New year, new shirt

Dear brothers and sisters,

Near Lunar New Year, the song “This spring I will not come home” usually is sung. The song has its lyric:

“…Innocently children are waiting for
their brothers bringing them new shirts
to show off on the streets three Spring days…”

The song was born in the spring of 1969, in South Vietnam, when our country was at war and the people were suffering. However, 20 years later, in the spring of 1989, in a village of Thai Binh province, 80km southeast from the capital city of Hanoi, the lyric was still correct. The springs around the reunification day April 30, 1975 seemed to be the same. The people’s usual dreams in the new year were to have only a full rice bowl and a new shirt.

My cousin in 1989 was a little boy. He went barefoot with a flat stomach in the cold winter, but he was very excited when telling to his friends that: “In the next few days, my aunt from the South will come back. My aunt will bring me a new shirt”.

The aunt of my cousin is my mom.  She was from Thai Binh, but at that moment she had been working as a coal worker in Da Nang for almost 10 years. She was always covered from head to toes with so much black coal dust that when her boyfriend (who was my dad in later years) came to visit her, she did not dare to go out. Although my mom was poor, she always had some new shirts for her nephews and nieces at her home village in Lunar New Year.

That is the story of my cousin who was born 4 years before Doi Moi.  This is my story – the Doi Moi baby of 1986.

I didn’t remember that when I was a child, I needed new clothes or not. However, I remembered that I needed warm clothes when I was in high school in the 2000’s.

Da Nang had cold rain seasons. Because I had to wear ao dai daily and rode bicycle with a thin raincoat in rainy and stormy seasons, I often entered the class in wet clothes. Because I rarely asked my mom for anything except tuitions, I saved my breakfast money to have enough money for warm clothes.

My breakfast money was about 1.500 – 2.000 VND. How could I buy a warm coat with the price of 150.000 or 200.000 VND, about 100 times higher than my daily breakfast money?

Then, I knew the way to the shops selling used clothes. So I was warmly clothed with only a little money in the springs from 2001 to 2020. Because I never thought that they were old clothes, I always felt that I wore new and nice clothes all year round, not only during the three New Year days.

Sometimes, even when I had enough money for new clothes, I liked second-hand clothes more, especially those from Japan and South Korean, because they often had a more professional look than the made-in-Vietnam new clothes. I liked being a professional woman.

Then, in the last several years, since the time Covid came, I only went to online shopping. I discovered that some online made-in-Vietnam clothes  was cheaper and better than those sold offline in Sai Gon. Yes, they are as cheap as the used clothes I bought in the old days, and they are as professional as expensive foreign clothes. So after 20 years of loving used clothes, now I like to buy made-in-Vietnam clothes online more.

This is not only the dressing story of my family, but also the story of Vietnam development, especially that of the textile industry and of Vietnamese women moving into leadership roles.

Vietnam textile has been developing impressively over the past 20 years, from 2001 to 2021. In 2021, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of ready-made garments in the world (Vietnamplus). It means made-in-Vietnam clothes have good price and good quality.

In addition, because more and more Vietnamese women are in leadership roles, there are more and more clothes for female leaders. So women have a chance to dress more at much lower costs.  Moreover, women today want to dress like women; they no longer want to dress like men – pant suits and short hair. Women today want to express their femininity in the way they look at work, be it a regular office worker or a top political leader such as a prime minister – long hair, skirt suit, long dress…   In the past, women try to dress like men. Now women want to be themselves with their God-given femininity. No more following men.

Good for women in Vietnam and in the world.

Some good things  to ponder over in the New Year.

We are truly in revolutionary time.

Happy 2023.

Phạm Thu Hương

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