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Description: The history of the ao dai is somewhat obscure. The term (pronounced “ow-zai” in the Northern dialect and “ow-yai” in the Southern) means “long shirt” in Vietnamese. Today’s traditional style is a single-panel tunic with long sleeves and a mandarin collar. It is closed along a diagonal line between the right-hand side from the neck to the armpit, and there are splits along the side that reach slightly above the waist. Underneath the tunic portion one wears loose, wide-end pants that are usually buttoned closed. The ao dai is a garment that can be worn by both genders, but nowadays is primarily a women’s garment. Though it has become the definitive national clothing of Vietnam, the ao dai is a relatively modern clothing style in the country’s thousand-year long history, and a hybrid of influences from both the east and the west. Its evolution is marked by both Vietnam’s on-and-off struggle under Chinese colonial rule, its time as part of French Indochina, and even by the “soft power” of American cultural influence.
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