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.
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.
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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10 years ago