By Sarah Corbett
The Hanbok is traditionally worn by Korean people.
It was worn on a daily basis until around 100 years ago.
The earliest evidence of this style of dress is found in the Koguya tombs, which are the only surviving remains of the Koguryo kingdom, which existed between the 3rd century BC and 7th century AD. The kingdom was located in the region which we now recognise as Korea and China.
The basic elements of a man’s Hanbok are:
Jegori (jacket), Baji ( trousers), Joggi (vest) and Durumagi (topcoat). These garments are loosely fitted and are not restrictive or uncomfortable when worn. The Hanbok of a man would be blue, duck egg blue and a natural colour of cocoon yarn which is called ‘Sosaek’.
In public men of upper social classes would also wear an outer garment called ‘Dopo’ and a ‘Gat’ hat. To appear in public without these social signifiers would be the cause of negative gossip and accusations of bad manners.
The basic elements of a woman’s Hanbok are:
Jegori (jacket), Chima (skirt), Beoseon (socks), Sokjeoksam (undershirt), Sokgot (undertrousers) or Sokchima (underskirts) and Dongjeong (neckband).
The basic shades of a woman’s Hanbok would be red, pink or purple. This colour variation was in many cases related to social status.
Seasonal differences were also apparent in the types of fibres used to create a Hanbok. Garments of silk, cotton, hemp and linings of fur were utilised. Fine fabrics would be stretched and beaten before using them, this would create volume in the styles of skirts (Chima) and trousers (baji).
The styles of Hanbok worn for special occasions were ornate and wonderful, different occasions warranted different style elements.
‘Dol or Tol’ is the occasion of a child’s first birthday. On this day a child would wear a Saekdong Jegori (rainbow striped jacket). The coloured sleeves were believed to have the power to drive away misfortune.
‘Seonginsik’ is the coming of age ceremony, which takes place on the third Monday in May each year. Records suggest that this has been practiced since the Goryeo dynasties were in power (918 – 1392 AD). The first written record of the coming of age ceremony dates from 965 AD.
Each year all of those who will reach the age of 20 within that year take part in the ceremony. Clothing is changed three times during the ceremony, and gifts are given. Of late this appears to be a dying tradition, and younger generations deem it outdated.
The most opulent and richly ornamented Hanbok is reserved for weddings. The style of the wedding attire is based in the historical styles of royal clothing of the Josean period (1536 -1593 AD)
For men wedding attire is modelled around the styles of official clothing of the three chief ministers and comprised of a purple overjacket (Jajeok Danryeong), a hat (Gwanmo), an ivory belt (Seodae) and wooden soled shoes (Mokhwa).
For the bride a red gown (Hwalot) with coloured sleeves (Saekdong) the edges of which are large and embroidered with symbolic motifs: A peony is a symbol of wealth. A swallowtail butterfly is a symbol to bring many children. Mandarin ducks are a symbol to bring Conjugal harmony. Seas and mountains are a symbol to bring a life with no hardships.
Beneath the Hwalot many types of undergarments are worn, along with a red shirt and a yellow jacket.
At the higest level of Hanbok are the pieces of clothing worn in the royal court. The inner layers worn by royal and high ranking people of Korea were very similar to those we have previously mentioned. The outer layers of their attire however were designed to showcase their wealth, status and power. Made with the finest fabrics and embroidered in the very finest detail with auspicious and symbolic motifs applied to the fabric of the garments. Accessories of Jade were worn and carried by the king. A queen would wear 20 layers of sumptuous clothing along with ornate jade hairpins. The embroideries decorating the garments of the queen would be heavily adorned with gold, to befit her role as the mother of the country.
Korea as a nation s occupied by just one ethnic group, traditional dress is therefore the equivalent of a national dress, and as such a very strong expression of national identity.