The Dao (pronounced Zao) are the 9th largest ethnic group in Vietnam with a population of just under 500,000. They belong to the Hmong Dao language group and are believed to have started migrating from China in the 13th century.The women wear some of the most colourful and diverse costumes of all ethnic groups but can be identified by their black trousers richly embroidered with flower or small star patterns. Their jackets can be red or black usually with embroidered borders. The ensemble is topped by a black or red turban together with chunky silver jewelry. In addition most Dao women shave off their eyebrows and foreheads as this is traditionally regarded as a sign of beauty.
A number of variations of the Red Dao can be found around the famous hill station of Sapa. Common features are the embroidered trousers and jacket, but the most stunning part of the ensemble is the scarlet turban which can either be decorated with tassels or bells. Some Dao only wear a red scarf.
The costume of the Red Dao of Northern Ha Giang and northwestern Cao Bang is quite simple with a plain black tunic and trousers, again bordered with embroidery. However, in contrast to other Dao, they do not shave their hair; instead it is parted with silver clips underneath a square bonnet.Red Dao ladies are from the Southern Ha Giang/northern Tuyen Quang branch. They are wearing the traditional costume of plain black trousers together with a loose fitting black jacket richly embroidered in red at the collar, the lower sleeves and on the back. An embroidered red yem (bodice) is worn under the jacket like a vest. The ensemble is worn together with a black apron embroidered in red at the edges, a red belt and a colourful turban covered by a red scarf.
Dao Áo dài wear quite simple costumes for Dao. The Ao Dai in their name is due to the similarity of their tunic to the Ao Dai of the Viet Kinh. However, it is usually hooked up at the front. A distinctive bonnet of black and red material embroidered at the edges and decorated with coloured tassels and small coins is also worn.
The Dao Tuyen in the area near Muong Khuong wear plain black trousers and a long black tunic, the lower part of which is lifted up and tucked into a silver belt to reveal broad horizontal stripes on the other side. The tunic is edged in red and decorated with coloured rings around the cuffs. Around the neck are hung a long silver chain and a silver necklace with long red (or pink), yellow and white tassels which hang down as far as the waist. The ensemble is worn together with a black scarf with a broad red stripe down one side, decorated with red, yellow and white tassels and beads.
Red Dao of southern Lao Cai and Yen Bai provinces wear a rather different costume than those further north. This comprises plain black trousers and a long black tunic with embroidered cuffs and lapels. The lapels are edged in red and a row of red and yellow tassels hangs from the rear. a small square of embroidery is also sewn onto the back of the tunic and its rear lower flap is also richly embroidered. The outfit is worn with a bright red belt and a plain black turban.
The Shaven-headed Dao (Dao Dau Troc) of Lang Son and Thai Nguyen have a very elegant costume distinguished by a wide band of embroidery on the collar worn over an embroidered yem (breast binding bodice) decorated with much jewelry. The head is completely shaven and covered by a distinctive bonnet. These ladies are from the region surrounding Bac Son.
The Dao Khau (Sewing Dao) women of Lai Chau province wear black trousers richly embroidered with the signature flower, tree and star patterns seen on many Dao costumes. They also wear a front hanging black apron with a wide, plain blue band around its outside (also common to some H'mong), together with a plain black turban.
White-trousered Dao (Dao Quan Trang) of Tuyen Quang, Yen Bai, Lao Cai and Ha Giang province, now actually wear black trousers, but are distinguished by their richly-embroidered white bodice (yem) worn under the jacket like a vest. The hair is tied up in a bun and covered by a black scarf.
The Black Dao women of Binh Lu district wear plain black trousers together with black jackets decorated at the sleeves and collars with thin bands of embroidery, coins and beads finished with a maroon ruff. The hair is worn distinctively in a chignon and kept in place by a large silver frame which sits on top of the head; it is then wrapped in thick black cord and finally covered by a black scarf decorated with beads and maroon tassels.
The Coin Dao (Dao Tien) are mainly settled in a large area spreading from southern Ha Giang and Cao Bang through Tuyen Quang and Bac Giang. These ladies were spotted near Ba Be national park. The most characteristic feature of their costume is their distinctive skirt which features a wide border decorated with a bold silver-grey zigzag patterns