VietnamCulture and HistoryVietnamese Clothing: Ao Ba Ba

Vietnamese Clothing: Ao Ba Ba

What is “ao ba ba”? When you first hear the word, you may find it weird since it is a Vietnamese word with no proper translation. Vietnamese ao ba ba is a traditional garment that symbolizes women’s culture, elegance, and beauty in the Southern countryside. This Vietnamese clothing could surprise you with its unique and simple design, significance in people’s daily lives, and origin. If you find this apparel fascinating, check out where you can get one at the end of the blog.

Origin of the Vietnamese Ao Ba Ba

Ao ba ba has long been a traditional costume for the Southerners. However, its origin is yet to be known, and there are a lot of theories around the story of the ao ba ba’s first appearance in Vietnam. Some think that the ao ba ba resembles a man’s shirt with a round collar and a narrow shirt Le Quy Don – an 18th-century Vietnamese poet, encyclopedist, and government official – obliged his citizens to wear at the end of the 18th century.

Another theory is based on Son Nam writer’s point of view. He stated that the Southern people loved the shirt of a group of Chinese people living on Penang Island in Malaysia who named Baba. Some people do not agree because there is no ethnic minority name “Ba Ba,” which means Malaysian-Chinese people. However, some experts find the word “Baba-Nyonya” in Bahasa Malaysia calling Peranakan people, in which “Baba” refers to “male”, and “Nyonya” refers to “female” on Penang Island during Britain’s colonization. Interestingly, Peranakan women have a costume like ao ba ba named “kebaya”. Therefore, it is believed that the ao ba ba was a redesign and modernization of the kebaya, resulting from trading and cultural exchange between Vietnam and Malaysia since the first half of the 19th century.

Evolution of the Vietnamese Ao Ba Ba and the Design

A traditional set of ao ba ba includes a pair of silk pants and a collarless, long-sleeved shirt. A line of buttons in the middle of the front of the shirt is made from 2 equal parts, and a cut on both sides going to the waist creates two flaps split equally. At the bottom of the front, two square pieces of square cloth are usually attached to form pockets on two sides. This Vietnamese garment is loose and very comfortable to move around, explaining its popularity in both genders in the last centuries.

In modern times, there have been changes in the design and materials to keep up with modern demands and fashion. The new Vietnamese clothing fits the female body lines with a tighter waist and chest.

The two front pockets have been removed, while the designer cleverly adds more colors and beautiful patterns instead of dark and plain color textiles used in the past centuries. Fortunately, the simplicity and traditional features of great importance in Vietnamese culture remain despite the change.

Vietnamese Ao Ba Ba Usages

In the past, the peasants and the farmers, especially in the Mekong Delta, wore the black ao ba ba as a daily uniform when working in paddy fields due to its convenience. People in the delta also love to put on this comfortable Vietnamese garment in daily activities and special occasions. When dark colors like black and brown are worn as working attire, bright colors are used in festivals and performances.

If you want to dress like a real Vietnamese local, a combination of ao ba ba, “Khan Ran” (checkered neck scarf), and a conical hat would be a perfect disguise to mix in with country life! “Khan ran” where “khan” means scarf, and “ran” means stripe, is a long Vietnamese black and white checkered shawl. These days, this image is only often seen in the Mekong Delta, Southern rural areas, and cultural performances. However, it is still regarded as a symbol of Southern women’s feminine and inner beauty.

Where to Buy Ao Ba Ba

Here are a few suggestions for purchasing ao ba ba as one of your beautiful souvenirs from your trip to Vietnam.

Ben Thanh Market

Wandering around one of the most iconic and famous local markets in Ho Chi Minh City, you will quickly encounter stalls where the ao ba ba is shown so that you can try and buy. Another option is to choose a textile in the market and then bring it to a tailor.

Hoai Giang Shop

This is one of the most favored shops of locals specializing in tailoring ao ba ba in Ho Chi Minh City. There are a variety of models you can consider.
Location: 40 Tran Quang Khai Street, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1.
Price: From VND 400,000/set

Summary of the Vietnamese Clothing: Ao Ba Ba

The ao ba ba may not be commonly worn like before, but every Vietnamese is aware of its importance in the diversity of culture. Many people are putting effort into preserving traditional clothes wisely through generations while keeping the original characteristics. A traveler with a curious mind and an eagerness to learn should not miss the opportunity to check out the ao ba ba- the traditional Southern Vietnamese garment.

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