by Bich Huong
A friend of mine usually tells me that company uniforms save her from having to choose clothes to wear to work in the morning. She doesn't have to spend too much time and energy to see if a blue dress can go with a flowered shirt, black high-heels and brown bag, let alone taking into account if the dress is suitable for her planned activities.
The selection of national ceremonial costumes for State leaders, high-ranking officials and people to wear at formal ceremonies and events is surely not as simple as the choosing of uniforms for a company or choosing something to wear to work, as my friend does.
So, I tell myself that is the reason why for years the national costumes of Viet Nam have not been decided on, despite numerous debates.
Since 1992, the Ministerial Council (known as Government now) has thought of regulating the costumes used at national level rituals and diplomatic meetings.
Last week, the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism organised workshops in Da Nang and HCM City to consult on the selection of national ceremonial costumes.
Deputy Minister Vuong Duy Bien said it was necessary to have national ceremonial costumes which helped represent and introduce the country's culture identification.
The selected costumes must satisfy criteria including being good-looking, convenient and being suitable for different environments, not only festivals and formal meetings.
Ceremonial costumes were used in the commemoration of Hung Kings - the founder of the nation - in 2011 for trial purposes but official national costumes have still not been decided on.
Many agree that women should wear the ao dai (traditional long dress) to official events but the costume for men remains controversial.
Some suggest that men should wear the ao dai and khan xep (traditional head dress) which has been worn throughout Viet Nam's history. Others say the western suit is more convenient and suitable for current situations.
Ton Nu Thi Ninh, president of Tri Viet Institute for International Studies and Exchange, said that at diplomatic events such as the presentation of credentials, men should wear the ao dai and khan xep, which helped recognise they were from Viet Nam. The costumes should be made of silk, a typical Vietnamese material.
However, at the meeting last week, Professor Tran Ngoc Them from HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said it was common for men to wear western suits and women to wear the ao dai at diplomatic events.
He doesn't agree with the opinions that oppose western suits. He argued the ao dai of today was not the same as those of old days because it had been modified to adapt to current situations.
He said that national costumes were the combination of traditional ones and ceremonial ones, thus the selected national costume must satisfy too many criteria, including characteristics of traditional and compulsory and to represent typical cultural values.
"That is the reason why few nations have regulated their official national costumes," he said.
Associate Professor Nguyen Xuan Tien, vice principal of HCM City Architect University, said that he did not prefer the combination of ao dai for women and suits for men.
Moreover, wearing those clothes at all events somehow showed a limitation, he said.
Artist Nguyen Duc Huy from Hue Fine Art University recommended that people should not care too much about whether the costumes were traditional or modern.
They possibly helped express the country's cultural value identification but the wearer could do more.
My friend said that a national costume was not a uniform so it could be flexible.
At festivals or domestic traditional events, men wear ao dai and khan xep, women wear ao dai and people from ethic groups wear their own traditional costumes.
Besides, at diplomatic events western suits for men were OK.
I mostly agree with Huy's opinion. I remember a saying that "Clothes don't make the man" or a quote from Shakespeare: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Smart people know what to wear to suit the occasion. — VNS