In a popular Vietnamese folk song expressing the ten most striking features of a gracious and beautiful woman, long jet black hair is cited as being of first importance: "You are first loved for your hair which is tied in a cock’s tail shape." There is good reason to place a Vietnamese woman’s hair in first place. Long and flowing, smooth and very fine, it makes any woman, even one otherwise not attractive, appear feminine and graceful.
In ancient times when girls were raised in traditional customs and manners, their hair was nurtured and regarded as a symbol of correctness, kindness and virtue. "One’s hair reveals one’s origin," says an old proverb which fully expressed the importance people attached to hair, especially that of a young woman. No girl dared cut her hair, and. untied, it would reach her heels.
The hair of young women is a subject which has occupied a significant place in Vietnamese literature, poetry, and art.. "Her hair is silken threads of cloud, and her eyebrows crescent like moons and shadowed clouds on a quiet night," a poet of times past sang in reference to the hair of Vietnamese girls.
Times have changed since then, and today only a few girls allow their hair to grow long enough to reach their heels. Style changes have come in stages. A plaited braid was the first sign of change, followed by the "pony tail" when the hair was still long, but gathered behind the neck. Later women adopted the onion-shaped chignon with the hair wound behind the neck in a roll. Some Vietnamese women in the provinces still wear their hair in a chignon.
During the French period, western fashions penetrated Vietnam. Shortly before World War II, women in the cities married to Frenchmen; or working in French businesses began cuttings their hair and curling it into tight sausage curls with a curling iron. The curly style spread like an oil slick on water. Middle class girls disregarded public opinion and began wearing the little ringlets. The practice filtered down to the countryside, and after Vietnam was divided in 1954, hair curling shops had sprung up everywhere.
At the same time, there was a fad for dying hair. Jet black hair was tinted orange, red, and even blonde, generally with very unfortunate results. This fad was short-lived, and today few Vietnamese women change the shade of their hair.
Hairdressers are always happy to cut the waist length or longer hair of young girls. With the sudden popularity of wigs and hair pieces, the long thin strands command a high market price. However, once cut, the girl is faced with the problem of choosing a hair style. The possibilities are endless.
It now appears that hair styles are not only subject to change, but also to cycles. In Saigon at the present time, long hair is making a comeback. The gracefulness of long hair seems to have an attraction that young women are again discovering. They have begun changing back to the natural long hair, letting it grow to flow down their backs. Perhaps they now realize the true value of long hair, for, as it was once remarked, the very slender Vietnamese girls without their long hair do not differ from trees with leafless branches.