an institution in Vietnamese arts and literature.
The Ao Dai was born as the costume required to be worn by the southern courtiers under the reign of the southern lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat. Eager to establish a separate identity from his northern rivals, the Trinh Lords, who enjoyed the status of regents to the puppet kings of the declining Le dynasty, Lord Nguyen decreed that men and women of his court wore trousers covered by a long gown. Thus was born the Ao Dai. The garment borrowed the style of clothing worn by the Cham, the original inhabitants of the land to the south of the dividing Gianh river, whose country of Champa (now Central Vietnam) had been invaded and conquered by the Vietnamese. The Ao Dai was Lord Nguyen’s way to show his respect for the culture of the Cham and to win over their support.