There are multiple types of traditional clothing around the world that differ greatly in design and history, but they are all worn to represent a community and to generate a sense of belonging and identity.
In Korea, the hanbok (한복), which literally translates to Korean clothing, was the daily wear for most Koreans centuries ago, and it continues to serve as an important outfit worn on special occasions such as weddings, Korean holidays, or birthdays today.
The hanbok has two separate parts—the top and bottom—that consists of multiple layers. Its design has gone through many changes over the years, modified to cater to the needs of people across different periods and eventually taking on contemporary variations to suit the tastes of the modern Korean. Traditional hanboks made to resemble the ones from the Joseon era can still be found and worn today. Read on to learn more about the evolution of the hanbok.
The Three Kingdoms | 삼국시대 sam-gug-si-dae | 57 BC to 668 AD
The Three Kingdoms of Korea refers to the period when the three kingdoms—Goguryeo (고구려), Baekje (백제), and Silla (신라)—were divided into individual states in Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.
During this era, the hanbok worn consisted of a top (저고리 jeo-go-li), pants (바지 ba-ji) or skirt (치마 chi-ma) and a cost (포 po). Its basic structure was designed to facilitate ease of movement and integrate many motifs of Korean shamanism. The men’s belted tunic usually extended to their ankles while the women’s coats were slightly shorter, ending at mid-thigh. Royals, nobles, and officials would wear colourful hanbok, while the commoners had simple and less colourful clothing.
Unified Silla Era | 통일신라시대 tong-il-sin-la-si-dae | 676 to 935 CE
The three kingdoms were united into one when the old Silla kingdom forged an alliance with Tang China and conquered both Baekje and Goguryeo. The hanbok worn during this period were largely tied to their social class. Due to the influence of the Tang Dynasty at the time and the merged culture of all three kingdoms, clothing designs also featured some of their fashion trends. For example, the round collar and large sleeves. It also often included a wrap or scarf draped over the shoulders.
Goryeo Dynasty | 고려시대 go-lyeo-si-dae | 918 to 1392 CE
During the Goryeo Dynasty, the hanbok design was influenced by Mongolian culture due to the marriage between the Goryeo King and a Mongolian princess. The top and the skirt of the hanbok was made shorter. Differences between men and women’s clothing, and between social classes, were also lessened, reducing discrimination.
Joseon Dynasty | 조선시대 jo-seon-si-dae | 1392 to 1876
The hanbok did not go through much change during the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. However, rules for the way people dressed were gradually relaxed as the economy developed. By the 19th century, the women’s hanbok became tighter and shorter, with tops that barely covered the chest. As such, an undershirt called the Heoritti (허리띠) was created. Both the top and the heoritti were worn with long, voluminous skirts. The men’s hanbok did not undergo drastic transformations.
Learn More: All About Hangul: The History of Hangul
The traditional Hanbok we are familiar with today retains many features and designs from the Joseon Dynasty, but boasts more vibrant colours. There are also contemporary hanbok designs that stray from tradition and feature more modern and sleek silhouettes.
Did you gain a better understanding of Korea’s history and the evolution of the hanbok? Learn more about the country with Korean lessons at ONLYOU Korean Language School in Singapore to discover more and allow yourself to fully immerse in their culture. Enrol in our classes today.