If you’ve seen Korean historical, period-piece soap operas or traditional performances, you may have experienced traditional Hanbok clothes capturing your eyes and attention. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, in many countries around the globe, people seem to only wear their traditional clothes on special occasions. This is also the same in Korea. It’s not easy to see people wearing Hanbok as they go through their modern, daily routine. For this reason, I would like to talk about Hanbok for those who wish to know more about it. Let’s learn more about Hanbok and its main characteristics.
Hanbok is a traditional type of clothing from the Korean Peninsula that has evolved over many generations, over quite a long time. In North Korea, people call it Joseonot (조선옷) or “Joseon clothes.” Hanbok has a long history and has many characteristics. One of the most noticeable characteristics lies in the line or silhouette. In the case of women’s clothing, the upper line of the jeogori, a bolero-like jacket, has a straight line, whereas the bottom line has a curved line. The skirt, or chima (치마), also has a beautiful half-moon-shaped line that creates the beauty of Hanbok. Its harmonized lines and beauty can be clearly seen in many types of Hanbok women’s clothing.
Another unique feature of Hanbok can be seen in the variety of Hanbok, depending on use. You can see some clothes that were worn for everyday work. Then there are more formal dresses that were only worn on special occasions, such as wedding gowns. People also wore Hanbok made from different textiles, depending on the season. They carefully selected the fabric, cloth and dye in order to enhance the practicality and the dignity of Hanbok. Meanwhile, lower classes in the past used to wear white Hanbok as their day-to-day clothing item, nothing with any vivid colors. This is why Joseon people were also dubbed as being the baegui minjok (백의민족, 白衣朝鮮) in the past, or the “people in white.”
Hanbok is popular because it’s basically made to adhere to the Korean body shape, with a longer upper half of the body and a shorter lower half. As it’s not too tight, it allows for active body movements. Anyone, whether thin or fat, can wear it without any inconvenience. The patterns that decorate the shoulder lines also make women’s shoulders look narrower and slimmer.
I think Hanbok protects the people who wear it because it’s made to fit loosely, not overly tight, and doesn’t cause any harm to the human body or to one’s health. What’s more, Hanbok is in line with certain concepts of traditional Oriental medicine that advise people to keep the upper part of the chest cooler and the lower part of the belly warmer in order to stay healthy. Hanbok leaves the neck open to keep it cool, whereas the back and the end of the pants are made to be folded and tied to protect the body from cold, especially in the winter. As such, we can see that Hanbok is made to take care of the people who wear it.
Hanbok is neat and tidy, with a minimum of exposure. Traditional beauty is embedded in it. Through Hanbok, we can learn more about ancient Joseon, our lifestyle in the past and the ethics of people from the past. It’s not just the traditional attire that it seems to be.
Yuldashevwa Shakhlo is from Uzbekistan and graduated from the Department of Trade at Kyung Hee University. She plans to live and work in Korea.
Hong Si-wan, Seoul