Aug 20, 2012
Hanbok is the traditional attire of Korea. Its history dates back as far as the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. – 668 A.D.). Koreans weaved cloth with hemp and arrowroot and raised silkworms to produce silk. It is divided largely into daywear and ceremonial wear, with differences between age, gender, and season.
A Hanbok is characterized by a two-piece outfit without pockets or buttons that is closed with strings, belts, or cords. Men traditionally wore a jeogori (jacket), baji (trousers), and durumagi (overcoat) with a hat, belt, and pair of shoes. The women wore a jeogori with two long ribbons tied to form an otgoreum (knot), a full length, high-waist wrap-around skirt called chima, beoseon (white cotton socks), and boat-shaped shoes.
Hanbok comes in several styles: there is dolbok (the clothing for a baby on its first birthday), gwanryebok (the clothing for the coming-of-age ceremony), hollyebok (the clothing for the wedding ceremony), hwarot (the bridal gown); sangryebok (or sangbok, worn by the bereaved during the mourning period), suui (the shroud worn by a corpse), and finally jeryebok (the clothing for religious services).
In the early part of the 20th century, western wear entered Korea, and during the period of rapid industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s came to largely replace traditional attire. Hanbok these days is usually worn on special occasions like family celebrations, weddings, birthdays, and holidays like Seollal (Lunar New Year) and Chuseok (a harvest holiday).
Recently however, with widespread campaigns to revitalize Hanbok, many new designs and variations of traditional clothes are available in stores. They are now easier to wear, wash, and iron, as well as being environment-friendly and updated in style.
Hanbok boast vivid colors based on natural hues in accord with the yin and yang theory of East Asia. White is the basic color traditionally used by the common people, symbolizing a modest and pure spirit. Red signified good fortune and wealth, commonly used in women's garments. Indigo, the color of constancy, was used for the skirts of court ladies and the coats of court officials. Yellow, which represents the center of the universe, was worn by royal families. The clothing has been handed down in the same form for men and women for hundreds of years with little change, except for the length of the jeogori and chima.
In summer people would wear Hanbok made of either sambe (hemp) or mosi (ramie) that both allowed air to circulate and dry any sweat. Sambe was for the commoners' clothes, due to its easy cultivation, and mosi for the aristocrats' clothes for the opposite reason. Mosi was especially valued for its light texture.
In winter, people wear Hanbok made of cotton or silk. Again, cotton was for the commoners’ clothing and silk for the rich and the aristocrats. Extra cotton would be inserted inside Hanbok to make the clothes even warmer.
The Hanbok has undergone various changes throughout its more than 1,600-year history, and the transformations continue to this day as specialty designers introduce modern reinterpretations of the traditional design on catwalks and stages around the world.
In recent years, numerous foreign media outlets have expressed admiration for the elegance and beauty of the Hanbok, including France’s Le Monde, which called the Hanbok a “costume of the wind,” praising the way the clothes drape over the natural curves of the body in smooth, flowing lines while retaining an airy, voluminous look. The popularity of Korean historical dramas overseas has also helped people to appreciate the traditional garb even more.
Among the famous Hanbok designers there is Lee Young-hee, one of the early pioneers of Hanbok design in modern times, who contributed to familiarizing the word "Hanbok" abroad. She was the first Korean to appear at a prêt-à-porter collection in France and won numerous awards including the Korean Designer's Award, Golden Needle Award, and Korea Fabrics Award. Her Hanbok designs range from royal court dresses to those of commoners, monks, and shamans. She donated 16 of her Hanbok dresses to the Korea Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute and runs a small museum of Korean culture in New York. It was also Lee who began the boom of saenghwal Hanbok, or gae-ryang Hanbok reformed for daily wear in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Other noted Hanbok designers in Korea include Park Sul-nyeo, Kim Ye-jin, Lee Hyo-jae, Kwon Jin-soon, and male Hanbok designer Seo Dong-jin. Many are strong upholders of traditional style Hanbok, making dresses for Korean period dramas and high-class weddings. They too incorporate the lines or the cut of Hanbok and traditional fabrics such as hemp and ramie to give new flavor to the dress. Designers like the late Andre Kim and Kwon Joo-yeon are more open-minded about reforming Hanbok and presenting a modern adaptation of the traditional dress.
For more information on the evolution of Hanbok, click here.
Department Global Communication and Contents Division