Hanbok: History of the Traditional Korean Dress

Over the past few years, many K-pop music videos have featuerd the Hanbok. Among many others, Blackpink wore it for their "How You Like That" MV and BTS also wore it in their "Idol" MV.

Not only that, the hanbok is featured in many popular Korean dramas too! The most popular ones are the Korean historical dramas like Dae Jang Geum and Sungkyunkwan Scandal. It is also featured in the recent K-drama "Mr. Sunshine" too!

But, do you know that most of the Hanboks you know of are actually the outfits from the Joseon Dynasty?

Basic Makeup of the Hanbok

Essentially, a hanbok consists of a top (jeogori) and the skirt for women (chima) or pants for men (baji). But its design, color and pattern had evolved over the different korean dynasties. This is due to the change in fashion preferences of the different periods, and also the influence of clothing style from neighboring countries.

How The Hanbok Changed Over The Years

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Change of the women hanbok anime style. Image credit: 우용곡

The women hanbok experienced the most obvious changes. The general change in design is that the jeogori got shorter while the chima got higher. 

The history of the hanbok can be traced back to almost 1600 years ago during the Goguryeo era. The long jeogori was worn over the chima, and a belt was worn at the waist.

As China was a close neighbor, the hanbok started receiving fashion influence from the then Tang Dyanasty. Silk and linen were also imported and used on the design of hanbok. The succeed of the Mongol Empire afterwards also result in the incorporation of Mongol clothing influence on the hanbok.

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IU dressed in Goryeo Dynasty hanbok in Korean drama Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Photo credit: g_richh

During the Goryeo Dynasty, the princesses from Mongol who married into Korea brought along Mongol fashion with them. As a result the jeogori of many outfits got shorter and end near the waist. It was also tied at the chest. The chima was also shortened, and sleeves curved a little. 

By early Joseon era, the Jeogori had shortened to around waist level also got a little tighter. As time went by, the jeogori got even shorter. It was about 65 cm in the 16th century, 55 cm in the 17th century, 45 cm in the 18th century, and 28 cm in the 19th century, with some as short as 14.5 cm!

By the end of the Jeoson era, the women jeogori got so short, they had to wear heoritti below it! Heoritti is an undergarment cloth worn by women under their jeogoris to cover their chest. It was a fashion style started by the Korean courtesan (kisaeng) that spread to the upper class. But many of the lower caste commoners and slaves, especially the married women with children, did not wear the heoritti. Some articles mentioned it being easier for breastfeeding while others mentioned the newfound status symbol as a mother.

The chima was fuller around the hips during the 17th and 18th centuries, making it like a pear shaped skirt. That was the trendiest style in 1800. However, by the 19th century the A-line chima became the norm, which is also the design of the modern hanbok.

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Modern Durumagi worn by BTS Jungkook. Photo credit: @ONANDOFF_JK

The male hanbok, made up of the jeogori and baji, did not change much over the centuries. But by the late 19th century, an overcoat called Durumagi was worn over the jeogori and baji.

Hanbok Pattern and Their Meanings

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Image credit: @carlamirandadesign

Hanboks are very exquisitely made and they are different patterns on the traditional costume.

  • People wore hanboks with peonies on wedding days to represent their wish for wealth and honor.
  • To represent the wish of nobility, people wore lotus flowers.
  • If people wished for children, they wore pomegranate or bats.
  • Hanboks of royalty and higher officials had Tigers, Dragons, Cranes on their hanboks

Colors of Hanbok and their Meanings

Although the hanbok comes in various colors nowadays, this traditional Korean dress was originally based on 5 colors theory. The 5 colors theory is based on the five elements of the yin and yang: metal, fire, wood, water, and earth. Each of this five elements is represented by a position and a color. 

The basic colors of the hanbok used to comprise of red, black, blue, white, and yellow. These colors were also more easily obtained from the dyes of natural fruits or vegetables in the past. 

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Beautiful color hanbok worn in K-drama Jang ok Jung, Living by Love Drama. Image credit: Kdrama&More 

The colors of the hanbok also signify one's social status.

  • Older adults used to wear muted tones. The children wore brighter ones.
  • Married women wore green or red colors. At the same time, single ladies wore red chima with yellow jeogori.
  • Women with a son would wear navy colored hanbok.
  • People of higher social status would wear different colors.
  • Lower class people would only wear white, and on occasions, light pink, gray, green, or charcoal.

Modern Hanbok: Designed for Style and Comfort

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Couple in Modern Hanbok Attire.
Image credit: Vogue Korea

Today, many influential and big fashion designers are giving hanbok a creative spin. Names like Lee In-Joon, Lee Yong-Hee, etc., are incorporating its traditional elements into modern wear. This collaboration of modernism and tradition is called modern hanboks. 

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Photo credit: The Korean In Me

Unlike the hanbok one rents to wear to the Palace, the modern hanbok is made with more breathable material for comfort. The skirt is also much shorter, for a more modern style and everyday wear. 

Recently, hanboks have become the new street style, and you can also see people wearing modern jeogori or the overcoat with their usual jeans. 

Conclusion

The korean hanbok is an important part of the Korean culture. The change in its design and style is a reflection of the korean lifestyle over the different centuries.

As prominent fashion designers, K-pop, and K-dramas feature the korean hanbok, we believe that the hanbok influence will only become stronger in the future. We look forward to the different styles of hanbok!

 

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