Pronounced 'ao yai' in the south, but 'ao zai' in the north, the color is indicative of the wearer's age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully lined outfits symbolizing their purity. As they grow older but are still unmarried they move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear gowns in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. The ao dai has always been more prevalent in the south than the north, but austerity 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 a resurgence in the ao dai's 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. For visitors, the pink and blue of the Vietnam Airlines uniform creates a lasting memory as they travel.
During the 1950s two tailors in Saigon, Tran Kim of Thiet Lap Tailors and Dung of Dung Tailors, started producing the gowns with raglan sleeves. ( Dung tailors is known by expats as the Suit Nazi.....very business like and not a particularly pleasant experience...but great suits!) This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and today, this style is still preferred.