Clothes to Bring
In general, Vietnamese people dress more conservatively than Americans, particularly on special occasions, when they dress very formally. If it is absolutely necessary to wear a very formal dress, you can rent one at a bridal or special occasion shop if you are not very tall or large. College students, both men and women, dress in a more “American style”, i.e. T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. Dresses suitable for both work and cocktail parties are especially useful to pack, as you will often have to go from daytime to evening engagements without having time to return home. Well-matched pieces of comfortable clothing that can be worn interchangeably or worn in layers for warmth are very practical. Loose, lightweight clothing in natural fabrics that can be easily washed is suitable for the high temperatures and humidity of summer.
The heavy coats and parkas used in the coldest regions of the U.S. are not necessary in Vietnam. Still, foreigners who live in the northern areas of Vietnam usually speak of winter as being quite cold. Warm waterproof jackets, wool socks and sweaters, long underwear and flannel night clothes are essential. Plan to bring enough of each to allow for long drying times for heavy articles. Wool slacks and suits for women are recommended for winter wear. Long-sleeved suits and dresses that will allow long underwear and sweaters to be worn underneath are more practical than close-fitting garments. Be prepared for your home in Vietnam to be much chillier than your home in the States.
Wearing warm clothes is recommended if you will teach or conduct research in classrooms or libraries, which are usually unheated or inadequately heated. Long underwear is sold in great variety for men, women and children, but extra large sizes are not readily available. If you wear a larger size, or if you are particular about clothing, you should bring more than one set from the U.S.
Children’s sweaters, pants, skirts, jackets, scarves, mittens, shoes, socks are all available in Vietnam and can be purchased after arrival.
High-quality rain gear is also essential for adults and children in Vietnam. Rather than bringing several coats, a waterproof jacket with a zip-out wool lining may prove most useful.
Buying and Making Clothes in Vietnam
There is a great variety of clothing (style, color, size) available at most department and specialty stores. Remember to always try on clothes before buying, because sizes usually vary. Many Americans find that sleeve lengths for blouses, sweaters and jackets are too short.
You can also have your clothes tailored in Vietnam inexpensively. Many shops specialize in making men’s suit and other clothes. There is no shortage of fabrics, from silk to cotton, in Vietnam, but always bargain hard and check the quality carefully. Better yet, ask a Vietnamese friend to come with you when buying fabric or arranging for tailoring.
Your feet will require special attention in Vietnam. Finding the right size shoes is a common problem for foreigners, so you should bring enough to last a year. Shoe sizes in Vietnam usually follow the European system; the largest women’s size commonly available is a size 36 (size 7 U.S.) and size 41 (size 9 U.S.) for men, though with a little persistence you can usually find larger size in limited styles. In tourist areas, women may be able to find dressy sandals in larger sizes or have them made to fit. Since you will probably be walking a lot, you will need comfortable walking shoes. For Hanoi’s winter, you may need shoes that are loose enough to allow you to wear thick socks comfortably. You should also consider bringing soft-soled fur-lined slippers for wearing in the home, as most houses are built with marble floors.
Coping with humidity
It is wise to place moisture absorbing material or low-wattage electric bulbs in closets during the humid season. Silica gel is recommended and readily available. If you stay in Vietnam beyond winter, all winter clothes to be stored should be laundered or dry-cleaned and packed with moth crystals. If you are not careful, your favorite wool jacket or sweater may become moth-eaten, or your silk dress may be badly spotted and spoiled by mildew. In choosing clothes to bring to Vietnam, select materials that dry easily. Shoes should also be kept clean, aired often and stored in a dry place. You might also consider buying a dehumidifier to use in the room where your clothes are stored.