Being an integral part of four -paneled gown, Yếm is the most popular bra worn by Vietnamese women in the past. One finds in its manufacture a silk or cotton fabric square whose the ends are fixed by the strings tied behind the back and at the level of the neck. This is intended to cover and to support the chest and to leave naked the rest of the upper part of the body. Yêm causes not only lure of seduction but also pleasant freshness during the summer days.
However in winter, it becomes a kind of the underwear to which is added the four-paneled dress that allows the Vietnamese women to protect themselves against the cold.
In the Vietnamese tradition, the wasp’s waist is one of the characteristic features of female beauty. That is perhaps why the birth of this bra is related to this design to highlight the women’s line by showing the segmented body of the wasp with the association of “halter-neck” and tie on the back of this undershirt ( camisole in French ).
It was worn by all sections of the population without exception. But the notion of color which differentiate between the categories of people who wear it. The brown colour is intended for the farmers while the educated girls prefer the harmonious, elegant and discrete colors. For the elderly, the dark remains the most widely used. Despite this observation, it is possible to see Yếm with eccentric colours.
One does not known its origin but there Yếm was appeared for the first time in the 11th century under the Ly dynasty. It undergoes many changes over time before being again recently an glamourous fashion article, competitor of “Áo dài”. In the old days, it was accompanied by wearing a skirt and a turban cloth (black or brown) or purple gauze or a scarf that ends with a “Crow beak” at the top of the front. (khăn vuôn mõ quạ ). It is only during the Emperor Minh Mạng’s reign that the black pants was imposed instead of the skirt.
Yếm is an inexhaustible source for Vietnamese poets among which is the famous Hồ Xuân Hương. She has had the opportunity to describe not only the romantic and glamourous picture of this Vietnamese undershirt but also the innocence of a young girl living in a society ruled by Confucian immutable ethic, in his poem entitled “the girl asleep in the daytime” (Thiếu nữ ngủ ngày).
Mùa hè hây hẩy gió nồm đông
Thiếu nữ nằm chơi quá giấc nồng
Lược trúc lỏng cài trên mái tóc
Yếm đào trễ xuống dưới nương long
Ðôi gò Bông đảo sương còn ngậm
Môt lạch đào nguyên suối chưa thông
Quân tử dùng dằng đi chẳng dứt
Ði thì cũng dở ở không xong.
Summer breeze is sporadically blowing,
Lying down the young girl slides into sleeping.
Her bamboo comb loosely attached to her hair,
Her pink bra below her waist dropped down fair.
On these two Elysian mounds, the nectar is still remaining,
In that one Fairy rivulet, the current seems to stop flowing.
At such a view, the gentleman hesitated,
Odd to leave, yet inconvenient if he stayed.
Yếm is mentioned so many times in the popular poems. It reflects the strength and intensity of the love through these two following verses:
Trời mưa trời gió kìn kìn.
Đắp đôi dải yếm hơn nghìn chăn bông.
It’s raining and it made the wind with intensity.
To be covered with a pair of Yếm better than to get thousand duvets
It is difficult to separate from the person we fell in love unless we have become this undershirt to retain. That is what we have in the two following verses:
Kiếp sau đừng hóa ra người
Hóa ra dải yếm buộc người tình nhân.
In the future life, one should not be born a man
But it is necessary to be transformed into undershirt to retain the lover.