Beautiful Traditional Attire, Hanbok, Embodies the Spirit and Soul of the Korean People
The world is taking a greater interest in “Hanbok,” the traditional attire of Korea, along with Korean content going viral across the world. Top K-pop groups BTS, Black Pink, and ITZY have uploaded music videos and choreography videos on YouTube wearing traditional and reinterpreted Hanbok, which focused their global fans’ attention on the attire. Also, the promotional video “Feel the Rhythm of Korea: SEOUL” made by the Korea Tourism Organization featured a mixture of Western and Eastern touches while fully reflecting the unique joy and traditions of Korea. While receiving comments that the attempt was so “hip,” the Dokebbi (goblin) costume people wore in the video naturally drew people’s attention. The reaction of foreigners who saw Korea’s traditional outfits through OTT programs is strong as well. For example, Korea’s traditional hat “gat (a type of traditional Korean hat worn by men during the Joseon Dynasty)” has gone viral across the world, being called the “Kingdom Hat” after it appeared in the drama Kingdom, a Netflix Original series. It is currently sold on Amazon, the biggest online market, along with Hanbok, receiving a spotlight greater than anytime before. The funny thing here is that in the aftermath of the popular drama “Kingdom,” Hanbok and gat have become loved as Halloween costumes.
Traditional Hanbok embodying the beauty of Korea and its design reinterpreted in a modern way is beloved across the world.
Hanbok, cherishing the sophisticated beauty
Hanbok has the aesthetics created by straight lines and curves, boasting fancy but unstained elegant beauty. The top and the bottom consist one set of Hanbok, and the collar, doryeon (the lower edge of jeogori, the upper garment of Hanbok), and baerae (the lower part of jeogori’s sleeve) are knitted in a curve creating a harmony of straight lines and curves. The delicacy of lines embedded in jeogori and the voluminous long skirt minimize the disadvantages and maximize the advantages of any body type offering natural beauty to all.
Shin Sun-Mi’s Hanbok Delight (Hollym) is a collection of works from artist Shin Sun-Mi who has been drawing witty pictures with Hanbok and women as the main character. During her childhood, when she had to stay laid in bed due to her weak body, she called little fairies that she could see in her hazy body condition the “ant fairies” and drew them on paper. In her book Shin Sun-Mi’s Hanbok Delight, the characters and the ant fairies wear Hanbok and talk about trivial daily life. Her unique imagination and pleasing humor increased the story's completeness, and the beauty of Korea’s traditions can be seen through her pictures throughout the book. The supplement attached at the end consists of further explanations and Korea’s traditional props such as Hanbok, the gyubang culture, traditional accessories, instruments, and the Four Treasures of the Study for foreigners to have a better understanding of Korean culture.
The Story of Hanbok Drawn by Obsidian (Hans Media) by illustrator Woo Na-Young, aka “Obsidian,” is a collection of her works that have been serialized on Grafolio, Naver, from March 2017. It consists of pieces that have been greatly loved by viewers, receiving more than 400 thousand views during the series. On the topic of female Hanbok, she illustrated Hanbok’s structure and the names of parts, along with the types of Hanbok worn by different social classes in each generation and historical background. She also offers tips for drawing Hanbok for fellow illustrators.
The colors of Hanbok are very enchanting as they are naturally dyed. Girls would wear saekdongjeogori (a girl’s jacket with sleeves of multicolored stripes), while young women would wear nokuihongsang (green jeogori and crimson skirt). Their style differed depending on the social class and economic situations at home. Fashion Coloring Book: Hanbok (RH Korea) is a coloring book that allows people to reinterpret the colors of Hanbok, changing the traditionally perceived colors. In short, you can keep the delicate lines of Hanbok but create your own Hanbok by coloring it as you like. The beauty of various colors blending together and the harmony of straight lines and curves will calm your exhausted mind. Made with the hope to spread the beauty of Hanbok to more people, Fashion Coloring Book: Hanbok is leading the way of popularizing the image of Hanbok by adding the artist’s creativity to the unique traditional delicacy.
Shin Sun-Mi’s Hanbok Delight, The Story of Hanbok Drawn by Obsidian, Fashion Coloring Book: Hanbok
Boosting National Pride: Hanbok in the World
In moments of glory, darkness, and despair in the history of Korea, Korean people were wearing Hanbok. Korean culture and national spirit are fused into the traditional Hanbok that boasts a long history and tradition. Therefore, Koreans wear Hanbok on historically or personally important days, such as on national holidays or weddings. As there is a set way or manners for wearing traditional Hanbok, anyone trying it out for the first time could find it difficult. To improve such a situation, changes are being made to modernize Hanbok: the shape and materials of traditional Hanbok are changing to enhance practicality for better movement, and the traditional design of Korea is added as patterns onto Hanbok.
The late designer Lee Young-Hee, a representative Hanbok designer in Korea, began her career as a designer late in her life when she set up “Lee Young-Hee’s Korean Dress” in 1976. Since then, she dreamed of globalizing and modernizing Hanbok, making it a luxury item, and opened Hanbok exhibitions in Paris and New York, the hubs of fashion in the world. Also, she successfully hosted “Lee Young-Hee’s National Attire Fashion Show” in Pyongyang, North Korea, creating harmony and boosting exchange between the two Koreas. In November 2005, she was appraised by national leaders as she made durumagi (traditional overcoat) for all 21 attendees who participated in APEC South Korea 2005. In May 2007, twelve of her works went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., US, to be stored permanently.
Book The Hanbok Girl Who Went to Paris (Design House) by the late designer Lee Young-Hee, who was immersed in globalizing Hanbok, features the 30 years of her designer life in which she strived to take on challenges to accomplish her goal of spreading out the beauty of Hanbok into the world. To her, Hanbok was the start and end of her designer life. While she also designed fabrics, costumes for musicals and operas, and school uniforms apart from Hanbok, she said that her ultimate goal was to design the “brand called Hanbok.”
If her first book The Hanbok Girl Who Went to Paris was a book about her 30-year career in the fashion industry, her second book Story Made by Clothes (Design House) contains 40 years of her design philosophy as she worked as a Hanbok designer until she turned 80. Featuring the story about “my twenty, life clothes” she had learned and met as a Hanbok designer, the book talks about the 40 years of her past where she did not succumb to people looking down on her calling her the “Hanbok girl” and instead stood up confidently, globalizing Hanbok, along with the next 40 years of her life.
Meanwhile, there is a writer who dreamed of globalizing Hanbok in another unique style. For example, Kwon Miru, the writer of Hanbok, Traveling (Purun Books), coincidently fell into the charms of Hanbok when she went to a meeting that had Hanbok as the dress code and began to plan the “Hanbok project.” She studied and made Hanbok with her hands to make Hanbok a daily outfit, and eventually overcame her complex about her looks through Hanbok. She took the challenge of traveling to other countries when this idea entered her head one day - “How far can I go wearing Hanbok and kkotshin (flower shoes)?” She traveled to 63 cities in 13 countries and even climbed the Himalayas in Nepal. Book Hanbok, Traveling breaks the prejudice that “traveling while wearing Hanbok is uncomfortable” and talks about writer Kwon Miru’s journey where she shared the beauty of Hanbok with the world in Hanbok.
The history of Hanbok is the history of Korea in that it shared the joys and sorrows of the Korean people.
The Hanbok Girl Who Went to Paris, Story Made by Clothes, Hanbok, Traveling
Traditional Accessories Adding Style and Richness
Women during the Joseon Dynasty poked binyeo (traditional ornamental hairpin) in their hair, hung norigae (traditional ornaments) on their Hanbok, put on jade rings, and wore kkotshin (flower shoes). Hanbok itself is beautiful, indeed, but that beauty doubles when worn with accessories.
The book Korean Clothes and Accessories (Youlhwadang) explains what clothes and accessories Koreans wore in the past, how they are made and with what materials, and how they are different from the modern style. In short, it is a book that shows the beauty and the original styles of Korea’s traditional clothes and accessories in a multidirectional and systematic way based on relics from the Joseon Dynasty. The book is divided into two: the introduction and the main body. It is further divided into 8 chapters covering the beauty of traditional clothes’ gentleness and virtuousness, along with accessories and attires.
Meanwhile, “gat (traditional hat made of bamboo and horsehair)” is a traditional Korean hat that is more famous as the “Kingdom Hat” for foreigners who watched the Netflix Orginal drama “Kingdom.” Traditional hats of Korea, including gat differ by clothes, social class, age, generation, and region. In particular, hats especially developed during the Joseon Dynasty to the point that people would wear one inside their home. The book Joseon Dynasty Hat Dictionary (Hwasan Culture) describes the symbols and social nature of each hat. It provides a detailed explanation of hats from the Joseon Dynasty, where various cultures have permeated into the country, by gender, social class, style, material, and usage. References such as the photos of related relics, genre paintings, and illustrations are offered for a better understanding for foreign readers and people who are unfamiliar with the traditional hats of Korea.
Meanwhile, Gyubang, the Beauty on the Fingertip (Idam Books) is about handicrafts of women during the Joseon Dynasty. Gyubang handicraft is a type of handicraft that began in gyubang, the main room where women of upper-class families stayed. The book provides detailed instructions of how to knit for anyone to follow, and all instructions are accompanied by photos. Also, the book adds historical background and usage about items such as daenggi (ribbon) and beoseon (traditional socks) to help better understand the Gyubang handicraft.
Korean Clothes and Accessories, Joseon Dynasty Hat Dictionary, Gyubang, the Beauty on the Fingertip
Norigae (traditional ornament) was one of the family treasures that the mother-in-law passed down to her daughter-in-law.
While preserving and inheriting the tradition and cultural heritage, Korea is seeking ways to modernize and publicize its traditional culture for modern people to become familiar with. Hanbok is not an exception. It is a hope that one day, Hanbok restores its unique nature as a central tradition, improves the convenience of the garment and meets the demands and trends of the modern era, while emphasizing its given beauty, and spreading out further into the world with greater competitiveness.
Written by Lee Ji-Hyeon