Hanbok from the Joseon/Choson Dynasty generally consisted of a jacket (jeogori) and skirt (chima) for women, or jacket and trousers (baji) for men. Hanbok also consists of various other elements, such as an overcoat (po) mostly worn by men, hair accessories for women and hats known as gwanmo for men.
Nowadays, hanbok is only worn during special occasions such as festivals, certain birthdays, weddings, special anniversaries and special events such as chuseok or seollal, a child’s first birthday and an adults 60th birthday. Though there are still certain villages which preserve the traditional way of life, such as Cheonghak-dong on Mount Jirisan, as well as historical Korean Folk Villages.
The Korean traditional dress is known for its lively colours and its loose fitting. Unlike other traditional costumes, often emphasising the female silhouette by drawing in at the waist, hanbok conceals the wearer’s body shape. During summer months, it is worn unlined and made from starched hemp cloth or ramie to maximise the diffusion of body heat. Through the autumn and spring months, hanbok was lined and lastly winter, hanbok was stuffed with cotton and the trousers tied with bands at the ankles to help insulate the body heat.. Some hanbok features decorations such as flower patters or the Korean characters meaning phoenix, peacock, crane, dragon and other symbolic animals.
The clothing bore a significance in Korean social status. Royalty wore elaborate costumes with embroidered insignia on the front and back and could be distinguished in the social ladder by a slight differ in decoration. They wore necklaces and embellished themselves in decorative hair pieces, rings, bracelets and other pieces of jewelry. Whereas commoners were restricted to wearing white cotton for everyday wear; this is the origin of the expression “white-clad folk”. Light tones such as a soft pink, grey or green were allowed to be worn on special occasions.
For women, a variety of colour combinations characterised their position. For example, the red skirt and yellow jacket combination was worn by young women of marriageable age; a red skirt and green jacket for newlywed brides; dark blue skirts and a lilac jacket for women in their 30s; a dark grey skirt and red jacket for women in their 40s and a tan skirt and orange jacket for women above 50. Generally, the brighter colours were worn by younger women, especially children aged to seven or eight, who would be dressed in a rainbow of colours to symbolise good health and a long life.
Although the overall basic design of the jeogori consists of: cuffs, the dongjeong (white collar), otgoreum (decorative bow) for women, there has been a change from the 16th to 20th century; varying from the length of the jeogori and the style of the sleeves, even the length of the otgoreum ribbon. For example, through the early periods of the Korean history, the hanbok is baggy and loose fitted clothing, as seen on a mural from the tomb of Bak Ik (1332-1398). Though by the 16th century we see the jeogori shortened at the waist, then through the Choson dynasty (1392-1897) the jeogori took an even shorter form and the skirt more voluminous.
Among many artists, the use of hanbok can be found; exploring concept through belonging to a culture or to enhance the beauty of the clothing itself. Kim Kyung Soo’s Full Moon Story captures the beauty often forgotten in traditional clothes. Invited by Vogue Korea, Kim aimed to create a shoot focusing on hanbok in a calm and refined quality.
Hanbok designer Park Sul-Nyeo’s underwater hanbok display expresses a vibrant atmosphere as oppose to Kim Kyung Soo’s. It reflects the elegant flow of the hanbok which is illuminated by the water, keeping them from hanging vertically., collected light, the simple lines and curves created from the voluminous skirts and tighter upper garments, He shows the technique known as ‘colour-blocking’ and its usage in the traditional dress.
Nowadays, hanbok has again be reinvented, moderated as we see even in western cultures with popular vintage trends. The modernisation of hanbok is known as “fusion hanbok” and takes on unique reforms such as extra layering of material, ruffles, a change in fabric, shortening the skirt or removing the jeogori all together. The pieces move towards light and airy fabrics and are commonly used in weddings.