“Why do so many ladies wear pajamas on the streets?”
A common question you can find foreigners asking while in Vietnam is: “Why do so many ladies wear pajamas on the streets?” If you are one of those wondering how and why this trend originated, or if you want to know if the “Ao Dai” was once a casual outfit Vietnamese women wore every day, then you have come to the right place. This article is going to discuss the evolution of fashion in Saigon and point out some cool shops where you can to buy Ao Dai, vintage clothing and the comfortable and ever so stylish pajama.
First, some History of Saigon…
Let’s start by talking a little bit about the history of Saigon since it has a direct effect on the culture and fashion trends of the city.
Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) was founded just over 300 years ago under the name Gia Dinh. This place was home to Vietnamese people, Cham people, and Chinese refugees. Then once the French arrived in Saigon, they started to turn Gia Dinh province into a big city for the purpose of colonial exploitation in 1859. Not until then did all the huge constructions in town such as the halls, the government offices, and even apartment complexes start to have European influence in terms of architecture.
From 1950 – 1960, under the support of the Americans, the President of South Vietnam invested in building infrastructure and spread propaganda in order to make Saigon the Pearl of Far East. Thus, the arrival of the French and the Americans not only affected in terms of architecture but also culture and fashion in Saigon.
Saigon – The Fashion Capital of Vietnam
It is not an exaggeration when one says that Saigon is the fashion capital of Vietnam. The Saigonese women in the 70’s were talented and had a broad range of skills. They were good at making money and also very generous when it came to using it. A day in their life would include dressing up nicely and going for a walk on the fancy Rue Catinat (now called Dong Khoi street).
The tailor shops in old Saigon were places where the mid and upper-class ladies from Saigon and the Mekong Delta would usually go in search of the most trendy items back then. Saigon also has popular fashionistas, who enjoy setting trends. Anything they wear will soon become news and replicated by those that look up to them. Popular names include Madame Nhu – Tran Le Xuan, and Miss Tuyet Mai.
From the Traditional Ao Ba Ba…
The “Ao ba ba” is a traditional southern Vietnamese outfit that appeared in the 19th century. A full set includes a long-sleeved, buttoned-down silk shirt that one wears with silk wide-legged trousers. The shirt usually has two big pockets on the front and is split at the side of the waist. It actually looks like a mini version of the women’s “Ao Dai”, but also looks a bit less classy, and more like a pajama. The sleeves were made in a way that is easy to roll up. This is so the wearer could easily do their household chores without having to pull them up constantly.
A short-sleeve version of Ao Ba Ba came about too, with time. Women usually wore this with the “Khan Ran”, a traditional checkered black and white shawl, and of course, a “non la” had to top it off. This is still a common sight when you see women working in the fields. Even the upper-class women wore these Ao Ba Ba’s, but they’d add a set of pearls around their necks to showcase their status.
In Saigon, it was not a top choice of outfit for the urban woman. Now you can only see the elderly or those doing manual labor such as street vendors that wear it.
…to the Ao Dai
On the contrary, the Ao Dai was a casual outfit by women. Ao Dais were worn for many occasions – for school, work, parties, or even just in daily life at home. Besides the traditional Ao Dai, Saigon is famous for having 3 other modern version of the Ao Dai. Traditionally, the Ao Dai was designed to be loose but in 1950, the Saigonese designers tightened the fit of the outfit, so it would hug the body of the woman that wears it, showing off their beautiful curves.
Because of the elegance and simplicity of the outfit, the Ao Dai remains popular to this day, but it flourished during the 60’s to the mid-70’s. Another famous version of the Ao Dai is the loose one with ankle-length panels at front and back and a tight waist. In 1958 came the collarless Ao Dai, named the Ao Dai Madame Nhu. The dress named after the first lady of Vietnam was once a controversial dress because of the tight fit and low-cut neckline, which goes against the conservative Vietnamese values. However, many modern women came to love it and it still remains popular to this day. Ao Dais go well with the non la hat, a pearl necklace, and a small clutch.
The Modernization of Fashion in Saigon
After 1945, there was a huge revolution in Vietnam in term of fashion. The French influence clearly changed the way people dressed up, and it was evidenced in the outfits they chose and how they mixed and matched. The intellectual class of women usually wore Western dresses besides the Ao Dai, and they dressed their hair up in various styles to match.
After 1968, the mini skirt was introduced to Vietnam and the young and trendy women of Saigon fell in love with it. Denim also became very popular during this time, especially the wide leg jeans complemented by a belt. Back then, the Vietnamese women also enjoyed donning a pair of fancy sunglasses so they could resemble celebrities famous back in the day.
The Street Pajama found Nowadays (Do Bo)
No one knows the exact time people started wearing what we call nowadays “the street pajama”. However, some accounts say that it was after the “Doi Moi” period, around the beginning of the 90’s. Regardless of the reason, it is a favorite because of how comfortable it is.
A complete Do Bo set is made of cotton fabric or spandex to enhance the comfort the wearer feels. It is worn in any type of weather, even during the crazy hot weather of Saigon’s year-long summertime. You may not immediately realize so, but there is a distinguishable difference between a “sleeping pajama” and a “casual street pajama” when it comes to the pattern and the design of the clothes.
The sleeping pajama is usually a camisole paired with a pair of shorts (ha, pun!) while the casual pajama is made up of a short-sleeved top and long cotton trousers. This often has polka-dots, tiny flower pattern or is of a monochrome color. The patterns found on the casual pajama are usually big, vibrant-colored flowers as us Vietnamese women love flowers.
Now, with all this information, I hope you don’t mess up your Halloween outfit.
Custom Tailoring in the City
Tailor shops were popular in the old Saigon, especially from the 80’s and onward. The high-season of the year was usually before Christmas and by Lunar New Year which falls on the first day of January in Lunar calendar. It was likely that you had to reserve your clothes to be made a month or two in advance during peak season.
When Vietnam joined the international trade business, the sewing industry also skyrocketed. Many big factories that handled clothes in bulk were constructed, for locals and for exports. Shopping for fashion in Saigon has never been easier than now. Unfortunately, because of this, the tailoring business is slowly losing the traction it once had. Tailoring is now more of a luxury symbol as people get their custom-made clothing done in high-quality fabrics and trendy styles.
Nevertheless, as fashion is in the blood of the Saigonese lady, we still want to have the occasional customized piece of clothing, especially for fancy occasions. Personally, as my demand for possessions and also my salary grows, I love having more and more dresses customized to my measurements so that they can fit me perfectly. And I can proudly say that it is made just for me.
If you want to get your outfit custom tailored, a popular spot to visit is Ben Thanh Market. This has been a lively area for tailoring since the past, and you can shop for your fabrics and get everything done in just one giant spot. Besides this, here are some awesome tailor shops in Saigon:
Phuong Ha Design
Phuong Ha is a young designer of contemporary fashion in Saigon. Fashionable young women and even celebrities of Vietnam love her sexy yet classy designs. After choosing the design, you can request to have your dress done based on your measurement. Isn’t that awesome? Click here to have a look at Phuong Ha’ awesome designs.
Tam is my most favorite tailor in town. He finds joy in turning every girl into a chic lady. Every time I have him do my dress, I can feel the effort he puts into it, through the way he cares for the smallest details on my outfit. Hence, if you are looking for the best tailor in Saigon, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Tam to you! Have a chat with Tam here.
Duc Duy Design
Duc Duy used to work as a designer for a big fashion brand in Vietnam. Then, after quitting the job, he started his own tailoring business at home. His loyal customers are models and youngsters that love fashion. With time, the name Duc Duy has become more and more popular that many A-list celebrities in Vietnam trust.
It doesn’t mean the price is insanely crazy there because one of the reasons that people love about the brand Duc Duy is the reasonable price. You can either ask Duc Duy to help consult and design your wonderful dress or show him your favorite design and he will make it come to life. Find Duc Duy at 140/3 Vo Thi Sau, D.1
I also have to mention that Hoi An is the tailoring capital of the world. The old town itself has over 200 shops vying for your attention because competition in the old town is off the roof. If you somehow end up in Hoi An during your travels, click here for an awesome guide to finding yourself the best tailor in town. We recommend BeBe!
The traditional Ao Dai is now mostly worn on special occasions such as weddings, Tet holiday, photo-shoots and so on. High schools also usually request those female students don the Ao Dai on Mondays. This means that if you want to have a beautiful picture of yourself with a group of girls wearing Ao Dais, you know how to find them. Some companies also require their employees to wear the Ao Dai, such as hotels, massage parlors and banks.
Modern Vietnamese Clothing
Thanks to the internet, fancy fashion magazines and the explosion of fashion stores in Saigon, allows the younger generations to keep up with the ever-changing fashion trends. Many Vietnamese are now being recognized internationally as hot fashionistas. Some fashion designers are also famous worldwide such as Cong Tri, Ly Quy Khanh, Ly Giam Tien, Chung Thanh Phong…
Fast fashion can also be found anywhere in Saigon for a cheap price. In addition, many young designers have opened their stores to sell their fashion ideas and make their mark. Here is a list of our favorites.
Address: 1st floor, 26 Ly Tu Trong apartment, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Fanpage: Libe Workshop
Address: 54 Cach Mang Thang Tam, District 3
Phone: 090 546 88 52
Address: 43 Dang Thi Nhu, District 1
Phone: 096 443 85 66
Fanpage: Xeo Xo
Tu by Catu
Address: 47D Nguyen Trai, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1
Fanpage: TU by CATU
Address: 44 Dang Thi Nhu, District 1
Phone: 090 607 87 88
Fanpage: Pop Birdy
Address: 49 Ham Nghi, District 1
Phone: 090 998 64 88
Fanpage: Coco Sin
Address: 26 Ly Tu Trong, District 1
Phone: 028 6275 0914
Fanpage: Soda Pop
Fanpage: Klei Studio
Address: Room 32, 2nd floor, Apartment 42 Ton That Thiep, District 1
Phone: 0924 061 580
R Ậ P T H I E T K E
Address: 191 Vo Van Tan, Ward 5, District 3
Phone: 0126 624 5416
Fanpage: RAP Thiet Ke
Fashion in Saigon is moving forward really fast. In spite of that, the traditional Ao Dai is still our national pride and the street pajamas are something everyone has in their closet no matter what they tell you. The fashion in Saigon resembles its buildings – there is a beautiful contrast between the old and the new. Yet they blend in together so smoothly. I believe that someday Saigon – and Vietnam – will be known for being the fashion capital of South East Asia and possibly even a popular fashion spot of the world, together with Milan, Paris, New York, and Tokyo.
Read more: Traditional Clothes of the Ethnic Minorities in Sapa
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