Hanbok (한복 – Korean traditional clothing) should be familiar to Korean culture lovers since you can see people wearing it in Korean historical dramas and one of the “must-do” items for tourists in South Korea is trying on Hanbok and taking photos. Koreans wear them on formal ceremonial occasions and for important events. For example, the South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, sometimes wears Hanbok during diplomatic visits to other countries. Koreans wear Hanbok for Seollal (설날 – Lunar New Year), wedding ceremonies and funerals. I have also heard that in some Korean language institutes, students studying the regular Korean program wear Hanbok during the graduation ceremony.
Hanbok has a history of over 1,600 years and can be regarded as a symbol of Korean culture. The basic attire of Hanbok consists of an upper short jacket (저고리 – Jeogori) with long and wide sleeves worn with baggy trousers (바지 – baji) (for men) or a floor-length wrap-around skirt (치마 – chima) with wide waistband tied above the chest (for women). It is said that the high placement of the waistband can give the skirt a billowy look and allow greater freedom of movement. Traditionally, women need to wear 5 or 7 layers of undergarments (pants and underskirts) to make the skirt look more voluminous to provide an elegant look but nowadays only wear 1 layer of undergarment (usually pants). The ribbons of the upper jacket are tied in the form of a Korean-style ribbon bow in front of the chest. You can watch this video on how to tie the ribbon bow. Sometimes, outer garments like a vest, a jacket or an overcoat coat may also be worn. For men, accessories are mainly hats and caps whereas for women, accessories include caps, hair-pins, crowns, ribbon hair-bands and pendants.
Silk is the main fabric used for Hanbok and good quality Hanbok can be very expensive. For example, each of the Hanbok worn by President Park Geun-hye during her trip to the U.S. in May 2013 costs about 1.3 million won and is already considered “not too expensive” (though to me, it is still very expensive!!). There may be decorations like gilts, embroidery and patterns like flowers and butterflies on Hanbok. Hanbok is coloured using natural dyes like red dye obtained from the petals of red flowers.
Nowadays, Koreans regard Hanbok as a form of old-fashioned traditional attire and so wear it only for some important events and not in daily life. Modern Korean fashion designers try to combine the traditional design of Hanbok with western fashion style to create fusion Hanbok. The fusion Hanbok has a modern look and is more convenient and comfortable to wear in daily life.
You can look at the materials listed in the “References” below for more details of traditional Hanbok, fusion Hanbok and accessories. If you like both Korean dramas and Hanbok, you may watch a Korean drama called “장옥정, 사랑에 살다” (Jang Ok-jung, Live in Love) which is a story of Jang Ok-jung as a fashion designer of Joseon Dynasty. Jang Ok-jung later became Queen Jang Hui-bin. You can see many beautiful Hanbok in the drama. You can watch the opening and trailer of this drama by clicking the links below:
Arirang TV once held a poll among 11,385 viewers and came up with the top 5 Korean stars who looked best in Hanbok. Can you guess who they are? The top two are male stars, namely, Kim Soo-hyun (김수현) and Song Joong-ki (송중기). Three female stars, namely, Moon Chae-won (문채원), Han Hyo-joo (한효주) and Han Ji-min (한지민) ranked 3rd to 5th, respectively. You may check out their looks in Hanbok by clicking the link below and decide if you agree with the poll results.
In Seoul, the Seoul Global Culture Experience Centre in Myeongdong, Tourist Information Centre located at the Korea Tourism Organization’s Seoul Office and Insadong Tourist Information Centre provide Korean culture experiential activities like trying on Hanbok. If you want to take quality photos in Hanbok, you may visit the photo studios in Insadong (인사동) which provide both Hanbok rental and photo taking services. If you want to buy Hanbok, you may visit the Hanbok shops in Dongdaemun Shopping Complex (동대문종합시장), Gwangjang Market (광장시장) and Insadong where you can buy ready-made and custom-made Hanbok.
Next time when you visit Seoul, please don’t forget to add a Hanbok-related item to your travel schedule. I find even just doing window-shopping at Hanbok shops enjoyable as there is a great variety of beautiful Hanbok on display.
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 18 February 2015. Watch this space!
Arirang TV, “Hanbok“, 100 Icons of Korean Culture, 2014-12-01
Arirang TV, “Korea Today – Korea’s traditional attire, Hanbok”, Arirang Issue, 2013-09-24 – you can see a variety of Hanbok and accessories in this video
“Hanbok should change“, The Korea Times, 2013-09-24
“The star designer behind Park’s Hanbok“, The Chosun Ilbo, 2013-02-27
Arirang TV, “Korea Today – Traditional Hanbok meets modernity“, Arirang Issue, 2013-01-06 – you can see traditional Hanbok, fusion Hanbok and accessories in this video
Lee Seung-ah, “Hanbok – Hidden stories in Hanbok history“, Korea.net, 2012-06-13
“About Hanbok“, Hanstyle
“Hanbok“, Korea Tourism Organization
“Hanbok – The traditional costume of Korean people“, Korea Tourism Organization