Shopping for an Ao Dai

Vinh took me and Joe shopping for ao dais to wear at her wedding in Hue later this month. The picture below shows just a small piece of the beading and embroidery on one of the ao dais that Vinh’s mum is going to wear. I like that green; I asked Vinh if it was all right to choose a very similar color. She said it was not a problem, and that you couldn’t be sure which ao dai her mum would wear anyway.

VInh's mum's ao dai

We went by taxi into the city, to a certain market that Vinh knows.  It was down a long narrow street, too narrow for cars but just right for motorbikes, near the train tracks. This picture is outside the market, which was huge and dark. A market is apparently not just a collection of people on the street selling things. instead, it is a specific, purpose-built large covered building where you rent a stall. It is not an activity, in other words. It’s a place. A bunch of people selling things does not constitute a market. I have actually not understood that. I only just figured it out.


Vinh took us to a stall where she had bought fabric before and she knows the woman who owns the stall.  I know that the picture is pretty dark; so was the market.

Fabric vendor

As usual, I was overwhelmed by the colors and textures of the market and could hardly calm down and choose a fabric. Joe didn’t have much problem choosing the fabric for his ao dai. He chose a dark blue cloth with gold bosses and a dragon in the weave. He also chose white polished cotton for the pants.  I took much longer. I didn’t really understand how to choose the patterned fabrics, especially the ones with enormous floral shoulder-to-hem patterns. Finally, I chose two fabrics. One of them is the lower of the two shades of green in the left hand pile. The other is a purple and silver overall small floral pattern, double-sided. I chose a kind of creamy white silk for the pants. Total cost for the fabric for 3 ao dai: about $70.00

Ao dai cloth

Then we walked back to the main street and got a taxi and went to Vinh’s tailor. She measured both me and Joe.

Joe being measured

The woman in the lower left is her mother, who lives nearby.

The ao dais will be ready in about 10 days.

Here is the tailor’s sewing machine, a Butterfly, made in China.

Sewing machine

Then we went and had lunch, vegetarian, near the pagoda. It started to rain really hard. That’s not exactly a red wagon in the rain, but it’s a red scooter and it’s equally beautiful.

Rain during lunch

The receipt, showing the different fabrics stapled onto it. Altogether, 3 silk ao dais with 2 pairs of pants made to order will cost about $110.


We got a taxi and went back to Ton Duc Thang, where we met with the Accounting Faculty for a session of English practice. They are a very friendly, good-natured group of people, young like everyone else here. Their English grammar and vocabulary are much better than their pronunciation, so we are probably supposed to help them most with pronunciation. They seemed to get along well with each other –lots of laughter – and were very welcoming to us. They gave us presents — mugs with the image of Ton Duc Thang on them. I am drinking ginger tea out of mine right now.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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