Traditional Korean clothing has its roots extending back at least as far as the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. – 668 A.D.), as evidenced by wall paintings in tombs dating from this period. The Korean hanbok represents one of the most visable aspects of Korean culture.
The top part called a jeogori is blouse-like with long sleeves with the men’s version being longer, stretching down to the waist. Women wear skirts (chima) while men wear baggy pants (paji). Commoners wore white, except during festivals and special occassions such as weddings. Clothes for the upper classes were made of bright colors
and indicated the wearer’s social status. Various accessories such as foot gear, jewelry, and headdresses or hair pins completed the outfit.
Clothes and accessories are made from a wide variety of materials. Different areas of Korea are famous for their specialized fabrics. Hansan, South Ch’ungch’ong Province, made such famous white ramie that it was sent to the Tang Chinese court for tribute during the Koryoperiod (918 – 1392). Andong hem was also favored by the yangban (upper class). The materials and manufacturing techniques strongly mirror Korean culture and society.
- Fabrics:Because of the diverse weather conditions, clothes have been made from hemp, ramie, cotton muslin, silk, and satin. Cooler weather demanded heavier fabric, lined with fur in the northern regions, while sumer clothes used thinner materials that allowed breezes to cool the body. In the autumn, many women would wear clothes of gossamer silk because it gave a rustling sound while walking that is similar to walking through dry leaves.
- Colors: White represents purity, integrity, and chastity, and was the most common color for common clothes. The upper class and court figures wore clothes in red, yellow, blue, and black in addition to white. These colors, symbolize the five traditional elements in Oriental cosmology (fire, earth, water, metal, and wood). Dyes were made from natural materials such as flowers or bark.
- Sewing and Embroidery: In traditional times, a woman’s skills in sewing and embroidering showed her devotion and caring for her family. Norigae, a form of Korean macrame, has been a popular hobby among wives
and unmarried girls for years.
Every day children’s clothes were designed to keep babies warm. Families dressed their child in bright clothes and
quilted socks for his or her first birthday (Tol), a tradition that has continued to the present day.
The clothes for the dol include a cheonbok (long blue vest) worn over a durumangi and a bokkeon(black hat with a long tail). Words and symbols related to children were sewn onto the fabric. Originally, the clothes were only for sons of the yangban class. Eventually, the custom and
costume spread to other classes and included daughters as well, but with a different style of clothing.
- Cheogori and Paji: Men’s cheogori were generally longer than their women’s counterparts, reaching down to the waist or even lower. Like the women’s version, they are tied across the chest in front.
The earliest versions of the paji had narrow legs to facilitate horseback riding and hunting. However, a more agrarian society dictated wider legs to facilitate squatting in the fields. The baggier pants are also more comfortable for sitting on floors than narrower pants.
The dop’o was a scholar’s overcoat used from the middle of theChosun Dynasty (1392-1910), although commoners could also wear it for family rites or other special occassions. It was worn over other articles of clothing.
This style of clothing was worn by scholars during the Koryo (918-1392) and Chosun (1392-1910) periods. Hak means “study” in Korean, and the style symbolizes a sublime, noble mind.
These clothes were worn by scholars during their free time. The name came from the feeling that people had when looking at the clothes. “Shim” means to ponder or contemplate. Similar to hakch’angui, shimui represents a more passive state than actively studying.
The magoja was originally Manchurian clothing. It became popular in Korea after Deawongun, one of the most famous political figures of the late Chosun dynasty, returned from seclusion in Manchuria wearing the clothing. It was used to keep the body warm and was considered a luxury.
This robe-like clothing first appeared during the Koryo period (918-1392) and was worn by low-level government officials. From the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), the clothes were also worn by commoners.
Chogori and Ch’ima:
Chogori for females have changed over time more than those for males. The earliest versions went all the way to the hips and were tied at the waist. By the late Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), they only went as far as the arm pits, with a longer front panel to cover the breasts. Dongchong (detachable paper collars) help accent the woman’s neck. Like the men’s version, they are tied across the chest in front with a bow.
The ch’ima is a rectangular or tubular skirt with a high, pleated waistband. It is tied above the breasts with long sashes. By flowing over the rest of the body, it completely hides the female shape, strongly influenced by the Confucian society. Like the wide-legged paji for males, the billowing ch’ima allows a great deal of freedom for squatting, the preferred position when doing most household chores.
A durumagi is worn over regular clothes for warmth during cold weather. Although originally worn by government officials and royalty as everyday attire, commoners began wearing them for special occasions.
A gat-chogori was slightly bigger than an averagechogori, but had rabbit fur lining the inside to keep the body warm. The outside layer was made of silk.
Noble class females of the late Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) wore a changot to cover their face and upper body whenever they went out in public. Similar to the ssukae ch’ima worn by women of lower classes. Hiding the face created a mysterious look.
Women wore this cloak-like clothing during the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) whenever they went out in public. Although shaped like a ch’ima, it was about 30 centimeters shorter and somewhat narrower. Depending on the season, it either had two layers or was patched with cotton. The white collar could be pinched in to hide ones face when a male approached.
Women would sometimes wear several layers of undergarments. Sok ch’ima (similar to petticoats) helped give a female’s hanbok a fuller appearance.
People of higher statuses wore much more ornate and expensive clothes than the commoners did. Certain types of clothing and special colors were reserved only for those of the royal family. Certain symbols denoted various levels within the government hierarchy.(Note: Korea’s monarchs have been called emperors or kings, depending on the strength of relations with China at the time. China’s court did not tolerate any other sovereign calling himself emperor, so other rulers had to “demote” themselves to king during times of strong Chinese influence.)Symbols
During the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), symbols representing the wearer’s rank began appearing on the hem of clothes. A dragon represented an empress and a phoenix represented a queen. Princesses and royal concubines wore floral patterns. High ranking court officials wore clouds and cranes. The color gold was also reserved for royalty throughout much of Korea’s history.Hwalot
Princesses wore this ritual attire during the Koryo (918-1392) and Chosun (1392-1910) Dynasties. Images of the 10 noble plants and animals representing longevity, luck, and wealth in Korean culture were embroidered with crimson thread. The noble classes also used it as a bridal topcoat in wedding ceremonies. The extreme cost of making a hwalotforced the common people to use nok wonsam instead.
During the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), royalty, high-ranking court ladies, and noble women wore a wonsam, a ceremonial topcoat. The color and decorations around the chest, shoulders, and back represent the rank of the wearer.
The dangui represented minor ceremonial clothes for the queen, princess, or wife of a high ranking government official. Among the noble class, wives wore it for major ceremonies. Royal families had gold trim, while others had plain ones.
Ceremonial Clothing :
Commoners generally wore white clothing except for special occassions or festivals. Whereas wedding clothes were bright and festive, funeral clothes were subdued and bland. People also wore colorful clothes during festivals and other celebrations.