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Simultaneously modest, elegant and slightly provocative, the yem silk bodice has been a staple and a symbol of Vietnamese women for centuries.

The yem (breast cloth) id perhaps the most typical item of Vietnamese women's clothing. A diamond or square-cut piece of cloth placed diagonally on a woman's chest, form or in a V form, it has been worn for centuries by women of all classes.

Traditionally worn under a blouse or overcoat, the yem is on one hand is a symbol of modesty. As one17 century observer, the Italian priest Cristoforo Borri remarked of Vietnamese women:"clothes they wear could be probably the most covert in Southeast Asia."

On the other hand, great pride and care was taken in the beauty and design of the yem. As Vietnam became one of the finest producers of silk in the world, much attention was given to the bodice, which was made in many colors for different occasions and for different social strata.

All around ancient Thang Long City (now Hanoi), fabric weaving from traditional craft villages of Nghi Tam, Dau and Thuy Ai developed to exquisite heights. By the 18th Century, Vietnam made some of the finest silk in the world, such as van tu quy (silk cloth with woven design of the four seasons), or máy hút chân không thực phẩm van hong diep (pink silk brocade).

These beautiful silks could be found in the markets of Thang Long, available to women of all classes. In his 1732 book entitled "Vuong Quoc Dang Ngoai" (The Kingdom of north Vietnam), writer S. Baron noted:"The technique of weaving silk cloth has developed here to such a degree the rich and the poor can all wear silk clothes"

Modest and beautiful, the simple yem in many ways symbolizes the traditional virtues of Vietnamese women. The 17th century priest Borri was struck by their manner, calling them "broad-minded and carefree," with "a gentle temperament."

The traditional yem can still be found in the countryside, worn by girls in traditional festivals, such the Love Duets Festival of Bac Ninh. But as times changed, so did fashions.

In the early 20th Century as the modern ao dai (the long split tunic typically worn by Vietnamese women) appeared, it became difficult to wear yem underneath and Vietnamese began wearing western brassieres instead.

However, the yem hasn't gone away, it's just changed forms. The traditional yem has been stylized as a part of the modern ao dai. Instead of a high collar, some ao dai have a yem-like top, with two strings tired together at the nape revealing the bare shoulder.

And modern Vietnamese girls have adopted a stylized and even more revealing yem to wear with jeans, much like a halter top, with a fully exposed back.

But whatever variations exist, the hidden charm of the yem worn by Vietnamese women of old remains to help modern Vietnamese women look as elegant and graceful as ever.

This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel For original article, please visit: website Vacation to Vietnam Vietnam heritage tour

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