As the music sets the catwalk in motion, Ralph Lauren models appear with his latest collection. This time it goes beyond his trademark Hamptons/neo-British image. His models are strolling elegantly above the crowd in conical hats and long silk tunics slit from the waist down, worn over wide pants. With such a look, it was clear that designer Ralph Lauren had fallen under the spell of the beautiful Vietnamese ao dai.

That was a few seasons past, and the fashion world moves on to new trends to satisfy fickle consumers. However, in Viet Nam and in Vietnamese communities worldwide, the ao dai enjoys a revival that will unlikely fade with the seasons. Its renewed popularity marks a resurgence of cultural ties. A younger generation of Vietnamese are discovering its charm. Yet few question its origins. Even among cultural historians, only a small number have placed importance on the development of Vietnamese costume. Thus, documentation on the topic is rare and often vague.

Lan Vu ©2002
San Francisco, CA
(this article has also been published by Heritage)