Celebrate your special style in 2020
When we arrived in Hanoi and walked into the airport hall, I stopped in admiration. A sudden wave of unreality swept over me and I felt for a moment as if I were in a scene from a movie.
A slender and elegant Vietnamese woman with lustrous brown hair piled high above her finely sculpted face was walking directly towards us from the tourist information desk.
She was dressed in a floor length, form fitting, powder blue silk tunic that split at the waist on both sides and revealed long, loose white silk pants.
As she walked, the dress and pants flowed with a gentle and hypnotic rhythm.
When she approached, her soft and musical voice carried clearly: “Welcome to Vietnam!”
Her perfect smile was dazzling, and I took in the purity of her ensemble in all its glamour. I was overcome with a single thought: “I want a chic dress just like hers!”
I murmured to Bill: “I already love this country. For women to dress like this is so inspiring!”
I had never seen these dresses before. It was a wonderful surprise to immediately discover one of the most lovely traditions in Vietnam.
This gorgeous dress is called the ao dai and it has a long history.
For 300 years it has been a symbol of Vietnamese femininity.
There is a timeless beauty to it. It’s an example of the refinement of Vietnamese culture, which is sometimes forgotten amid the harsh and bitter history of Vietnam’s long struggle against foreign aggression.
To wear the ao dai shows your pride to be Vietnamese and is again becoming the ideal for how a Vietnamese girl should look.
A special appeal of the ao dai is how it flatters the beautiful curves of a woman’s body, yet is modest and non-revealing.
The moving colours of the outer dress and pants are contrasting, which makes it pleasing to watch, and the pure silk fabric gives richness and quality.
We admired both girls and women wearing them everywhere in Vietnam; not just at the hotels and shops or at historic sites, but just casually walking on the streets.
It has become a uniform in many businesses, and a certainty for a special date.
It inspires the men to look their best when accompanying their lovers.
I smiled with respectful delight when I saw a bride in an ao dai dress determinedly climbing the 500 stone steps to a mountain temple with her husband and a photographer huffing and puffing behind her.
In public high schools the girls have to wear the white ao dai twice a week, on Monday and on an optional weekday.
The younger girls wear white ones that represent purity and youth. Teachers have to wear the ao dai when they are in class, but they can choose the colour and style.
Following my dream, I bought a dark purple ao dai as soon as I went shopping in Hanoi.
Yet, I did not wear it immediately. I was not sure if, as a foreigner, it would be appropriate.
It was not until we reached the ancient city of Hoi An, a Unesco World Heritage Site, that I slipped into my ao dai and strolled tentatively among the winding stone streets.
Surrounded by carved dragons and Buddhist shrines, I felt more confident.
Imagine my surprise when Vietnamese women came to me time and time again with smiles to say, “How beautiful!” and gently touch my arm.
I was glowing with all the positive attention, and I thought how extraordinary it was that the Vietnamese made such an effort to encourage me and make me feel at home in their country.
I bloomed like a lotus flower and laughed a lot.
I never received so many compliments in one afternoon in my entire life.
Even groups of Chinese visitors stopped and many asked to take a picture with me. It was such a novelty for a western woman to wear an ao dai!
Most importantly, it made the Vietnamese happy.
They are so proud of their traditions and took my dress as a compliment.
When I think of the drab, comfort-only style of most Western tourists I can appreciate how my local fashion attempt struck a chord of approval.
Why don’t we dress our best when we travel? Why is it appropriate to wear baggy T-shirts and sandals when we are surrounded by centuries’ old temples and magnificent works of art?
I remember the first time I came to Bermuda. I was charmed by the fashionable men on Front Street wearing stylish Bermuda shorts with crisp blue blazers, knee socks and quality leather shoes.
I was fascinated and intrigued. I had never seen anything like that. It was a totally unique fashion statement and seemed the epitome of Bermuda style.
Perhaps like me, Bermudian men need encouragement so they will continue to preserve this handsome local tradition.
Let’s compliment them when we see their Bermuda shorts and knee socks!
Let’s make them feel noticed and appreciated for their efforts to be both sharp looking and Bermudian!
My dear readers, let 2020 be a year of celebrating your special style.
Be both sexy and gorgeous — because you are! Find a beautiful dress and shine like a star!
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com</i>
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