Hanbok, directly translated "Korean clothes", is Korean traditional clothes that features its own uniqueness. Hanbok differs from Japanese kimono or Chinese chipao, in that it's not fitted and rather kind of loose, which makes it more comfortable and active. At a glance, it looks like a hanbok dress but it is not a one-piece dress and includes lots of different pieces as a full costume.
Hanbok is an absolutely beautiful, traditional costume of the country and you'll be able to try it out when you're travelling in Korea as there are a number of places you can hire Hanbok for a few hours or for a whole day. Now let's find out more about this unique Korean clothes before you actually try it out.
Basic terms for the pieces of the clothes
- Cheogori (저고리) : Top
- Chima (치마) : Skirt
- Baji (바지) : Bottom
- Po (포) / Dopo (도포) : Coat or outwear
- Chokki (조끼) / Magoja (마고자) : Vest
- Norigae (노리개) : Hanbok accessories for female hanbok
- Gat (갓) : Hat for male hanbok
Wall painting of a man wearing hanbok, Goguryeo period, the 3rd century B.C.
Acrobatic reenactments of the traditional Goguryeo equestrian culture.
The history of hanbok goes all the way up to the ancient times, Gojoseon period, but the oldest proof on the record is the wall painting of Goguryeo period in the 3rd century B.C. The tops were much longer due to the equestrian culture of the period, featuring more activeness. The hairstyle has changed throughout the history and the most common hairstyle of the period was a high ponytail regardless of gender. There was not too distinct difference between female clothes and male clothes.
The closest form of modern day hanbok is that of Joseon dynasty. Shorter cheogori (top) and puffy skirts for female hanbok and long po (coat) and the traditional hat for male hanbok. The hairstyle changed as well, where men wore a top-knot to conveniently fit it inside the hat and women braided their hair down or up.
Even though hanbok changed throughout the history, something has always stood firm and that is the comfyness and the activeness. The pants were really baggy and the skirts were full-flowing and roomy. It makes the clothes distinguishable from that of Japan or China which is more fitted to the body and therefore comparatively more uncomfortable.
Hanbok colors are decided according to the "five colors theory" ("obangsaek" in Korean), which refers to the theory of yin and yang and the five elements. Yin-yang or eumyang means light and darkness, which are represented by the sun and the moon. Ohaeng means the five elements; fire, water, tree, metal or gold, and earth, which compose the world we live in. Yin-yang and the five elements theory symbolizes and provides interpretations for parts of the universe, such as colors, positions, and time (weather). The five basic colors, called obangsaek - red, black, blue, white, and yellow - are colors that represent each of the five elements from fire to earth, in order. These colors also symbolize five positions - south, north, east, west, and the center. The hanbok commonly makes striking use of naturally-occurring colors.
Hanbok differs in style depending on the occasion. Pictures above are hanbok in the traditional wedding. Generally speaking, it's usually red and blue to symbolize yin and yang. Hanbok for wedding ceremonies is more vivid in color and a lot puffier. The sleeves are much wider and longer, the skirt of the bride is longer, too.
Hanbok for "Gisaeng" is very distinctive. Gisaeng refers to the women who provided performances of choreography, singing and playing musical instruments during Joseon dynasty. The similar concept is in Japan, too, called "Geisha".
Since these women usually performed in entertainment events and so on the style of their hanbok is more showy, colorful and glamorous. The signature hat that comes along with the style is also very large and boasts lots of beautiful embroidery decorations and colors. They make the skirts look shorter than the original length of hanbok, by putting a belt around the waist or lower.
Lots of accessories are worn in the style, including norigae (노리개). Norigae largely differs in the pattern and the shape which all have the meanings of their own. The accessory was believed to bring more luck and expel evil spirits and was commonly worn by women along with their hanbok, regardless of the social class. Some of the most meaningful norigaes were traditionally handed down in wealthy families.
The beauty of female hanbok is often complemented by adding norigae to it and gisaeng women used multiple of norigaes to make their outfit pop even more.
There are a number of hair accessories as well, including chokduri and binyeo. The two accessories are the most common out of all and have a variety of designs and embroidery patterns. The more glamorous and exquisite the style is, the higher social class the person belongs to.
The shoes that go with the costumes are really unique in their design and color. The shoes are usually very colorful, flat and pointy in the front. The shoes for women and children have more colors, patterns and embroidery decorations whereas male shoes are rather bland and plain with less color and also have less pointy nose, which kind of enhances the traditional dignity of men.
On the other hand to the glamorous and colorful female hanbok, male hanbok uses less color in their style as well as less decorations and patterns. The top is much longer than that of female hanbok and the pants are really baggy, making it super comfortable and active.
The biggest difference between korean male hanbok and female hanbok is that men wear black hat called gat (갓). The rather darker, plain colored hanbok combined with the high, black hat adds more dignity and decency to korean male hanbok.