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The hanbok is the traditional korean costume. It is one of the few korean traditional clothing in the world that has survived throughout history. Even today, it is one of the essential elements of South Korea's folklore.
The history of Hanbok
As North Korea and South Korea were once one and the same country, the traditional clothing is the same for both nations. Called 한복 "hanbok" in South Korea, it simply means "Korean garment", 한 "han" coming from the word 한국 "hanguk" referring to Korea. In North Korea, it is known as 조선옷 "joseonot" whose meaning is "Joseon garment". Indeed, 옷 "Ot" is the Korean word for "garment" and 조선 "Joseon" corresponds to one of the historical periods in the History of the Korean Peninsula.
The Hanbok's origin
The origin of hanbok dates back to the Three Kingdoms period. The Goguryeo kingdom occupied the north of the Korean peninsula, Silla the southeast and Baekje the southwest. We can find representations of the hanbok on tomb frescoes of the period. The traditional Korean costume is rather ample, favoring the movements, to adapt to the nomadic and cavalier condition of the Korean people. Also, the jacket of the hanbok, the "Jeogori" was rather long and tied at the waist, whether for men or women. Most often, women combined it with a long skirt, the "Chima" and men with loose pants called "Baji". Sometimes, women also wore the baji under their skirts.
Korean Hanbok influenced by the Chinese Culture
When the Silla kingdom managed to conquer its two rival kingdoms with the help of the Chinese Tang, the cultural exchanges between the two cultures influenced the korean costume. Then, skirts will be worn over their jackets, a style of dress adopted by the Tang.
The Hanbok as we know it Today
After the fall of the Great Silla Kingdom, the Goryeo Dynasty was established by King Taejo. Also, the relationship with the Tang Dynasty disappeared gradually and the Korean peninsula established a relationship with the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). Thus, the clothing style of the military and civilians will be gradually replaced by that of Yuan. The long jeogori will be replaced by a shorter version that is no longer tied at the waist. However, the traditional korean costume retains many features of the Three Kingdoms period. The jeogori is always closed on the right side and is worn over the chima or the baji. Also, the length of the skirt was raised at the level of the waist then tied by ribbons at the level of the chest under the jacket. This is the shape we know today.
Hanbok and its Accessories
The Goryeo kingdom was later overthrown by General Yi Seong-gye who named the country "Joseon". Buddhism was then replaced by the values of neo-Confucianism. The traditional korean costume will keep the current form of the hanbok while adopting a more sober appearance. Also, unlike the Chinese and Mongolian influenced periods, accessories were much rarer. Women will simply add an ornamental pendant (noligae), a bow decorated with semi-precious stones (often jade) attached to the front of the hanbok, a ribbon in their hair (daenggi) or spikes to hold their bun (bin-yeo and dwikkoji).
Many Korean aesthetic values, which can be found in korean art such as painting, traditional dances or ceramics, are expressed through the hanbok. Its colors and lines also reflect the Confucian values of the country.
The Hanbok, a clothing respecting Confucianism
For Neo-Confucianism, the most important value for a man is integrity and for a woman, chastity. This is also conveyed through clothing. Thus, men are careful to wear a dress and hat appropriate to their rank when outside, and women are careful to hide their faces with cloaks when outside their homes.
Also, this virtuous beauty is transmitted through its lines and shapes. Indeed, the hanbok reveals very little skin, always in the respect of Confucianism. The rather large chima (skirt) does not allow to detect the lines of the body. All the beauty of the hanbok is in the details, especially for the female hanbok. It emanates a pure and chaste beauty from this costume. In fact, the adjustment of the collar of the hanbok (the git) allows to partially reveal the line of the neck. In addition, the width of the skirt leaves room for imagination and its curves and flowing lines make the silhouette taller and more graceful.
The Hanbok's Colors : Symbol of Korean Culture
The beauty of hanbok is also due to the harmony of its colors. In fact, it is an essential point of its aestheticism. The most representative color for Koreans is white. Indeed, they have a special affection for this color that offers a perfect contrast with their black hair, that's why they were nicknamed "The people dressed in white". For the koreans, this color is synonymous with purity linked to nature and spirituality.
The combination of bright colors, especially primary colors, is also characteristic of the hanbok, especially among the ruling classes. Of course, in keeping with Confucian values, the colors chosen also evoked the status of the individual. For example, it could indicate the marital status of the woman. Thus, a young unmarried woman wore a yellow jeogori (jacket) with a carmine red or even purple chima (skirt); a young married woman, a green jeogori and a carmine red or purple chima; a married woman, a yellow jeogori and a blue chima. Therefore, the young bride wears a green and red hanbok at her wedding while her mother wears a pink outfit and the mother of her husband a blue hanbok.
Finally, many symbols could also be present on the hanbok, notably the Chinese characters of longevity and good fortune, or certain emblematic animals such as the dragon, the phoenix, the crane and the tiger within the highest classes of the society.
As you can see, the hanbok is a true symbol of Korean culture in itself. Its pure beauty transmitted by its colors and its lines meet the Confucian and aesthetic values of the korean people.
Traditional Hanbok for Special Occasions
Currently, the traditional hanbok is no longer worn in everyday life. However, it still occupies a prominent place in the lives of Koreans. Indeed, it continues to be donned on special occasions, especially for Seollal (설날) and Chuseok (추석), especially by the elderly and within the more traditionalist families. Also, newlyweds wear the traditional hanbok to greet their family members, especially the elders.
Modern Hanbok for an Everyday Casual Look
Today, korean women are much more likely to wear the "modern hanbok", also called "casual hanbok", for all occasions. Indeed, the traditional korean clothing continues to captivate designers even beyond the country's borders. It is no longer uncommon to find designs inspired by hanbok. So, korean women have naturally come to wear this contemporary version of hanbok more easily, allowing them to respect traditions while remaining in the air of time.
Wedding Hanbok for the Most Important Day
The wedding hanbok, the holleyebok, is very rich, particularly ornamented and made of silk fabric. The woman wears the traditional three red dots on the forehead and both cheeks, she is dressed in a long silk coat and in her hair ornaments called jodkuri. The groom also has a dignitary headdress and a long coat. The details of the clothes are very elaborate: golden embroidery, lace, the collar is an important part of the jacket. The accessories matching the hanbok are first of all the small bag, the parasol and the hairstyle decorated with brooches and hairpins. There are differences in fashion depending on the region, in Seoul the hair jewelry was rather discreet, going to Jeonju the hairstyles are extremely ornate, decorated with flowers, butterflies and colorful spikes.