During the nineteenth century, with the arrival of the Europeans, what they found were two distinct Vietnamese dress styles: the four-paneled dress and the five-paneled dress. The five-paneled dress resulted out of practicality. Since basic rudimentary techniques permitted the Vietnamese to make only fabric 35cm-40cm in width, several pieces needed to be joined together to obtain the necessary 70cm for the dress. The dress had two sections for the front, two for the back, and one small section which extended from the right side of the chest to the knees. Each section was amply cut, and the overall silhouette draped the body like a sack. There were no darts or curves to flatter the figure. Men and women wore the same dress pattern. Sometimes they would wear as many as five to seven dresses at a time to exhibit their wealth. More dresses meant more wealth. One man was noticed at a party wearing seven silk dresses of different colors in the following descending order: black, bright green, red, deep red, blue, ash gray, and white. Five-paneled dresses were characteristically left unbuttoned at the neck. An extra bit of fabric, known as the lotus leaf, was sewn around the neck for extra reinforcement and stiffness.
Because of the amount of fabric it involved, poor people could not afford the five sectioned dress. Instead they wore the four-sectioned dress, or the "ao tu than". Since the dress had no buttons, the women would tie the two front panels at the waist and let it fall casually in the front, over a skirt. The dresses were often of a modest brown or black color. There wore a while halter bra top underneath, tied together at the neck and chest. The ideal northern Vietnamese beauty wore the four-paneled dress and skirt with her long dark hair elegantly rolled in crepe or velvet around her head. Her teeth would be permanently dyed ebony, accomplished by chewing betel. In Hue and in the South, the women often wore a pajama style top buttoned along the center front with pants. They did not wear halter bras nor roll their hair like in the North. Rather, they preferred to wear dark-colored tank tops and keep their hair in chignons.