Story: Dr. Le Thi Tuyet

Marriage is a joyous occasion and wedding attire is an important part of any ceremony. The history of Vietnamese wedding clothes spans thousands of years.

Wedding in the South of Vietnam.

Across many cultures, wedding attire holds a special place as it marks one of life’s most joyous and meaningful milestones. In Vietnam, historical sources dating back to the nation’s founding by the Hung kings in the 3rd millennium BCE show that the ancient Viet people wore a diverse array of clothing, jewelry, headgear and hairstyles in festivals and weddings.

The most common outfit was a two-piece ritual robe and hat decorated with feathers for men, as seen in motifs on bronze drums.

Other clothing for men and women depicted on dagger hilts included multi-layered tunics, wrap skirts, waistbands, and chiec xe (a decorative cloth band that goes between the legs, covering the front and back, somewhat similar to a loincloth). Hair was tied in a high bun or worn loose and short, while turbans were donned along with jewelry made from bronze and gems, such as ear hoops, bracelets, and wristbands of bells. Dong Son bronze artifacts did not depict marriage ceremonies, but we can imagine what the ancient Viet people wore for their weddings based on their festival clothing.

Grooms and brides in traditional costumes in Hue

Regardless of the wearer’s location or social status, wedding clothing was always sophisticated and luxurious, with bright colors that adhered to the yin-yang philosophy. Although a variety of hues were used, color schemes obeyed the principle of pairing contrasting colors as demonstrated on tops, skirts, and pants.

Brides in the North usually wore multi-layered tunics with three or seven layers. The outermost layer was a dark ao the (a robe-like cloth made of open-weave, see-through silk), followed by a pair of pink-and-green or yellow-and-lake-green tunics and a white blouse and red yem (Vietnamese backless halter top).

The tunics were paired with black soi or linh skirts (different types of silk fabrics), belts, ponytails and black velvet turbans with golden or silver butterflies. In the marriage ceremony, the bride carried a ba tam hat (a flat palm hat) as an accessory and wore open-heel clogs. Common jewelry included earrings, rings and gold bracelets.

Grooms and brides in traditional costumes in Hue

In the Central region, brides also wore multi-layered clothing, with red or crimson tunics covered by indigo blue ao the or similar openweave tunics. Their hair was combed back and gathered into a bun behind the neck, and they wore necklaces, strings of beads, golden bracelets or bangles.

Jumping ahead to the 17 th century CE, Italian missionary Christoforo Borri left a record of the wedding and holiday attire he encountered in Hue. Borri, who stayed in Thuan Hoa between 16181622, wrote that Hue women “wear five or six petticoats one over another, all of several colors.” The women also wore colorful doublets and transparent veils that highlighted “all their gaiety with modesty, [making] a beauteous majestic appearance,” Borri wrote.

Men in Hue, meanwhile, wore gowns of several colors that made their wearers “look like peacocks with their fine feathers spread abroad,” according to the missionary. These vibrant and formal garments became part of the Hue lifestyle that has endured to this day.

Grooms and brides in traditional costumes in Hue

Because of hot weather, brides in the South did not wear many-layered outfits but mainly brocade ao dai, black linh pants and embroidered slippers. Their hair was brushed back and gathered into a bun with combs made of tortoiseshell, gold, or silver, or hairpins decorated with golden or silver butterflies.

Clothing for grooms was simpler. Usually, they wore black turbans, white pants of doan (a fabric that is thicker with more warps than that of brocade), or brocade tunics in ao dai style with diagonal fastenings in the front.

In some places, grooms wore paired tunics, comprised of a white innermost ao dai and an outer double-layer tunic lined with crepe fabric or a blue brocade tunic and Gia Dinh shoes. The groom also donned a blue cassock-like robe in ceremonies to thank the deities of fate, ancestors and parents.

In recent years, Vietnamese wedding clothing concepts have absorbed European influences but the rites have not changed much. Wedding clothes still mark a new chapter of life filled with joys and responsibilities, much as they did thousands of years ago.