Vietnam Week: The Pyjama Game


To some, it seems Vietnam is the ultimate laid-back nation, where half the population never bothers to get out of their pyjamas.

Women are the main pyjama-wearers in Vietnam, although you often spot older men in neatly pressed buttoned-up cotton pyjamas – the same style as my dad used to wear.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere you look there are women wearing stretchy pants-and-top sets in all kinds of patterns. Most sets match, although some ladies like to add an extra shirt over the top, for sun protection. These outfits, known as Đồ bộ, are usually pretty inexpensive.

The thing is, these outfits are not pyjamas. Well, they are … but they aren’t.

Most Vietnamese people don’t have separate clothes for sleeping. They just wear clothes that are comfortable enough to sleep in, and they sleep in them and wear them until it’s time for a shower or time to change into something else.

Traditionally, the Vietnamese wore “matching” outfits of a tunic and pants. And the concept of matching shirt and pants continues, even though in the West, the only “matching set” clothes we wear are pyjamas.

So, in Vietnam, ladies of all ages and income types wear matching pants and tops as their everyday comfortable clothes. Westerners see the outfits and think “pyjamas” because that’s what we recognise.

As well as Đồ bộ, there’s also the pyjama-like áo bà ba, an outfit that consists of silk pants and long shirt with side splits.

Image from www.vietnamwiki.net

The Đồ bộ is the country cousin of the áo dài (pronounced ow yay in the south and ow zay in the north), the Vietnamese national costume, which has been modernised into a tight-fitting tunic over loose flowing silk pants.

Image from www.aodaistyles.com

To add to the Vietnamese pyjama confusion, there’s also the fallen-off-the-back-of-a-truck men’s pyjamas that make their way out of Vietnamese garment factories and into the markets. These outfits aren’t recognised as pyjamas by Vietnamese people, they just see a cool comfortable outfit. And so that’s what they’re worn as. Although they do seem to appeal to a certain demographic – old men.

When I first moved to Vietnam I stayed in Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district. There was an older gentleman who lived in my hem who used to put on a pair of pyjamas every afternoon for his constitutional, a leisurely walk around the block to gawp at all the tourists in their strange uncomfortable-looking clothes.

So the great Vietnamese pyjama question is really just a matter of perspective.

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8 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

10 Comments

  1. It makes perfect sense to me now 🙂
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..One for the Bucket List: Trekking on a Glacier

  2. Sally says:

    It’s also really popular to wear pajamas (as we spell it in the States 🙂 ) in China — especially during the winter. I’ve read & heard different reasons for this — including the idea that it’s a kind of status symbol. If you can afford a different set of clothes to sleep in, that means you have money (so why not show off a bit and wear those clothes out to do a little shopping?) I’d be curious to know if there is also a historical reason like you mentioned for Vietnam.
    Personally, I love the more laid back attitude towards dressing here. In Japan, I’d never go out to the grocery store in sweatpants or without my makeup on. But I feel a lot more relaxed here about that kind of thing. I still haven’t worn my pajamas to the grocery store… but give me time!
    Sally recently posted..Feeling Natsukashii in Nikko

    • Barbara says:

      The differences between Asian countries is just amazing, isn’t it? I had a jaw-dropping moment in Japan when I first realised that construction workers appeared to be wearing IRONED overalls and pristine white gloves. No Australian construction worker would be caught dead looking so neat and tidy!

      I say you should go to the grocery store in your pyjamas (or even your pajamas). I think it would feel quite liberating, shaking off a bit of your socialization!

  3. Heather says:

    Same goes for Cambodia (especially around the garment district in Phnomh Penh) and in some parts of Indonesia. For tourists, it really just doesn’t “Look right” to me – but that might be a good trend to start here in Bali where it’s difficult get tourists to cover up their swimsuits, or wear a shirt or shoes for that matter!

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, seeing people wearing pyjamas all day is definitely preferable to seeing semi-naked tourists. And in Asia, semi-naked is quite rude. Pyjamas aren’t rude, they’re just interesting, I reckon.

  4. Jody says:

    Suits me fine. I only have five draws of clothes I own. Underwear, PJ tops, PJ bottoms, shirts and pants. And the two PJ drawers are stuffed full and I am known to shower and change into fresh ones. I have fun ones suitable for receiving guests or doing a quick trip to the shops and old ones for cleaning the house etc…and I’m dressing my son the same way. Although part of the reason there is he doesn’t bloody sleep so he may as well look cute when I’m up half the night with him!

  5. Jill says:

    Hi Barbara. Glad you are enjoying Vietnam.

    One of the highlights for my kids is NOT having pyjamas as we travel. The whole ‘get dressed’ and “‘ get undressed’ thing has vanished from my list of things I have to say way too many times a day. I’m enjoying it too!
    Jill
    Jill recently posted..A fun way to explore Georgetown

  6. robin says:

    Old men and me – I am totally for living in pyjamas!
    robin recently posted..Real Estate

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