Young woman wearing yếm

A yem (Vietnamese: yếm) is a traditional Vietnamese bodice used primarily as an undergarment that was once worn by Vietnamese women across all classes. There exists a modern variant called the áo yếm, but the historical garment was simply called a yem. It was most usually worn underneath a blouse or overcoat, for modesty's sake.

It is a simple garment with many variations from its basic form, which is a simple, usually diamond or square-cut piece of cloth draped over a woman's chest with strings to tie at the neck and back.


The yem originated from the Chinese dudou, a variant of similar undergarments used in China since antiquity whose use spread under the Ming and Qing dynasties. It became popular in northern Vietnam. Unlike other Vietnamese clothing that helped to segregate the classes, the unseen yem were worn as an undergarment by Vietnamese women of all walks of life, from peasant women toiling in the fields to imperial consorts. It is an integral part of the Áo tứ thân costume, which it is often worn underneath.

The skirt which is worn with the yem is called váy đụp.[1][2][3][4]

Chinese style clothing which was forced on Vietnamese people by the Nguyen dynasty took the place of the yem and skirt (váy đụp).[5][6][7][8][9][10] Trousers have been adopted by White H'mong.[11] The trousers replaced the traditional skirts of the females of the White Hmong.[12] The tunics and trouser clothing of the Han Chinese on the Ming tradition was worn by the Vietnamese. The Ao Dai was created when tucks which were close fitting and compact were added in the 1920s to this Chinese style.[13] Trousers and tunics on the Chinese pattern in 1774 were ordered by the Vo Vuong Emperor to replace the sarong type Vietnamese clothing.[14] The Chinese clothing in the form of trousers and tunic were mandated by the Vietnamese Nguyen government. It was up to the 1920s in Vietnam's north area in isolated hamlets wear skirts were worn.[15] The Chinese Ming dynasty, Tang dynasty, and Han dynasty clothing was ordered to be adopted by Vietnamese military and bureaucrats by the Nguyen Lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát (Nguyen The Tong).[16] Pants were mandated by the Nguyen in 1744 and the Cheongsam Chinese clothing inspired the Ao Dai.[17] Chinese clothing started influencing Vietnamese dress in the Ly dynasty. The current Ao Dai was introduced b the Nguyen Lords.[18]

Different types

A yem from the back

While it was worn across classes, the material and colors used to make yems varied widely based upon the person's social status and the occasion. Commoner women usually wore yem in simple blacks and whites for day to day use, whereas during special occasions they could opt for more festive, brighter colors such as red and pink. Indeed, much of Vietnamese poetry has been dedicated to the beauty of women in their vermilion bodices (yếm đào).

While the bottom of the yem are v-shaped, there were different styles for the top of the garment which covered the neck, the most common two variations being the rounded neck or the v-shaped neck style.

Some types of yem have a little pocket within, where women often used to store a little musk or perfume.

In modern Vietnam

As Westernization reached Vietnam, by the 20th century women increasingly abandoned yems for the Western bra.

Fashion designers, in their constant quest to revitalize interest in traditional costumes - as well as reinvent them - have created many new collections of yem. The modernized form of the garment is slightly different and is called áo yếm rather than yems, the latter referring to the historical garment. Áo yếm has proven to be quite popular with young women, perhaps due to its similarity to the Western halter top.

See also


  1. Elizabeth J. Lewandowski (24 October 2011). The Complete Costume Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. pp. 308–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7785-6.
  2. Phan Giuong (14 July 2015). Tuttle Concise Vietnamese Dictionary: Vietnamese-English English-Vietnamese. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 364–. ISBN 978-1-4629-1417-3.
  3. Franklin E. Huffman; Trọng Hải Trà̂n (1980). Intermediate Spoken Vietnamese. SEAP Publications. pp. 393–. ISBN 978-0-87727-500-8.
  4. Benjamin Wilkinson; Giuong Van Phan (15 March 2003). Periplus Pocket Vietnamese Dictionary: ペリプラスポケットベトナム語辞典. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-7946-0044-0.
  5. Alexander Woodside (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A Comparative Study of Vietnamese and Chinese Government in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Harvard Univ Asia Center. pp. 134–. ISBN 978-0-674-93721-5.
  6. Globalization: A View by Vietnamese Consumers Through Wedding Windows. ProQuest. 2008. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-0-549-68091-8.
  7. http://angelasancartier.net/ao-dai-vietnams-national-dress
  8. http://beyondvictoriana.com/2010/03/14/beyond-victoriana-18-transcultural-tradition-of-the-vietnamese-ao-dai/
  9. http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/clothing-types-styles/ao-dai
  10. http://www.tor.com/2010/10/20/ao-dai-and-i-steampunk-essay/
  11. Vietnam. Michelin Travel Publications. 2002. p. 200.
  12. Gary Yia Lee; Nicholas Tapp (16 September 2010). Culture and Customs of the Hmong. ABC-CLIO. pp. 138–. ISBN 978-0-313-34527-2.
  13. Anthony Reid (2 June 2015). A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 285–. ISBN 978-0-631-17961-0.
  14. Anthony Reid (9 May 1990). Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: The Lands Below the Winds. Yale University Press. pp. 90–. ISBN 978-0-300-04750-9.
  15. A. Terry Rambo (2005). Searching for Vietnam: Selected Writings on Vietnamese Culture and Society. Kyoto University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-920901-05-9.
  16. Jayne Werner; John K. Whitmore; George Dutton (21 August 2012). Sources of Vietnamese Tradition. Columbia University Press. pp. 295–. ISBN 978-0-231-51110-0.
  17. http://travelvietnamtoday.info/vietnamese-traditional-long-gown/ https://www.vietnamonline.com/culture/ao-dai.html
  18. http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/special-reports/151794/vietnamese-ao-dai--from-dong-son-bronze-drum-to-int-l-beauty-contests.html https://www.vietnambreakingnews.com/2016/02/vietnamese-ao-dai-from-dong-son-bronze-drum-to-intl-beauty-contests/
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