Your Saigon Ao Dai Search Made Simple

History, prices, locations. After reading this article, you should have no trouble finding the perfect ao dai in Ho Chi Minh City, whether you are foreign or Vietnamese. So go get your “long dress” today!

The Vietnamese ao dai (pronounced ‘ow yai’) is one of the most iconic national garments in the world. You will often see women styling their beautiful ao dai dresses as they are a well-known symbol of feminine glamor in Vietnam. Naturally, almost every woman in Vietnam will have an ao dai in their wardrobe. The style of the outfit is meant to embody grace, elegance and beauty — perfect for any Vietnamese who move to Saigon and need a new dress for a special occasion. And for foreigners it makes the perfect souvenir for your time in Vietnam. So let us help you with your Saigon ao dai search.

What is a Vietnamese ao dai?

Saigon ao dai

The translation of ao dai in proper English is, quite simply, long dress. The ao dai consists of a long-sleeved, ankle-length tunic with side splits up to the waist, worn over wide-leg trousers. Every tailored ao dai is made to reflect a women’s shape, size and, most importantly, their unique style. While the outfit covers most of the body, its figure-hugging style means it covers everything but hides nothing. To ensure elegance and to make sure it perfectly fits the body of the woman that wears it, it’s best to have an ao dai tailor-made.

Who wears it?

Saigon ao dai

Although you predominantly see women wearing the ao dai, men wear them too. For men, the style of the ao dai is looser fitting and the shirt is not as long. Men tend to only wear the ao dai for very special occasions and Tet, whereas for women the ao dai remains the favorite traditional dress during not just Tet but all festivities, including weddings and graduations. At some schools and universities throughout Vietnam, the ao dai is  the official uniform of those who attend the institution.

History of the “long dress”

The exact origin of the ao dai is a controversial topic. Many attribute the creation of the ao dai to the southern lord, Nguyen Phuc Khoat, who wanted to establish a separate identity from his northern rivals. He demanded that all men and women in court in the 18th century wear the ao dai. Many also believe it was originally influenced by the imperial Chinese garment known as the cheongsam. Throughout the 19th century, the ao dai transformed into a five-panel gown and other variations. In 1930, an iconic modification occurred when a Vietnamese designer made the panels longer and the material thinner. At the time it was known as the Le Mur tunic.

Then the ao dai took a dive in popularity in the 1980s as modernized versions of the outfit were condemned by the government. However, in 1989, a Miss Ao Dai competition in Ho Chi Minh City and the adoption of the ao dai as school uniform throughout the country made its popularity soar. Nowadays, as well as being a symbol of patriotism, the ao dai is a fashion statement. Designers all over Vietnam put their mark on the ao dai with modifications in design, accessories, and fit. The ao dai allows those who wear it to be simultaneously fashion-forward and traditional on special occasions.

How is an ao dai made?

Saigon ao dai

Designers and tailors all over Vietnam usually make an ao dai out of silk. Because of the stretchy nature of silk, extra precision and care are necessary when cutting the silk to make sure the lines are straight. A tailor often uses material in his/her shop to make the ao dai, but sometimes customers bring their own material. The typical time taken to make an Ao dai is around one week, including the consultation with the customer, measuring, cutting, sewing, and adding the finishing touches. However, if the customer requires custom embroidery then it can take up to several weeks.

Where to buy fabric during your Saigon ao dai search?

There are many places you can buy fabric. One of these is Tan Dinh market, or Cho Tan Dinh as they call it in Vietnamese, in District 1. Upon entering the market, you see rows upon rows of beautiful fabrics stacked high. Remember that you can barter the first price you get, like most markets. Here are some other places to buy fabric in Ho Chi Minh City:

Tan Dinh: 48 Ma Lo, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1
Ben Thanh: Le Loi, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
Tan Binh: 172 Ly Thuong Kiet, Ward 8, Tan Binh District
Binh Tay: 57a Thap Muoi, Ward 2, District 6

How much does it cost to have one made in Ho Chi Minh City?

Saigon ao dai

The cost of an ao dai varies hugely. You can pay as little as 200,000 VND ($8.50 USD), but this might mean a poorly-made and ill-fitting dress for any special occasion. Where you buy your material, your level of customization, any embroidery and other final touches will affect the price of your ao dai. The usual price for the perfect ao dai is 2 to 3 million VND ($86 to $129 USD). However, it’s not uncommon for an ao dai to cost over $5,000 USD, even as high as $40,000 USD in some instances!

Where to have an ao dai made in Ho Chi Minh City?

Here are our top places to consider on your Saigon ao dai quest:

Low budget: Ao Dai Ngoc Chau – 148 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, District 3
Midrange budget: Ao Dai Minh Khao – 39 Dong Khoi, District 1; Miss Ao Dai – 21 Nguyen Trung Ngan, District 1
Luxury budget: Ao Dai Lien Huong – 111 Pasteur, Ward 8, District 3

There isn’t a better outfit for most special occasions or a trendier souvenir to take home from Vietnam and show off to your friends and family! If you’re going to have anything made in Saigon, you should make sure it’s an ao dai.