Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and a correspondingly rich assortment of traditional dress. I wanted to share a small selection of different traditional women’s dress from across Vietnam for I have found the amazing assortment of color, shape, and construction to be a true inspiration. I hope you find them inspiring as well! Cotton is historically the most popular fabric with silk being used on applique and for festive costumes although synthetic fibers and chemical dyes are becoming prevalent, even in traditional dress. There are a wide variety of techniques used across the ethnic groups that include embroidery, appliqué, batik, ikat, and woven patterns.
The Yao (also known as Dao or Zao or Mien) are originally from southern and southwestern China. This Yao Do outfit is from Cao Bang and made in 1957. It’s hand-woven cotton dyed with indigo and decorated with embroidery and appliqué. It includes two turbans, a head dress, chest cover, gown, belt, two aprons, and pants.
This Yao Tuyen outfit is from Lao Cai in 1980. It’s hand-woven cotton and wool dyed with indigo. The blue and red appliqué inside the bottom of the dress indicates a desire to have children.
This Yao Thanh Phan outfit is from Quang Ninh in 2004 and made from industrial cotton with industrial dyes. The headdress is supported with bamboo although this one is already out of style as current fashion is for much higher headdresses.
The Hmong are one of the more populous ethnic minority groups in Vietnam at 1% of the population. Many Hmong were allied with the United States during the Vietnam War, particularly during the secret war in Laos, and have since faced persecution and have been made refugees in other SE Asian countries and many western countries. There is a large population of Hmong in the United States in the Upper Midwest and in California. This Hmong Hoa (also known as Flower Hmong) outfit from Lao Cai was made in 1950. The gown and apron are made from industrial cotton with added embroidery and appliqué. The Hmong weave their own hemp and the skirt is 3 panels of hemp at 21 meters long, trimmed with batik patterns, embroidery, and appliqué. If you’re interested read a bit more about Hmong batik (that I learned about in Laos).
This Hmong Hoa outfit is a more recent example of dress, from 2008, also from Lao Cai. It is made from industrial cotton, velvet, and wool and hand-woven hemp and features batik, embroidery, and appliqué. The Flower Hmong are known as one of the most colorful ethnic minorities and this outfit shows a glimpse of why that is so.
This Hmong Trang outfit was made in 1980 in Ha Giang. It is both hemp and cotton and features embroidery and appliqué. The outfit consists of a turban, shirt, decorated shoulders, apron, back apron with decorated tails for feasts, a belt, and a pleated hemp skirt.
This Xa Pho outfit is from Lao Cai and was made in 1970. The cotton was handwoven and dyed with indigo. It was decorated with Job’s Tears seeds and additional woven and embroidered patterns. Now manufactured wool scarves bought at the market are replacing the traditional turbans.
The Cham are a group from southern Vietnam that are the majority of the Muslim community in Vietnam and Cambodia, although most Vietnamese Cham are Hindu. This dress is from 1994, made in Ninh Thuan of silk with woven patterns on the gown and skirt.
The Gia Rai (also known as Jarai) live mostly in the central highlands of Vietnam. They were allied with the United States in the Vietnam War. Many have since faced persecution and have resettled in the United States, particularly in North Carolina. This costume from 1980 was made in Kon Tum of handmade cotton dyed naturally and decorated with woven motifs.
The Lao are the major ethnic group in Laos and form an ethnic minority group in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This outfit was made in Lai Chau in 2001 out of cotton and wool and decorated with metal coins, appliqué, embroidery, and woven patterns with extra weft.
The Ma outfit was made in Lam Dong, where most Vietnamese Ma live, in 1980. The outfit was made from handwoven cotton with the woven patterns and the neck of the shirt made during weaving. The skirt was woven in 2 panels.
The Thai are the largest ethnic group in Thailand but are ethnic minorities in other SE Asian countries. This outfit was made in Son La in 1980. The shirt and skirt are from handwoven cotton. The belt is silk and the clasps on the shirt are made from silver and in the shape of butterflies.
This Thai outfit was made in Than Hoa in 1977. It is all handwoven cotton. The skirt is ikat and the patterns were woven with extra threads and embroidered with silk.
The Viet are the largest ethnic group in Vietnam by far, comprising ~85% of the population and the vast majority of the population in cities and towns across Vietnam. Before traveling to Vietnam, when I pictured traditional Vietnamese dress, their clothing is what I pictured. The áo dài is the traditional Viet costume of a long tunic, fitted in the bodice, worn over loose pants. This example is from Hanoi in 1960-1970.
Much of the information and all the pictures in this post I gathered from the Woman’s Museum in Hanoi. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Hanoi as it is a fascinating ethnology museum focused on women. Truly interesting and well put-together, it is one of the best museums I have been to during our travels.