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'Ao dai' or oh no? Traditional Vietnamese attire in marathon causes online stir

Wednesday, December 30, 2020, 13:05 GMT+7
'Ao dai' or oh no? Traditional Vietnamese attire in marathon causes online stir
A female runner is seen wearing 'ao dai' while competing at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020. Photo: Nguyen Dong / Tuoi Tre

Images of runners in a marathon wearing 'ao dai,' a traditional Vietnamese outfit, in central Hue City have sparked intense debate on social media, where the attire choice was deemed “inappropriate” and “unsportsmanlike” by many commenters.

The photos were taken at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020, an annual event that drew thousands of runners to the central province of Thua Thien – Hue, whose capital city is Hue, on Friday.

Many commenters said the 'ao dai' drenched in sweat on the runners was unsightly, which kindled heated altercations among the public.

Some even went so far as calling the attire choice “inappropriate” and “unsportsmanlike.”

“Clothing is designed to fit its use. Swimsuits are for trips to the beach, pajamas are made for bedtime, while sportswear is for training purposes,” Facebook user Than Thuy Hien remarked.

“'Ao dai' paired with sneakers is not only inappropriate but also distasteful. Wearing 'ao dai,' holding its flap the whole time, plus a 'khan dong' [a traditional Vietnamese headband] on their heads is by no means authentic running."

A female runner is seen wearing purple ao dai while competing at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020. Photo: Nguyen Dong / Tuoi Tre

A female runner is seen wearing purple 'ao dai' while competing at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020. Photo: Nguyen Dong / Tuoi Tre

According to historian Tran Duc Anh Son, 'ao dai' in a marathon is a deliberate choice from the organizers to promote their event, thus making it a promotional and cultural activity.

Son himself sees 'ao dai' a cultural product purportedly classified under the 'intangible cultural heritage' category.

Therefore, donning an 'ao dai' in any performance should be subject to regulations and agreements on preserving, exhibiting, venerating, exploiting, and promoting the values of that intangible cultural heritage, he claimed.

On the flip side, many argue that running in 'ao dai' is justified by “the freedom to dress,” and is completely legal and not at all inappropriate.

“The five-part 'ao dai' is a fascinating piece of clothing. It is also very comfortable to wear, as I was able to complete the 21-kilometer track in under two hours with it on,” said singer Duc Tuan, a participant that wore an 'ao dai' in the race, in his Facebook update.

Singer Duc Tuan (middle) is seen wearing ao dai while competing at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020. Photo: Nguyen Dong / Tuoi Tre

Singer Duc Tuan (middle) is seen wearing 'ao dai' while competing at the VnExpress Marathon Hue 2020. Photo: Nguyen Dong / Tuoi Tre

Speaking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Phan Thanh Hai, head of the Thua Thien - Hue Department of Culture and Sports, said the organizers did not ask runners to wear 'ao dai' for the marathon.

He claimed the clothing choice of participants to be completely a matter of personal preference and not a calculated move from the organizers.

Hai also refuted the idea that 'ao dai'’s appearance in the race was a performance or a PR stunt from the provincial authority.

“This is not the first time a runner has shown up at the VnExpress Marathon wearing an 'ao dai,' as precedents already took place in previous iterations in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi in the previous years,” Hai said.

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Xuan Tung - Nhat Linh / Tuoi Tre News

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