Vietnamese Tradition: Lunar New Year Outfits


Informant G is a 20 year old Cinema and Media Studies major from The Inland Empire in Southern California. Her family is primarily Vietnamese and Cambodian, and G lived in Vietnam for periods of time as a child. She is a junior at USC.


Please excuse any grammar issues, these are direct text message quotes. G sent me a photo of herself and her older sister wearing áo dài. She said the following:

“During Lunar New Year (Tết in Vietnamese) most people wear áo dài which is the traditional Vietnamese dress/costume/outfit. Although, it’s not exclusively worn during Lunar New Years, most people buy new áo dàis or wear their best one as a way to start the new year off well.”

When I asked about further significance in the type of áo dài, she replied

“they more symbolize the significance of an event, like people can wear it in their casual life but the fancier an áo dài the more formal/significant an event is”

“the color is also very important (not as much any more) but during Tet a lot of people wear red áo dài because it represents luck and prosperity”


There are a number of significant details in this anecdotal description. For one thing, G clearly indicates an association with life cycle. There is a purpose in the kind of áo dài worn as one enters the new year. She mentions that people might “buy new áo dàis” – perhaps as a physical representation of newness – or wear their best one as a way of instating luck. G explained that áo dài is a Vietnamese garment that can be worn casually, but a fancier one is considered more formal and correlates with the event for which it’s worn. G also mentions that the color red has some significance. I find this interesting because, though Vietnam is considered a Southeast Asian country, imperialism brought bits of Chinese culture into Vietnamese culture, and the East Asian significance of the color red has been part of Vietnamese tradition, too. Traditions done for the purpose of bringing luck into the new year are incredibly common (ie: Latin Americans eating 12 grapes or bringing a suitcase around the block) – they are meant to induce prosperity, and multiple aspects of wearing fancy, or sometimes red áo dài reflect that folkloric commonality.