Áo tứ thân (4-part dress) in Northern Vietnam

Home to 54 different native groups, Vietnam is an amalgamation of different cultures and traditions. From the languages we speak to the traditional costumes which sometimes look radically different we wear, our S-shaped land is a rainbow of innumerable shades.

Tribal and traditional costumes in Vietnam come in many shapes and sizes and vary from region to region. For example, citizens of communities that live on the plateau have very colorful dresses with the most elaborate outfits found in the North region, such as red brocades and an almost psychedelic color pallet of rainbow adorned cultural clothes of the Flower Hmong people and the decorated headdresses of the Red Dao. Meanwhile, the plainsmen wear very simple and modest outfit. These traditional costumes are basically the perception of Vietnamese people in regards to our identity and spirit and a reason to go on your Vietnam culture tours.

When it comes to a traditional Vietnamese women’s clothing, most will think about áo dài. But do you know that before the áo dài evolved into the five-paneled dress which is known as the closest form to the áo dài, Vietnamese women wore áo tứ thân – the origins of the áo dài, whose existence was traced to the 12th century.

Let’s take a look at Áo tứ thân – the traditional dress of the Vietnamese women in the North for centuries before the emergence of the Áo Dài.

History of Áo Tứ Thân  

Little girls in áo tứ thân

Little girls in áo tứ thân

Usually made of plain fabric in dark browns, light browns, and blacks, with the exception of special occasions such as weddings and festivals, the áo tứ thân first appeared as a necessity and has long been a dress of peasant women.

Its origins are uncertain but it is believed to be worn widely by women from as early as the 12th Century on to the early 20th century making it one of the most recognizably Vietnamese items and the oldest enduring Vietnamese cultural relics. And what’s interesting is that this glorious traditional costume seems “obvious” to our land or people.

As its name might suggest, áo tứ thân is a special silk gown with four slits divided equally on its lower section. The older version of áo dài is a 4 part tunic-jacket which reaches almost to the floor. The outer garment has five flaps including two flaps split in the back, a long skirt worn under the tunic, Yem (Vietnamese brassiere or bodice) – an ancient bodice worn as an undergarment by women, and a silk sash left dangling or tied at the waist as a belt.

Áo Tứ Thân in Lim Festival

Áo Tứ Thân in Lim Festival

Yem – an ancient diamond shaped undergarment is generally sewed from white silk or the natural color of silk fibers like black or bright pink, but it can also be dyed in brown tuber water to have crimson (dark red). The contrast in the hues – the light yellow of the second layer, the pink of the third layer, and the bright or dark red of the brassiere together with the variety of fabrics used to make the tunic, the bodice, and the skirt makes this costume attractive and sensual.

A truer representation of Kinh Vietnamese often dismissed as simply Northern commoner clothes is an excellent example of Vietnamese traditional costume among an extraordinary wealth of clothing traditions to discover on your Northern Vietnam cultural tour.

Áo Tứ Thân – the beauty of Vietnamese women

Áo Tứ Thân - the beauty of Vietnamese women

Áo Tứ Thân – the beauty of Vietnamese women

Áo Tứ Thân is the traditional clothing playing an important part of a Vietnam’s history and identity, but nowadays, it is not regarded as an unofficial uniform and commonly used in the daily life of Vietnamese people. Our national dress has evolved and taken on a new more “fashionable” role, especially in religious rites. It is worn only on ceremonial occasions and an indispensable part of traditional festivals in Northern Vietnam such as annual Lim festival which takes place on around 12th – 13th day of the first lunar month to celebrate the famous Bac Ninh Quan Ho folk songs, instead.

In Northern Vietnam, people today are wearing one of the brightest, most outrageous clothing man has ever seen, which has gone into poetry and become a beautiful symbol of Vietnamese women in the past. Want to know more about the traditional costume in Northern Vietnam? This article will tell you about the general characteristics of áo tứ thân – the traditional attire in Northern Vietnam.