TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE DRESSES | Darrin Henry
The moment I saw Vietnamese girls wearing the ao dai in Vietnam I was captivated and immediately wanted to do an ao dai style photoshoot to add to my portfolio. I like doing modelling shoots in different countries and travel with the essential camera gear.
The ao dai is a traditional dress in Vietnam, a two-piece outfit of a long flowing silk tunic worn over wide trousers, ao dai translates as ‘long shirt.’ The ao dai design is subtle and feminine, made to hug the slender figures of Vietnamese women.
The Ao dai in Vietnam (pronounced ‘ow yai’) has become symbolic of the country and the image is used widely on souvenirs.
As luck would have it we stay at the Hanoi Chic in the Old Town and couldn’t have chosen a friendlier hotel. Among the staff we got to know were receptionists, Jane and Emily or Trang. Both ladies epitomised the beauty and grace of Vietnamese women so it was a no brainer to ask them to model for an ao dai style photoshoot.
Vietnamese Women Are Beautiful
At first they were a little hesitant; neither had modelled, but after a little discussion with Sharon and I the intrigue of a shoot convinced them to have a go.
We hired áo dài dresses from a shop in the city and the girls chose to shoot at the beautiful Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Two pretty Vietnamese women wearing ao dai dresses walking to the Lake turned heads. I smiled as people admired our glamorous models striding ahead of us. These two stood out, even in a city with more than its fair share of stunning women.
Ao Dai Vietnamese Dresses Grabs Attention
Funnily enough, the first photographs weren’t even taken by me! While I was getting the camera set up, a tourist asked the girls could he take a picture in their Vietnamese traditional dress. The cheek! Actually, it was a lovely moment and I loved watching the girls oblige, giggling at the novelty of it all.
Now doing an ao dai photo shoot at the lake with novice models was a bold move, considering the location is a central focal point for locals and tourists alike. On this occasion, a week day, mid-morning, it was busy.
Helping the girls to relax and building their confidence was the priority; they were understandably a little self-conscious of the curious looks from passers-by at the start of our ao dai style photoshoot.
One of my photography ‘techniques’ is, I’m always happy to demonstrate the poses I want from the models. Not only does it make clear what the pose should be but it can also look a bit comical and lightens the mood. Let’s just say it also worked on this shoot!
Ao Dai In Vietnam – A Street Photoshoot
We began with the two girls posing together and then alternated with single poses. At one spell I tried placing Trang on the narrow dividing pavement in the centre of the road in an attempt to get a ‘surrounded by traffic’ look. But it was so noisy we couldn’t communicate and I think she was more concerned with getting run over. That didn’t last long.
After shooting near the traffic we moved to the lakeside itself for the second part of the shoot. With the area being so popular it was all about finding angles that eliminated stray people from the background.
Vietnam Traditional Dress Is Fashionable
By now both models wearing the national dress of Vietnam, were enjoying themselves, playing to the camera and feeding off the attention they were generating. It would be interesting to know how many camera phones snapped pictures of them that day.
The purple and white ao dai dresses were stunning and photographed well. Apparently the colours are indicative of the wearer’s age and status. Pure white, fully-lined outfits are worn by younger girls symbolising their purity. Soft pastel shades are worn by older, unmarried girls. The bolder, deep colours are reserved for married women, usually worn over black trousers.
History of Ao Dai Fashion
This graceful costume, one of the most stylish national dresses I’ve ever seen, has evolved in its ao dai design since the early versions, worn during the Nguyen Dynasty in 1744. The outfit similar to what we know today began to appear around 1930, created by Vietnam fashion designer cum tailor, Cat Tuong. Then in the 1950s Saigon tailors, Tran Kim and Dung, tightened the fit, making it into the áo dài dress worn today.
The photo shoot was mostly all natural light photography in order for us to work quickly and keep mobile. We did shoot a set, however, with one off camera strobe light, softened with a stofen omni bounce diffuser.
That’s A Wrap
After a little over an hour we had covered a lot of ground and both girls had to get back to work. Their boss had kindly allowed them an extended break for the shoot.
The beautiful Vietnamese girls were naturals, both Jane and Trang had been a joy to shoot, as I knew they would be. We nailed some great shots and my portfolio now boasts the ao dai in Vietnam, shot in Hanoi. I am also now an expert (in my house at least) on the traditional Vietnamese dress.