K-Culture: Lesson 6 – Hanbok

Aside from melodramatic plots and politicking of characters, there is another thing that catches the eyes of saeguk fans – Korean traditional clothing. Colorful and intricate, Korea’s beautiful hanbok (한복) is part of their society since its Three Kingdoms Period.

Hanbok, which literally means “Korean clothing,” has undergone changes and modification throughout the years. It reflects influences of Korea’s neighboring kingdoms in North Asia as well as Western styles brought by the Silk Road. Despite these modifications, Korean hanbok is still the most visible representation of Korean culture.

Design of Hanbok

Hanbok basically consists of the upper garment called jeogori, and chima (skirt) for women and baji (trousers) for men. Hanbok’s design also facilitates ease of movement but it varies depending on occasions and ceremonies.

Origin of Hanbok

Hanbok’s origin can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms Period as evidenced by murals and artifacts dating from this period. Its color and design depict social order of that time. Commoners were required to wear white clothing while upper classes could wear varieties of colors. Materials used for a commoner’s hanbok were also limited to cotton but noblemen wore hanbok made from high-grade materials like closely woven ramie cloth. Royals and high-ranking officials also wore hanbok embroidered with symbols such as dragons, tigers, phoenixes, and cranes.

Women’s Traditional Clothing

Korean women prefer vivid colors when it comes to their hanbok. Although commoners have to stick to white hanbok, they still can wear pale pink dresses on special occasions. History records also show how women’s hanbok vary through the years. Bending to trends of the time or influenced by the trading partners of Korean dynasty. Here’s a list of clothing worn by women:

women hanbok

Jeogori is the upper garment in hanbok. The length of Women’s jeogori has changed over time unlike its male counterparts.
Dongchong (detachable paper collars) is tied across the chest in front with a bow to help accent the woman’s neck
Chima (skirt) is strongly influenced by the Confucian society. It’s billowing design allows ease of movement particuarly when doing most household chores.
Durumagi is like an overcoat worn during cold weather. Durumagi was first worn by royals and government officials as everyday attire but commoners eventually began wearing them for special occasions.
Gat-jeogori is a slightly bigger version of jeogori. Its inner lining is made from rabbit fur to keep the body warm while the outside layer was made of silk.
Changot is used by noble class women during the late Joseon Dynasty to cover their face and upper body whenever they went out in public.
Ssukae Chima is a cloak-like commoners wore whenever they went out in public.
Sok chima are undergarments similar to petticoats and worn to give a female’s hanbok a fuller appearance.

Royal Clothing for Women

Female members of the royal family bedizened themselves with fancy and expensive hanbok. Special colors, like gold, were reserved only for the royal family. Hanbok of Korean royals was also ornate with symbols that represent their position and hierarchy. For example, a dragon represented an empress while a phoenix represented a queen. Princesses and royal concubines, on the other hand, wore floral patterns. Here’s a list of Korean clothing worn by female royals:

women royal hanbok

Hwalot is a ritual attire worn by princesses during the Georyo and Joseon Dynasties. It is also used by the noble classes as a bridal topcoat in wedding ceremonies.
Wonsam is a ceremonial topcoat wron by royalty, high-ranking court ladies, and noble women during the Joseon Dynasty. The social rank of the wearer is depicted on the color and decorations around the chest, shoulders, and back.
Dangui is a minor ceremonial clothes for the queen, princess, or wife of a high ranking government official.
Jeokui is the queen’s religious and ceremonial outfit which originated from the Georyo Dynasty.

Men’s Traditional Clothing

Men’s hanbok hardly changed compared to women’s hanbok. Korean men during its monarchical period prefers muted colors like grey for their clothing. Its design also gave them freedom of movement particularly in their travels and work. Here’s a list of clothing Korean men traditionally wore:

male hanbok

Jeogori for male was generally longer than its female counterpart but is also tied across the chest in front.
Baji‘s early versions are narrower to facilitate activities like horseback riding and hunting. But eventually a baggier version of baji has become more popular to men.
Dopo was an overcoat used by scholars from the middle of the Joseon Dynasty. Commoners also wore it for family rites or other special occasions.
Shimui was worn by scholars during their free time.
Hakjangui was worn by scholars from Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties. The word “hak” literally means study.
Magoja was a Manchurian clothing popularised in Korea by Deawongun, one of the most famous political figures during the Joseon Dynasty. Majora was used to keep the body warm and was considered a luxury.
Jignyeongpo is a robe-like clothing worn by low-level government officials since the Goryeo Dynasty. Commoners have started wearing it during the Joseon period.

Royal Clothing for Men

In an outsider’s point of view, the red Joseon king robe is the epitome of nobility as its finest. With symbols like dragons, fire, and tiger embroidered at its center, one can’t deny the robe itself speaks power. Here’s a list of traditional clothing worn by Korea’s early leaders:
male royal

Myonbok was comprised by myonryugwan (headdress) and gonbok (formal korean clothes). It was the king’s religious and formal ceremonial clothes during the Georyo and Joseon.
Jeollik was worn by the king and certain civil and military officials during the Joseon Dynasty.
Hwangpo is the king’s daily clothes.

Fun fact: What is the difference between the king’s robe to the crown prince’s robe? Gonryongpos (Dragon’s robe) was the everyday dress of a Korean king and his heir. It was influenced by the imperial culture of China. The king wore a red robe while the crown prince and wore robe in lapis lazuli color.

Infinite L (aka my husband) in Joseon King’s robe


Children’s Clothing

Children during Korea’s monarchical society were dressed in colorful and warm clothing. Young Koreans wore jeonbok (long vest) over a durumagi and a bokkeon (black hat with a long tail). Originally, Kkachi durumagi, which literally “a magpie’s overcoat,” were worn as seolbim, Korean New Year clothes. The clothes were reserved for sons of upper-class families. Eventually, the custom included daughters as well and was spread to other classes. At present, Korean children wore it as a ceremonial garment for dol, the celebration for a baby’s first birthday.



Modern Hanbok

Koreans have maintained the culture of hanbok and are still using the traditional dress for Korean holidays and formal ceremonies like a wedding. Hanbok is still used as casual wear in villages or districts where the traditional ways of life are being maintained. Young designers also gives the Korean attire a more modern twist with their contemporary version of hanbok.

This is just a brief look at Korea’s traditional clothing. The beautiful aesthetic of hanbok is a manifestation of the country’s rich culture. If you are visiting Korea and want to experience wearing hanbok, you can go to Visit Korea‘s website for the list of places offering hanbok programs.

Image Sources:
(1) KBS: Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth, The Return of Superman, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, The King’s Face, The Princess’ Man
(2) SBS: Legend of the Blue Sea, Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Jang Ok-jung Living by Love
(3) MBC: Ruler: Master of the Mask, Moon Embracing the Sun, Empress Ki
(4) 1st Look Magazine


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