From the earliest days of Vietnam, traditional costumes have been a vital part of the national Identity and a touchstone of cultural pride.
Zhao Tuo (230-137 BC), was a Qin dynasty’s mandarin in the Southern to settle his own kingdom and cultivate a distinctive Viet culture that parted from Han civilization. His new kingdom would be short lived, however.
In 111BC, the land he named Nam Viet was occupied by the Han Dynasty. Numerous policies were imposed to bring the Southern territory into cultural alignment, including forcing Vietnamese to convert to Han costumes, characterized by large diagonal flaps wrapped backwards and tightened sleeves.
Traditional costumes began to fade into obscurity. However, they would never completely disappear. In fact, clothing took on a role that was more than merely fashion. Indigenous costumes were seen as a touchstone and a source of Vietnamese cultural independence, and were often referred to in the centuries that followed.
During ten centuries of Han colonization, the Vietnamese triggered hundreds of uprisings in pursuit of independence. Leaders of those resistances were always seen in Viet costumes, as documented by historical accounts. Female heroines such as the Trung Sisters, who briefly regained power in 40-43 A D are depicted wearing green shirts, red dresses and red caps. Lady Trieu, who led a revolt in the 3rd century, wrapped her chest with silk, wearing a golden shirt and curved slippers while rushing to the front on an elephant.
Historical records, such as the Complete Annals of the Dai Viet, written during the 13th-15th centuries and compiled by historian Le Van Huu, looked back on the early culture as a way to strengthen national identity. Records such as these ultimately helped inspire Vietnam's final independence from the Ming rulers, achieved in 1428 by Emperor Le Loi
The legendary scholar, poet and politician Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), in his epic work Great Proclamation upon the Pacification of the Wu, a declaration of independence from the Ming Dynasty, refers to the pride of Vietnamese costumes and traditions which had been preserved for generations to form an identity unique to Vietnam.
In later years, archeological discoveries have only heightened the connection of costumes to the Vietnamese identity. In the early 20th century, local and foreign archaeologists discovered the Bronze Age Dong Son culture. Many bronze statues denoting costumes from this period show people wearing scarves or loincloths. Warriors are seen with short breastplates and shields, and female dancers with diagonally flapped outer garments, girdles and baggy sleeves.
Aristocrats were portrayed wearing hiking hats or diadems, parted dresses or long gowns. Ornaments with golden, jade or amber strings featuring female dancers in light attire, hooked buttons and buttons carved with gold coated Lac birds in Dong son dolmens clearly demonstrate continuity with Nam Viet costumes.
Other archeological finds, such as the 1983 discovery of the tomb of Emperor Trieu Van, the second emperor of Nam Viet, who died in 124 BC, also have provided researchers with priceless information on court costumes. The Emperor's short armor was found to consist of many geometrically decorated patches which were unlike any designs from the Qin and Han dynasties. His costumes also included seven girdles with gold coated buckles of various shapes and dozens of long swords.
Images of Emperor Van Trieu's wife show her depicted in a parted dress, with her hair parted and her hand resting on a bronze mirror. Archeologists also unearthed bronze pots carved with Viet costumes, hundreds of brocade fabric pieces, and bronze marks which were used for pattern printing.
Religious artifacts also illuminate the historical picture, especially the discovery of terracotta bricks featuring three Buddhas in Nghe An or the discovery of a bronze Buddha statue in Thanh Hoa that traces back to the 7th or 8th century. Those statues exhibit the Buddha in traditional Vietnamese tu than tunic, with a round collared bodice tightened sleeves and belts, seated on a hexagonal base.
Over the centuries, Vietnamese costumes have come to embody national pride and identity.
Traditional costumes derived from Hung Vuong and Nam Viet periods survived through ten centuries of Han colonization, and laid the foundation for the flourishing of Vietnam’s national costumes in the era of independence.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen