This study examines the tunic designed by Lemur Nguyễn Cát Tường—most often cited as the precursor to the modern áo dài—as a physical entity and as a historical and abstract symbol of modernity. My argument is twofold: first, that Lemur was the first modern Vietnamese designer, evidenced by his engagement in two modern fashion practices—the establishment of an institutionalized system and his proposal for a Vietnamese national costume. Second, I argue that despite protestations of its insignificance, dress served as a ground on which weighty social and cultural battles—such as gender, class, national identity, aesthetics, and modernity itself—were fought.

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