Hanbok (한복) are distinctively colorful, elegant, and expressive clothes that have graced Korean culture for over 1,600 years. While they have evolved somewhat over time, they remain a cherished symbol of the country's traditional culture and lifestyle. The evolution, expression, variations, and details of the hanbok make it a fitting representation of Korea's cultural identity.
Hanbok, or Joseonot (조선옷) as it's called in North Korea, was daily wear up until the 21st century. The term 'hanbok' translates to ‘Korean clothing’, but today it primarily refers to the style worn during the Joseon era (14th-19th century). The hanbok underwent significant evolution during this era, shaping it into what we recognize today. The materials and colors used for hanbok were reflective of social status - brighter colors and more expensive materials signified royalty and the elite, while commoners wore more muted colors and less expensive materials.
Today, hanbok are typically reserved for special occasions, such as weddings or the harvest festival, Chuseok. Despite this, many people feel that hanbok are too traditional and impractical to be worn during contemporary events. Consequently, most people opt to rent a hanbok as the need arises, though these instances are becoming increasingly rare. Despite this trend, there are numerous efforts to promote and revitalize hanbok-wearing traditions.
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In modern times, a Hanbok can be categorized as a type of bim (빔), which refers to clothing worn on special occasions in Korea. Two common types are Seolbim(설빔) and Chuseokbim (추석빔), denoting clothes worn for Seollal (Lunar New Year) and Chuseok respectively. In both instances, a Hanbok serves as the traditional attire.
Modern interpretations of hanbok often grace the runway, particularly on Hanbok Day (October 21). Fashion designers skillfully reimagine this traditional attire into stylish adaptations that merge the old with the new.
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Dressing in Hanbok
For women, an underskirt is typically worn beneath the visible skirt known as the chima (치마). For men, trousers, or baji (바지), are worn. Traditionally, the upper part (malgi) of the skirt was wrapped tightly around a woman's chest, but modern chimas come with shoulder straps. After wrapping, the end of the skirt should be placed on a woman's left side to allow for easy movement and sitting. For both genders, the jeogori (저고리), a jacket with a ribbon on the chest, is worn on top. There is a vast array of hats and hair accessories, like the binyeo (비녀) which is used to tie up hair into a bun. The main distinction between male and female hanbok lies in the details - female hanbok feature more intricate patterns, seams, and fabric, while men's are simpler and often complemented by an overcoat called a po.
Aside from the traditional variations for different social classes, there are hanbok for specific occasions like weddings, funerals, and for children. Weddings are perhaps the event where hanbok are most prominently showcased. In historical times, there were specific hanbok designed for the king, queen, princess, and prince, each differing based on the occasion, whether it was a formal ceremony or daily wear.