Culture Culture

04/11/2017 - 10:17

Costume in the old days

Agreeing with the imperial court, from Hue Capital, King Minh Mang ordered: "Costume will be changed from next Spring. Harassment of any sort on any excuse is strictly prohibited."

Opulent look in people's costume in the early days

Over 700 years of Thuan Hoa - Phu Xuan - Hue with an extremely rich culture, costume is a fascinating issue that catches the attention of many researchers.

People in ao dai and conical hats at a Tet market in ancient Hue (photo: TL)

Since 1306, Hue costume has begun to take shape, based on the figure of migrants from the North who resided here. When the Nguyen Lords began to build their residences in the green area of Kim Long by the Perfume River, there appeared a Hue character in costume, speech and behavior. In the study "Foreign Trade of Vietnam in the 17th, 18th and Early 20th Centuries" (History Publishing House, Hanoi, 1961), the researcher Thanh The Vy quoted Clergy Christofforo Borri about the costume of Thuan Hoa people at the time (1618-1621): "First of all, regarding clothes, there is so much silk that even workers and lower classes wear it in everyday life. I like watching men and porters in silk at work without worrying about keeping their elegant clothes from getting dirty or ruined." That decent dressing style later became the routine of residents in Thuan Hoa. At the end of the 18th century, Le Quy Don recorded in Phu bien Tap luc: "Even laypeople wear brocade in everyday life; cotton and linen were considered a shame to them. Young girls and women were dressed in silk with flowery patterns and embroidered flowers on the round collar. Le Quy Don also wrote about the costume in Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat's times: "Boys and girls in Thuan Hoa and Quang Nam should make a change in their costume. Women should wear shirts with narrow sleeves like men's." People at the time were well aware of the need of forming an identity in costume for the South to distinguish themselves from people in the North.

Thus, from the end of the 18th century, women in Thuan Hoa did not wear dresses any more, but shirts with narrow sleeves instead (like ao ba ba of today). They looked neat in that style, which was convenient for work and enhanced their slender bodies.

The great reform in costume in the Nguyen Dynasty's times

In Nguyen Kings' times, the dressing style was more refined in Thuan Hoa. At that time, people in Thuan Hoa had been used to dressing in the new style. They looked relaxed, decent and elegant. Nguyen Kings then encouraged people all over the country to dress in the style of people in Thuan Hoa. According to Dai Nam Thuc Luc, in September in the 9th year of Minh Mang's times (1828), mandarins in Thanh Hoa, Nghe Tinh and the North informed the imperial court that people in those areas wanted to dress like people from Gianh River to the South. After taking the issue into consideration, the imperial court declared: "So far though realizing there should be a uniformity in custom, the imperial court did not want to force it. The costume for people from Gianh River to the South has been settled. On the first days when the nation became one, the King realized that any change in costume for the people from Gianh River to the North should take time. Now if the Northern people want to make a change, there is no harm then. However, we cannot ask poor people to do it all at once. You have one month for people's convenience."

A young Hue girl at the market (by a journalist of Life magazine)

 Agreeing with the imperial court, from Hue Capital, King Minh Mang ordered: "Costume will be changed from next Spring. Harassment of any sort on any excuse is strictly prohibited." Although the idea had been considered with caution, in the beginning, the "revolution in fashion" could not avoid negative reactions, as a folk poem went: "Tháng chín có chiếu vua ra/ Cấm quần không đáy người ta hãi hùng." ("King's order in September/ No dresses; people so frightened.") Changing a habit is not easy indeed.

 The continuity in costume 

Later on, the Nguyen Dynasty made alterations to costume a couple of times, but it mainly regulated patterns and materials to distinguish mandarins from laymen and between titles. For example, in 1838, there was an order: "Members of the family of mandarins or lower as well as laymen, both men and women, can wear silk only. On special occasions, they can wear Vietnamese silk with flowery patterns in any colors except yellow. (Dai Nam Thuc Luc, Vol. 9, Science and Society Publishing House,1964, p.118.)

Hue costume in the early 20th century underwent many profound changes. Previously, Hue men, together with ao dai, black umbrellas and wooden shoes, always wore their hair in a bun and turbans when they were out. It was considered typical of a respectful and knowledgeable man. In 1908, the Duy Tan Movement encouraged Vietnamese men to wear short hair. That movement was initially referred to as "Hair Clippers Campaign" or "Let's Cut Movement". It spread from Quang Nam to Hue and Hue people at the time were very enthusiastic about it. Young men and students stood in groups with scissors and hair clippers in hand, singing "Let's cut! Let's cut! Get rid of this stupidity! Get rid of that foolishness. Today we cut, tomorrow we'll shave. Let's cut! "

Getting rid of the bun meant cutting off the foolish past to start a new era of the country and for the people. According to the researcher Bui Minh Duc, on the first day of school in 1911-1912, all teachers at elementary schools wore short hair and in 1916, all students had their hair cut short.

In the mid-20th century, the Lemur ao dai appeared and was soon accepted by Hue women. Dong Khanh schoolgirls in ao dai and with conical hats became a legendary image. Young people in Hue today also catch up with changes in fashion both nationally and internationally. There have appeared many fashion designers whose collections surprised the professional. That is the continuity in fashion in the time of globalization in Hue today.

 Story and photos: VO TRIEU SON