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Images of graceful girls in national charming long dress have been a symbol of Vietnam. However, looking back the historic development of national dress, Vietnam not only has “Ao Dai” but also “Ao Yem” – the indispensable dress of ancient girls.
“Ao Yem” appeared in Vietnamese life in a very old day, yet, not until Ly dynasty was it basically shaped. During those days, “Ao Yem” was called “Yem”. A very simple garment consisting of a square piece of cloth with one corner cut away to fit under the woman’s throat. This scrap of fabric is secured across the chest and stomach within strings. Traditionally, this halter-top was worn beneath a shirt, the flaps of which were often left unbuttoned to reveal “the ao yem”. Urban women favoured white, pink or red ones, while those in the suburb preferredbrown or beige, suited for their rustic environment.
Through the stream of history, “Ao Yem” was changing incessantly with improving design. However the revolutions of “Ao Yem” only happended at the beginning of the last century when western trousers and skirts entered Vietnam. In 17th century, “Ao Yem” did not have any big change of model. Entering 20th century, “Ao Yem” was used widespread with plentiful designs and models.
There is one kind of “Ao Yem”, which was often worn by ancient ladies, being called “Yem deo bua”. Its name derived from the fact that it has a small pocket of musk beside, which was an advantageous weapon of ancient ladies. Furthermore, “Ao Yem” created many original love stories. In the old days, when a girl dated with her boyfriend, she put a piece of betel inside her “Ao Yem”; it was called “khau trau dai yem”. Perhaps there is no kind of betel more supernatural than this one.
It is an age-old dress which is maintained until today. “Ao Yem” was used by all levels of society from working class to upper one. It was also used widespread in traditional festivals, therefore becoming the national traditional clothes of ancient ladies. While the wearers may age, the ao yem retains its timeless charm.
Today, the “Ao yem” is appreciated for its cultural and artistic values. On festive occasions, women throughout Vietnam are embracing the ao yem and other traditional clothes with renewed enthusiasm.