Saturday, September 20, 2014


Girl wearing yếm
Woman in áo tứ thân
While looking for pictures of Sogdian silks, I learned about a Vietnamese garment called a yếm.  A yếm is a backless underbodice that was, and is, worn with Vietnamese traditional clothing; a picture of a girl wearing one (from Wikimedia Commons) appears to the left.  It ties at the neck, and also around the waist (though it's not possible to see the waist-level tie in this picture).  

The yếm in the picture appears to be made from silk, but different fabrics were used by women of different classes in Vietnam.  They could also be made in different colors; vermilion was a common color for festive wear, but blacks or whites were worn for everyday clothing.  Some were round-necked, like the one shown in the picture above, but others were v-necked.

Traditionally, the yếm was not worn as the only upper body garment.  It was part of a type of costume called áo tứ thân, or "four part dress" which, as the name implies, consisted of four garments: 1)  A nearly-floor-length, coat-like outer tunic, with two flaps in the front that can be knotted together or left dangling: 2) a long skirt worn under the tunic; 3) a yếm, worn underneath the outer tunic, and; 4) a sash knotted around the outer tunic at waist level.  The photograph to the right (also from Wikimedia Commons) shows this type of costume. The áo tứ thân costume has largely been abandoned in favor of the áo dài, a long-sleeved, form-fitting shin or calf length tunic worn over narrow pants, in the modern era.

I found the yếm interesting because, though it looks to my Western eyes like a modern halter, it is a garment of great antiquity, and because it demonstrates the principle that the most successful garments are often very simple ones.


  1. This is the type of garment the red "corset" reminds me of (the grave with a very large, possibly pregnant woman; you posted it a couple years ago, with pants and a silk jacket, I think?). There's a variant in mainland China, too.

    1. synj-munki; you mean this thirteenth-century "Golden Hoard" grave, right?

      I suppose they could be related, though the Central Asian woman's garment was lined and fitted over her abdomen, not just her torso as with the yếm. It seems to me that the yếm is a garment meant to preserve modesty in a hot climate, while the undergarment in the Golden Horde grave was meant to provide extra warmth and, perhaps, support.

      You mention a mainland Chinese variant. Are there any pictures you can point me to? I'm curious.

      Thanks for your comments.