Page 1

korea essentials No. 16

Hanbok Timeless Fashion Tradition

Hanbok Timeless Fashion Tradition

korea essentials No. 16

Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition Copyright Š 2013 by The Korea Foundation All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher. Published in 2013 by Seoul Selection B1 Korean Publishers Association Bldg., 105-2 Sagan-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-190, Korea Phone: (82-2) 734-9567 Fax: (82-2) 734-9562 Email: Website: ISBN: 978-89-97639-41-0 04080 ISBN: 978-89-91913-70-7 (set) Printed in the Republic of Korea


Introduction 6 Chapter 1

The Origins of Hanbok 10 History of Hanbok I Essential Features of Hanbok Chapter 2

The Beauty of Hanbok 26 Chapter 3

From Royal Court to Wedding Dress 40 Hanbok for the Royalty | Hanbok for Yangban | Hanbok for Commoners I

Hanbok for Special Occasions Chapter 4

Tradition and Modernity 70 Stylistic Changes | 50s: Introduction to Fashion | 60s: New Community & Miniskirts | 70s: Bedrock of Industrialization | 80s: A Society in Transition I 90s: Cosmopolitan Culture Chapter 5

Hanbok Goes Global 88 Western Designers Notice Hanbok | The Future of Hanbok


Information 104

Delving Deeper • Dragon, the Symbol of Royalty 46 • Bo: Emblem of the Royal Family 48 • Hyoongbae: Official Emblematic Square Badges 56 • The Mecca of Affordable Street Wear 87


Introduction Hanbok, or traditional Korean attire, is the unique costume of the Korean people that has preserved its original form throughout much of the nation’s long history. Although largely worn today for traditional holidays and special occasions such as a wedding or a child’s first birthday, hanbok is often considered the quintessential cultural heritage of Koreans and the most visible form confirming their national identity and roots. Hanbok embodies many of the social and aesthetic values of the Korean people. In accordance with the emphasis on social harmony found in Confucian philosophy, the choice of hanbok varied depending on one’s position in society. Its beautifully flowing lines and harmonious color schemes are important aesthetic values found


in Korean art. Hanbok is increasingly expanding its global presence due to the popularity of Korean TV dramas, especially those set in the nation’s past, and also through promotional efforts on the world stage. Renowned fashion designers throughout the world have used elements of hanbok in their own works. This book will examine the origins, history, and the unique characteristics of hanbok and contemporary standing of the attire to give readers a deeper understanding of Korean culture, history, and its people. Hanbok is something more than just everyday clothes. Rather, it should be considered as a cultural artifact that provides a window to Korean identity and cultural heritage.

10 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

The Origins of Hanbok 11

“Fashion is only the attempt to realize art in living forms and social intercourse.�

- Francis Bacon


Chapter One

The Origins of Hanbok


anbok, which literally means “Korean clothing,� is largely worn in Korea today for traditional holidays and special occasions such as a wedding or a child’s first birthday. But such attire is also seen nearly daily on primetime television through popular Korean historical dramas set when hanbok was what people wore every day. Hanbok has been the attire of Koreans since recorded history. Though undergoing changes over the years in design and arrangement, hanbok has had its essential form stay intact. Such costumes have also been a critical component of how social order was kept through successive dynasties over two millennia, thus learning the history of hanbok provides a unique view into Korean history. Hanbok is also seen as the epitome of Korean aesthetics. It is simple, yet elegant; humble in form, but opulent in expression.

The Origins of Hanbok 13

Relying on simple primary colors to create a colorful and vibrant appearance, hanbok is focused on the beauty of lines, silhouette, and space that are also found in other Korean arts. Understanding the aesthetic principles underlying the clothing line leads to a better understanding of the core values in the Korean concept of beauty.

History of Hanbok The Three Kingdoms Period Hanbok’s origins can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–AD 668) when Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje occupied the northern, southeastern, and southwestern parts of the Korean Peninsula, respectively. Artifacts show both men and women wearing the jeogori, or upper garment. Men wore wide and roomy trousers called baji, and women were clad in chima, or long skirts. Koreans today often wear hanbok during traditional holidays such as Seollal and Chuseok.


Chapter Two

The Beauty of Hanbok


any important values of Korean aesthetics are found in hanbok, whose sense of reserved beauty, emphasis on lines and silhouette, and the importance of color schemes are all found in other forms of Korean culture. Like the saying, “It’s all in the details,” hanbok’s beauty is brought to life with great attention to its particulars. Everything matters, from the small accessory to the swinging movement of the chima, or skirt, and contributes to enhancing the beauty and form of the wearer.

Reserved Beauty One major aspect of hanbok aesthetics is the notion of “reserved beauty.” Typically worn in multiple layers, hanbok avoids showing too much skin. The voluminous chima makes it impossible to get a realistic sense of a woman’s bodyline. Instead, the little details

The Beauty of Hanbok 29

accentuate the wearer’s beauty, and this is especially true in women’s hanbok. By tightening or loosening the git, or neckband, a woman could choose to show her neckline little by little. In addition, the spacious nature of chima left it to the imagination of the onlooker to guess what lie inside. In the neo-Confucian Joseon society, which considered integrity the greatest virtue for men and chastity for women, social values were reflected in clothing. Men refrained from being seen outside without the proper attire, including a hat, and women hid their faces with overcoats when they went out beyond the confines of their houses. Women put on layers of clothing because of the neo-Confucian edict that females should never show their flesh to other people. Under their skirts, they wore baggy pants over three pairs of increasingly smaller pants and a loin cloth. The layers of undergarments resulted in a voluminous lower body with a curvaceous silhouette. Because a woman wore a tight-fitting blouse under her jeogori, her overall appearance was of a figure with a narrow, tight upper body and a flaring, The beauty of hanbok consists of emphasizing lines and silhouette.

30 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

By tightening or loosening the neckband, a woman could choose to show her neckline little by little.

voluminous lower body. To make her skirt even more voluminous and to support her waist, an upper-class woman wore two kinds of underskirts when dressing for formal occasions. Concealing most of the body under layers of garments, hanbok’s subtlety highlights the beauty and grace of the female figure, titillating the viewer’s imagination about what it hides. The rigid concealment of hanbok notwithstanding, lower-class women of the Joseon period evinced ambivalence toward the exposure of their breasts or undergarments. Depending on the movement of the wearer, wind, or the use of transparent fabrics, undergarments might be seen beneath the outer wear. This type of subtle exposure of the body is quite sensual. An example of bold exposure was the baring of a woman’s breasts. Given the excessive preference for male heirs in Joseon

The Beauty of Hanbok 31

society, giving birth to a son was understandably a great source of pride for a woman. She would proudly bare her breasts to feed her child, deliberately provoking the envy of other women. In this sense, the direct exposure of the body can be understood as a status symbol. After the mid-Joseon period, hanbok fashion grew more provocative, at least in showing the wearer’s undergarments. The sight of bloomers showing below a hiked-up skirt, as depicted in genre paintings of the time, must have been quite shocking to those who adhered to the strict dress code of old. This titillating show of a woman’s undergarments is believed to have been an exhibitionistic gesture, which was described i n d e t a i l i n T h e Ta l e o f Chunhyang, the classic love story of a gisaeng’s daughter and the son of a government official. As Chunhyang rides the swing on a late spring day, “her red skirt billowed and her white silk bloomers flapped loosely in the southeasterly wind.” The writer must have titillated readers of this period with his reference to undergarments, which were considered unmentionable at the time. Photographs taken toward the close of the Joseon period indicate that the showing of The hanbok worn by gisaeng had short jeogeori and narrow, fancy sleeves.


Chapter Three

From Royal Court to Wedding Dress


he Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897) had four distinct social classes in accordance with the neo-Confucian social mores of hierarchy and harmony: yangban (aristocrat), jungin (middle class), sangmin (commoners) and cheonmin (lower class). The yangban comprised the ruling, aristocratic elite and served as the main source of government officials. This class included both munban (civil officials) and muban (military officials). Both types of officials had to pass gwageo, or rigorous civil service examinations that required years of study, and they were respected as “scholarly officials” in lieu of the neo-Confucian emphasis on scholarship. Class status was not permanently hereditary. If a descendent stretching down three generations was unable to pass a gwageo, then his family was demoted to the commoner class. But once someone passed an exam, then immediate family would also be

From Royal Court to Wedding Dress 43

granted yangban status. The jungin consisted of professionals who passed lower-level civil service examinations than the yangban, and included doctors, accountants, jurists, and officials of lesser rank. Although they were the smallest class in number, jungin members often acquired technical expertise that afforded them respect and status. The sangmin class comprised commoners such as farmers, merchants, craftsmen, and other types of laborers. This was by far the largest social class, comprising nearly 75 percent of the population, and the taxes and work of the sangmin sustained Joseon society. The lowest class, cheonmin, mostly performed work considered distasteful according to neo-Confucian mores. They included servants, shamans, actors, female entertainers (gisaeng), and butchers. When participating in ceremonies, queens during the Joseon Dynasty wore jeokui, which symbolized their status as the woman of the highest rank.

46 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

52 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

74 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

Stylistic Changes New Additions A new addition to traditional hanbok over this period was the jokki, a Western-style vest often worn over the jeogori. Another popular item that appeared at this time was the magoja, an outer jacket originally worn by Manchurians. In 1887, when Daewongun, the ex-regent and father of King Gojong, was freed from a Chinese prison, he returned home wearing a magoja and the jacket soon became popular. It provided great warmth in cold weather, and Korean women began to wear it as well.

Panama Hat After King Gojong ordered Korean men to cut their hair short, this led to the disappearance of the gat, a wide brimmed hat whose protruding middle point covered the sangtu. Instead, men began to wear We s t e r n h a t s w i t h h a n b o k , especially the Panama hat. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, it closed down all gat makers. Because many men felt uncomfortable going outside bareheaded, many turned to the Panama hat, which resembled the gat in shape. Various kinds of hanbok jokki (vest)

Tradition and Modernity 75

New Woman Throughout much of the Joseon Dynasty, women were precluded from having active social lives. But the gradual opening of Korea to outside influence toward the end of the 19th century ushered in a new era for women. Western Christian missionaries helped introduce the concepts of equality, freedom, and rights for women in Korea. The missionaries advocated education for women, albeit with great difficulty and skepticism at first. Progressive Korean thinkers such as Dr. Suh Jae-pil, who had studied in America for 10 years, spearheaded the drive to educate women and encouraged them to more actively take part in politics and other social causes. Shinyeoseong (new woman) was a popular Korean term coined in the 1920s to describe women who wore Western clothes and were better educated and more independent. A magazine targeting female readership called Shinyeoja (New Woman) was founded in 1920 by the female writer Kim Il-yup, who received funding from Ewha Girls’ School. The publication advocated greater independence and equal rights for women. The classic A Doll’s House by Norweigian playwright Henrik Ibsen also generated a great stir in Korea at the time. The housewife Nora, who leaves the confines of the traditional family, became the figurehead for greater women’s independence in A fashion show representing the "modern girl" outfits of the 1920s


Chapter Five

Hanbok Goes Global


anbok used to be worn largely on special occasions following Korea’s rapid modernization in the 20th century, but is making a comeback as the attire representing the Korean people. From the nation’s president to fashion designers, more Koreans are proudly promoting the exquisite beauty and breathless allure of hanbok. The worldwide popularity of Korean TV dramas has also contributed to the global popularity of hanbok. Indeed, hanbok’s popularity among non-Koreans could launch yet another Korean Wave, or hallyu.

Hanbok Diplomacy Since her inauguration as the Republic of Korea’s 18th head of state in February 2013, President Park Geun-hye has been at the forefront of what many call “hanbok diplomacy.” In a goodwill

Hanbok Goes Global 91

ceremony held in Seoul’s downtown section of Gwanghwamun the day of her inauguration, she changed into a colorful hanbok comprising a red overcoat, or durumagi, and blue skirt, or chima. Many commentators said her color composition brought to mind the taeguk symbol that lies at the center of the national Korean flag. In her first overseas trip as president in May 2013, President Park in the United States donned several hanbok outfits. Each of them was carefully chosen to add meaning to a particular occasion, said hanbok designer Kim Young-suk, who handled the chief executive’s wardrobe for her inauguration and trip to the United States. President Park wore a white hanbok distinguished by a bright red goreum, the ribbon that ties the jeogori, the upper garment, for a meeting with ethnic Korean residents in New York. The choice of color reflected the Korean people’s historic preference for white, and the bright red color of the goreum expressed the people’s passion, Kim said in an interview with a women’s magazine. Outfits by designer Lee Young Hee that were made using hanbok and Hansan mosi (ramie) are being presented in Paris, France.

92 Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition

Some examples of Korean President Park Geun-hye’s “hanbok fashion diplomacy.” Each time that President Park Geun-hye travels overseas, she wears various kinds of hanbok selected according to the location.

For an honorary dinner to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean-US alliance at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, President Park wore a cobalt-colored chima and a beige jeogori w i t h e l a b o r a t e e m b r o i d e r y. T h e c o l o r s w e r e s e l e c t e d i n consideration of the many Korean War veterans who attended the event. Cobalt symbolized the Korean sky, and the elaborate embroidery adorned with flower and trees represented the modern prosperity and cultural refinement that Korea had achieved. While speaking to ethnic Koreans in Los Angeles, President Park wore a pink hanbok. Hanbok designer Kim said he wanted to accentuate the maternal warmth and benevolence of Korea’s first female president. On her visit to Vietnam in September 2013, the head of state surprised her hosts by briefly walking down the runway wearing a gold-colored hanbok in a fashion show featuring traditional clothing from Vietnam and Korea. Even before President Park’s hanbok diplomacy, the Korean government had promoted the traditional Korean wear to the world

Hanbok Goes Global 93

through major events. Global leaders had gotten the chance to wear hanbok at the 2010 G-20 Summit in Seoul and the 2005 AsiaPacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

Hanbok Fashion Show in Los Angeles In March 2013, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles held a fashion show featuring 200 hanbok outfits from renowned designer Lee Hyun-sook. On display were replicas of hanbok styles worn from the Three Kingdoms period to the present. The show also highlighted how hanbok was worn in the Joseon period, with examples of a long-sleeved cheolik and a short-sleeved dapho, luxurious silk coats layered to stunning effect. These types of garments are thought to be worn by the figure in Peter Paul Rubens’s famous drawing Man in Korean Costume, the focus of the Getty exhibition. A small re-enactment of a traditional Korean wedding was also performed. “This fashion show brings historical Korean clothing to life---the sumptuous silk garments are vibrantly colored and intricately layered,” said exhibition curator Stephanie Schrader. “We are grateful to Heeseon Choi of the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles for putting together such a spectacular program.” Hyun-sook Lee, president of Hanbok Nara Namgaram, is one of the most sought-after costume designers in Korea. Her film and TV work includes modern and historical dramas, among them “Heo Jun,” “Sangdo,” “Hong Gook-yeong,” “Seondeok Yeowang (Queen Seondeok),” “Gye Baek,” and “Ma-eui (Horse Healer).” Lee’s academic credentials include advanced degrees from the Academy of Korean Studies and the National Folk Museum, and she is studying costumes in the portraits of kings at the Nansa Research Center. Her exhibitions and fashion shows have been presented in Paris, the United States, and throughout Korea.


anbok embodies many of the social and aesthetic values of the Korean people. In accordance with the emphasis on social harmony found in Confucian philosophy, the choice of hanbok varied depending on one’s position in society. Its beautifully flowing lines and harmonious color schemes are important aesthetic values found in Korean art. Hanbok is increasingly emerging into the spotlight following the popularity of Korean television dramas, which are often set in the past, and also through efforts to promote hanbok on the global stage. Renowned fashion designers around the world have taken note of hanbok and have incorporated elements of hanbok into their own work. This book will examine the origins, history, and the unique characteristics of hanbok and its contemporary standing. 9,800 won / US$ 18.00

ISBN 978-89-97639-41-0 ISBN 978-89-91913-70-7 (set)

Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition (Korea Essentials No.16)  

Hanbok embodies many of the social and aesthetic values of the Korean people. In accordance with the emphasis on social harmony found in Con...