What is Hanbok?
Hanbok is a traditional costume of the Korean people and a term that refers to traditional Korean (Han) clothes (Bok). Hanbok has been one of the most beautiful fashion trends in the world and has been loved by Koreans for over 2,000 years.
You may have seen a hanbok in your favorite Korean drama, or your favorite K-Pop singer wearing a hanbok, wondering: what are they wearing? What kind of fashion is Hanbok? Where do I get a hanbok?
Hanbok has an amazing history as colorful as the garments themselves.
It was worn daily until the late 50s, but the hanbok still remains an important cultural aspect of Korea and is still wear on special occasions and holidays.
Hanbok is commonly worn by Koreans until the late 1950s. You'll also find many Koreans wearing Hanbok on special events, such as birthday parties, weddings, and national ceremonies.
But not many people know the rich roots of Hanbok and the meaning behind the traditional Hanbok.
Let's explore what is hanbok in this ultimate guide to Korean fashion.
The History of Hanbok
The hanbok has a very long history in Korea.
It thought to have been designed during the Goguryeo (고구려) Dynasty. The Goguryeo (고구려) Dynasty was one of the Three Ancient Kingdoms of Korea and stretched from 37 BCE to 668 CE.
Originally, it was created for the nomadic tribe so that its wearers could have independence in their movements. Throughout history, the Hanbok has been inspired by many civilizations such as the Mongolian Empire and internal fashion movements.
The basic feature of Hanbok, the jacket (Jeogori), pants (Baji), and the skirt (Chima), was introduced during the Goguryeo Kingdom (고구려) (37 BCE- 668 CE), and the design features have remained relatively same to this day.
The old Korean culture changed from a nomadic society to an agricultural society at the end of the Goguryeo dynasty. Also by the end of the Three Kingdoms period, women began to wear longer skirts and shorter coats cinched at the waist. And the men embraced these patterns by wearing looser trousers and shirts tied to the hip.
In modern times, Hanbok can be identified as ritual clothing and daily wear, and then further categorized as gender, age and occasion.
Notwithstanding the variations in these classifications, the fundamental esthetic structure of all hanbok is based on the Korean belief in naturalness, the wish for divine safety and ancestral blessings, and the Confucian dress code.
The Meaning of colors and patterns of a Hanbok
The colors and patterns of a hanbok once held significant meanings and represented class among society.
Based on people's class and marital status, color, and patterns were embedded in Hanboks.
Common or non-rulering classes wore white cotton most of the time, but they were often required to wear pink, orange, or gray.
But the higher classes and nobility have a wide variety of options. Noblemen and women wore more shades in their hanbok, but there were specific restrictions restricting the use of these colours.
Children and young girls might wear vivid colours, but older women wore more muted colors.
The unmarried women wear a red skirt and a yellow top, and the married women wore green and red or blue after the birth of a son.
And the patterns were closely controlled for flowers or bats.
Members of the royal family have the most choice of hanbok colors and designs.
The Hanbok of the royal family had a number of interpretations.
Kings were bringing flames, dragons, cliffs, or water plants.
Queens also wore portraits of phoenixes.
And the princesses were wearing butterflies, cranes, and lotus roses.
But all of these styles should only be used by members of the royal family, and no one else was permitted to wear them.
Philosophy Behind the Hanbok
Han-Ok is the traditional house in Korea. The Korean people's way of life was primarily expressed in the Korean Houses and Clothes.
Traditional Korean buildings, Han-Ok, used a delicate streaming of lines and architectural patterns that simulated natural angles. It brings softness and harmony to the curvature of nature, and harmonizes the human spirit with the living quarter.
Similar to the soft, sloping eaves of traditional Korean houses – the balance of the angled baerae (the bottom line of the jacket's sleeves) with the sharp edges of the dongjeong (the white line of the jacket's necklace) shows the softness and sophistication of traditional Korean aesthetics.
Another famous characteristic of Hanbok is its vivid colors.
Traditional hanboks featured vivid colors that correspond to the five elements of the Yin and Yang theory: white (metal), red (fire), blue (wood), black (water) and yellow (wood) (earth).
Colors have symbolized social class and marital status.
Strong colors, for example, were usually worn by children and ladies, and muted hues were worn by middle-aged men and women.
Unmarried women mostly wore yellow jeogori and red chima, while matrons wore green and red, and women with sons wore navy.
The higher classes had a lot of colours.
In comparison, commoners were expected to wear white, but on special occasions they were clad in colors of pale pink, light green, gray and charcoal.
One's social status may also be defined by the content of his hanbok.
The upper classes are clad in a hanbok of tightly woven ramie cloth or other high quality lightweight fabrics in colder months and simple and patterned silks for the rest of the year. Commoners, on the other hand, were relegated to cotton.
Patterns have been embroidered on a hanbok to reflect the desires of the wearer.
Peonies on a wedding dress, for example, expressed a desire for respect and riches.
Lotus flowers, on the other hand, symbolized the expectation of royalty, and bats and pomegranates exemplified the appetite of youth.
Dragons, phoenixes, cranes and tigers were reserved for kings and high-ranking officials.
Beginning towards the end of the 19th century, Hanbok was largely replaced by new imports, such as Western suits and clothes.
Nowadays, formal and casual wear is primarily Western style based. Traditional hanbok, however, is still worn on special occasions and festivals such as weddings, Lunar New Year's Eve, ancestral ceremonies, and dol, the first birthday of an infant.
The Hanbok has experienced a number of changes over its more than 1,600-year history, and is still changing.
Specialty designers have rendered classic patterns wearable with creations that make conventional patterns and patterns in plain cotton, silk, leather and lace.
These contemporary Hanbok reinterpretations have made a splash in the fashion industry and have been seen across the globe, from the Champs Elysées to the New York Fashion Week catwalks.
However much it can continue to evolve, Hanbok remains an exquisite cultural treasure, not just for its historical importance, but also for its distinctly Korean artistic significance, and will continue to exist for many years to come.