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Word Count: 849
A lasting impression for any visitor to Vietnam is the beauty of the women dressed in their ao dais Girls dressed in white pick their way through muddy streets going home from school or sail by in a graceful chatter on their bikes Secretaries in delicate pastels greet you at an office door and older ladies in deep shades of purple green or blue cut a striking pose eating dinner at a restaurant The ao dai appears to flatter every figure Its body-hugging top flows over wide trousers that touch the floor Splits in the gown extend well above waist height and make it comfortable and easy to move in Although virtually the whole body is wrapping in soft flowing fabric these splits give the odd glimpse of a bare midriff making the outfit very sensual Rapidly becoming the national costume for ladies its development is actually very short compared to the countrys history If youre from the south then the dress is pronounced as ao dai but ao zai is the proper way to pronounced if youre from the north the color is indicative of the wearers age and status Young girls wear pure white and it symbolizes their purity As they grow older but are still unmarried they move into soft pastel shades but not yet too dark Only married women wear gowns in strong rich colors usually over white or black pants The ao dai has always been more common in the south than the north but strictness drives after 1975 meant it was rarely anywhere seen for a number of years as it was considered an excess not appropriate for hard work The nineties have seen renaissance in the ao dais popularity It has become standard attire for many office workers and hotel staff as well as now being the preferred dress for more formal occasions says my mom I feel proud of my heritage when I wear it
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