Korea: Background information

celtic b-black white-01Hanbok

The traditional Korean dress for both men and women is the hanbok (South Korea) or joseon-ot (North Korea); the term literally means “Korean clothing”. The hanbok has simple lines, no pockets and usually is made in materials of vibrant colours. Today, hanbok is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations.

The origins of the hanbok can be traced back to nomadic clothing in the ancient Scytho-Siberian cultural sphere of northern Asia. The earliest evidence of the hanbok’s basic design features can be traced to ancient wall murals of Goguryeo (North Korea) before the 3rd century BCE.

Silk is the main fabric used in making hanboks, but summer hanboks are often made with ramie or hemp and winter hanboks are frequently made with brocade or satin. The hanbok is often embroidered with Korean characters, flower patterns or other designs.

The traditional women’s hanbok consists of a short blouse or jacket (jeogori), a full wrap-around skirt (chima) and undergarments. Traditionally, a woman’s hanbok consisted of seven different layers of underclothes, but nowadays women only need to wear the skirt and one layer of undergarments (usually pants).

A man’s hanbok consists of a jacket (jeogori) and baggy trousers (baji).

Jeogori (jacket or blouse)

The earliest surviving archaeological finds showing jeogori come from the 15th century. The jeogori is the basic upper garment of the hanbok, which is worn by both men and women. It covers the arms and upper part of the wearer’s body. The basic form of a jeogori consists of body (gil), a band of fabric trimming the collar (git), a removable white collar placed over the end of the git (dongjeong), coat-strings to tie the jeogori (goreum) and sleeves. Women’s jeogori may also have kkeutdong, different coloured cuffs at the end of the sleeves.

The form of jeogori has changed over time. While men’s jeogori have remained relatively unchanged, women’s jeogori dramatically shortened during the Joseon dynasty, reaching its shortest length in the late 19th century. However, modern women’s jeogori are longer than their earlier counterparts. Nonetheless the length is still above the waist line. Traditionally, the coat-strings were short and narrow, while the modern goreum are rather long and wide. There are several types of jeogori which vary according to fabric, sewing technique and shape.

Chima (skirt)

The chima is the hanbok’s “skirt”. The underskirt, or petticoat layer, is called sokchima. In addition to striped, patchwork or gored cloth, chima were typically made from rectangular cloth that was pleated or gathered into a skirt band. This waistband extended past the skirt fabric itself and formed ties so that the skirt could be fastened around the trunk of the body. By the mid-20th century, some chima had gained a sleeveless bodice that was covered by the jeogori.

Baji (trousers)

The roomy nature of the men’s trousers made them ideal for sitting on the floor. Baji can be made of leather, silk, cotton or other fabrics.

Hair styles

Both male and female wore their hair in a long plait until they were married, at which time the hair was knotted. The man’s hair was knotted in a topknot called sangtu, and the woman’s hair was rolled into a bun set just above the nape of the neck.

A long pin (binyeo) was thrust through the knotted hair of the woman as both a fastener and a decoration. The material and length of the binyeo varied according to the wearer’s class and status.


In the 19th century, women began to wear jokduri, a small hat that is a type of Korean coronet set at the front of the head, on special occasions such as weddings. It consists of an outer crown which is covered with silk and whose insides are filled with cotton and hard paper. Its top is decorated with cloisonné ornaments. Jokduri can be used to display the wearer’s social status by being adorned with accessories made from gold or silver.

Source(s) of information





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