All You Need To Know About Korea’s National Costume, The Hanbok

Hanbok, Korea, babies
Image from PIxabay

The Korean hanbok isn’t as well-known as other traditional costumes throughout Asia. But it has a long history and a heavy significance for the Korean culture. If you’re taking a trip to Korea, you might get the chance to wear a hanbok. And if you’re going to wear it, then you need to do it right because it isn’t as simple as it might appear.


What Is The Hanbok?


There are two main pieces to the hanbok. On the top, both men and women wear a jacket known as a jeogori. On the bottom, women wear a long skirt called a chima. The skirt is quite large, with billowing folds of fabric, and reaches all the way down to the ground. Men wear pants called baji. They’re large and roomy and both the men’s and the women’s version of hanbok is very comfortable.


Hanbok aren’t worn as an everyday garment anymore. These days, most people wear a hanbok only to formal occasions or special events. This includes weddings and New Year’s Day. However, perhaps because of the importance of the hanbok in Korean culture, this historical garment is making a comeback.


The History Of The Hanbok

Korean dancers, hanbok, traditional
Photo from Pixabay


The hanbok has a very long history in Korea, stretching back to the Goguryeo Dynasty. This dynasty was one of the Three Ancient Kingdoms of Korea and stretched from 37 BCE to 668 CE. However, hanboks today look very different to when they first become fashionable. In these early days of the hanbok, both men and women first wore short baji or trousers and a waist length jacket.


Over the years, the hanbok was influenced by cultures like the Mongolian empire and internal fashion trends. This resulted in changes to the hanbok. For example, towards the end of the Three Kingdoms era, women started wearing longer skirts and shorter jackets that cinched at the waist. And men followed these trends by wearing looser pants and jacket that bound at the waist.


Hanbok Meanings


The colours and patterns of a hanbok once held significant meanings. Class and marital status were the most important determiners of what people wore. Commoners wore white cotton most of the time, though they were sometimes allowed to wear pink, green, or grey. However, the upper classes had a huge range of choices.


Noble men and women wore more colours in their hanbok, but there were strict rules governing the use of these colours. Children and young girls could wear bright colours, but older women wore more subdued shades. Unmarried women wore a red skirt and yellow jacket, and married women wore green and red or blue after they had given birth to a son. And the patterns were tightly regulated to flowers or bats.


Member of the royal family got the most choice in hanbok colours and patterns. These held a variety of meanings. Queens wore images of phoenixes, kings wore fire, dragons, mountains, or water plants, and princesses wore butterflies, cranes and lotus flowers. Many of these patterns could only be worn by members of the royal family.


The Modern Hanbok

Modern hanbok
Photo from Pixabay


With all these influences, the modern hanbok is both different and similar to these earlier fashions. They’re still baggy and comfortable to wear. Men wear baggy pants that are cinched at the ankle and tunic like jackets. Women wear the floor length, voluminous skirt and a short jacket that ties at the waist.


But what has really changed is the colours and patterns available. The hanbok has been getting a facelift to fit with modern life. These days, bright colours and quirky details and patterns are all the rage as the hanbok goes to the streets of Korea. New fabrics such as denim and gingham are making the style more contemporary and more relevant to modern fashionistas.


And it’s working. Young couples now show off their hanboks on tours and on the streets. It’s quite literally a re-birth, and one that should be nurtured.


Today, there are several different types of hanbok available today for different occasions. These include:

The Dol hanbok, worn on a child’s first birthday.

The Hollyebok or wedding hanbok, which is more ornamental than other types.

Hoegabyeon hanbok, to be worn on someone’s 61st birthday to wish them a long life.

Myeongjeol hanbok, which is worn for the Lunar New Year.


How To Wear A Hanbok 

Marriages, Korea, hanbok
Photo from Pixabay


If you travel to Korea, you might get the chance to wear a hanbok. It’s quite common for people to wear them on tours of historical palaces. In fact, many iconic landmarks in Korea offer free entry to anyone wearing a hanbok. So, look out for these deals when you’re travelling in South Korea.


Women’s Hanboks


The modern hanbok is fairly easy to wear, but not easy to put on. Here’s what you’ll need to do:


1. Put on the undergarment dress, which usually fastens in the front.
2. If it’s cold, you can wear jeans or trousers underneath.
3. Wrap the skirt around you with the fabric out and the white surface inside.
4. Cross the ribbon behind you and tie it in a bow at the front.
5. Position the skirt at bust level.
6. Put the jacket around your shoulders and do up the clasp or button.
7. Put the short ribbon on the long one, making an ‘X’ and tie a knot.
8. Make a loop with the long ribbon and pass the short over, under, and grab it on the other side.
9. Pull the short ribbon to tighten the knot, which should make both ribbons the same length and complete the outfit.

You can wear a vest over the top of the hanbok if it’s cold, or just go out and start exploring the city.


Men’s Hanboks


Putting on a hanbok if you’re a man can be a little complicated too. Here’s how:


1. Put a white t-shirt on underneath.
2. Gather the leftover fabric on the right side and cross it to the left.
3. Hold the fabric down and cross the belt over it.
4. Knot the belt in the centre and fold the waistband down to cover the belt.
5. Pull on the white socks that are worn with the hanbok, ensuring that the seams are straight.
6. Position the pants’ seam on the ankle bone and pull the excess fabric outwards before wrapping it around your ankle.
7. Wrap the ankle strap twice around the fabric to secure it and tie on the inside of your leg.
8. Repeat with the other foot.
9. Put the jacket on.
10. Tie the inner fastening ribbon on the left.
11. Tie the outer ribbon.
12. Wear the vest over the jacket and do up the buttons.


Putting on or wearing a hanbok isn’t easy. But it’s worth it, because this costume is comfortable to move in and will stand up to a range of temperatures. When you’re exploring Korea, make sure that you take the chance to experience this part of the local culture.

Gayle Aggiss
I'm an Australian travel writer who's lived in China and Vietnam and is always looking for my next home. I write about places I've been and places I want to go and am always planning new trips based on the destinations I write about.

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