A young couple dressed in hanbok
A young couple dressed in hanbok

their settlement in prehistoric times on the land now known as the
Korean Peninsula, the Korean people have developed a wealth of unique
cultural traditions related to the way they dress, eat, and behave at
home. These traditions reflect the natural environment of their
homeland, a terrain predominately covered by hills and mountains, bound
by the sea on three sides and marked by four distinct seasons.

Clothing and Fashion

The Korean people learned to use various fabrics, such as sambe (hemp), mosi
(ramie), cotton and silk to make a range of clothing that was not only
attractive but also provided them with effective protection even during
the harshest winters and the hottest summers. They made warm winter
clothes using the technique of filling soft cotton between two layers of
material, silk or cotton fabric, and sewing them together with fine
stitching, and produced cool summer clothes with hemp and ramie. These
clothes typically feature graceful lines and forms that create the
serene aura characteristic of the traditional Korean clothes we know as hanbok.

Korea’s indigenous clothing, hanbok, has maintained its basic components
throughout Korea’s 5,000-year history, while its styles and forms have evolved
in various ways based on the lifestyle, social conditions, and aesthetic taste
of the times.

History reveals that Korean people in the past
tended to prefer simple, white clothes to clothing decorated with
different colors and designs. That is why they were often referred to as
“the white-clad people” among their neighbors who admired them for
being a peaceful people. Nonetheless, Korea has also had a long
tradition of enjoying colorful clothes with complex designs depending on
the period and the wearer’s social status.

Today, Korea is home
to many talented fashion designers who have earned an international
reputation with their creative designs which combine traditional Korean
designs and patterns with a modern artistic sensibility. The beauty of
traditional Korean clothes has been introduced to, and praised in, many
parts of the world thanks to the remarkable success in recent years of
many Korean films and TV dramas including Dae Jang Geum.

people today seem to prefer clothes inspired by modern Western styles to
their traditional clothes, although some people still insist on wearing
the latter on traditional holidays or for special family occasions such
as weddings. Their love of tradition and yearning for the new sometimes
led to the creation of attractive “modernized hanbok.”

a household name across the world thanks to “Gangnam Style,” a K-Pop
song that shook the world in 2012, Gangnam-gu in Seoul is a large
district where wealthy residential areas sit alongside high-end art
facilities and Korea’s busiest fashion streets. The district now
attracts numerous fashion-minded tourists from across East Asia and
beyond with annual fashion festivals comprising international fashion
shows and contests participated in by many rising designers.

fashion district in Seoul that enjoys an international reputation is
Dongdaemun-gu, which has grown into a hub of the regional fashion
industry, providing creative, affordable fashion items for youth and the
young at heart. With its fully developed distribution and sales
network, highly efficient production facilities, and throng of talented,
aspiring designers, the district is now one of Seoul’s most popular
attractions among foreign tourists.

Hanbok, the traditional clothing of Koreans

“Hanbok” (also called “joseonot”) is a
collective term for traditional Korean clothing. Though there have been
slight changes in hanbok over time in terms of material, preferred
colors, and the length of the skirt or jacket, the hanbok’s basic format
has more or less remained the same for the past 1,600 years.
Hanbok can be classified into ceremonial and
everyday dress, each of which can be further classified by gender, age
and season. All types of hanbok are created beautifully through
combinations of straight and slightly curved lines. Women’s hanbok in
particular are recognized worldwide for the simple yet delightful
harmony of their short jackets and full skirts. The jacket, which is put
on one arm at a time, makes the upper body look very small, while the
skirt worn wrapped around the waist makes the lower body look full,
creating an attractive balance. The cut and drape of the clothing
complements not only the Korean female physique but also flatters and
fits most other body types as well.
Nicolas Cage Britney Spears wearing Hanbok
Foreign celebrities (left to right: Nicolas Cage, Alice Kim, Britney Spears) wear hanbok on visits to Korea

The eight beauties of hanbok

The beauty of hanbok is found in the elegant
flow of its lines and in its pleasing color palette. Just like the
gently sloping eaves of a traditional Korean house, the harmony of the
curved baerae (bottom line of the jacket’s sleeves) with the sharp
straight lines of the dongjeong (creased white lining of the jacket’s
collar) well reveals the subtlety and exquisiteness of traditional
Korean aesthetics. The hanbok’s attractiveness even shines through in
the lovely lines created by the body’s movement while wearing it—one of
the reasons it enjoys such global attention. The hanbok is typically
defined as having “eight beauties,” as described below.
Hanbok pink Jeogori upper garment
Hanbok Jeogori (upper garment) with dongjeong, baerae and Goreum (two straps of Jeogori

1. Beauty of structure

The women’s hanbok, with its short
jacket (Jeogori) paired with a full skirt, possesses a simple structural
beauty and rhythmic flow that complement the body’s movements.

  • Hanbok yellow Jeogori short jacket

    2. Beauty of form

  • The hanbok radiates a natural physical beauty in its
    attractive silhouette and lines, which allow for unrestrained movement
    of the body.

    3. Beauty of creativity

    In contrast to Western clothing, which achieves
    dimensionality through straight-lined fabric and stitching techniques,
    hanbok is made with flat fabric in a linear shape that only achieves
    dimensionality when it is worn on the body. When placed on the human
    frame, the hanbok takes on a life of its own—one that is natural,
    elegant and flowing.

     4. Beauty of harmony
    The hanbok features straight and curved lines, giving it
    an attractive flow representative of a uniquely Korean aesthetic. The
    graceful, harmonious movement that happens when the hanbok is actually
    worn is praised the world over.
    5. Beauty of color
    Hanbok colors are decided according to the “five colors
    theory” (“obangsaek” in Korean), which refers to the theory of yin and
    yang and the five elements. The hanbok commonly makes striking use of
    naturally-occurring colors.
    Hanbok fabric dyed with organic ingredients
    Fabric dyed with organic ingredients enhances the hanbok’s color aesthetic
    6. Beauty of nature 
    The curved line, one of the hanbok’s most eye-catching
    features found in its full and loose shape, rhythm, and irregular
    proportions when worn, has a natural angle devoid of artificiality that
    creates a free-flowing effect and brings out the texture of the natural,
    hand-woven fabric.
    7. Beauty of empty space
    Some aspects of the hanbok design are left intentionally
    “empty,” to be filled by the wearer uniquely, giving the hanbok a depth
    not commonly seen in clothing.
    Bride hanbok at traditional Korean wedding
    A bride’s hanbok worn at a traditional Korean wedding

    8. Beauty of personal character
    The full shape of the hanbok emphasizes the wearer’s
    authority and dignity. While this may have been impractical, it was
    nevertheless a feature that made hanbok a reflection of social status
    and propriety. The simple harmony of the color palette created by
    limiting the number of bright colors used places greater weight on the
    wearer’s character over the hanbok’s decoration.
    Certain hanbok designs represented the social ranking of
    the wearer. The king, for example, was represented by the dragon and
    the queen by the phoenix. Tiger designs were used to represent military
    officials and were commonly placed on the shoulders, fronts and backs of
    their court robes. Civil officials were represented by the crane, an
    animal believed to be pure and resilient.

    Hanbok making with traditional needlework

    Hanbok, the most “Korean” dress code

    Having coexisted with the Korean people ever
    since the beginning of their history, hanbok is a beautiful cultural
    heritage that all Koreans should be proud of not only for its historical
    value but also for its uniquely Korean artistic significance. The
    hanbok, which changes only slightly according to the season, social
    status and situational context, is highly regarded for its creative
    design and overall elegance.
    Although the hanbok to some extent lost its
    place in Korean daily life due to the rapid inflow of Western
    civilization after Korea’s opening to the Western world in the 19th
    century, it is still the most representative of Korean dress and a
    symbol of the identity of the Korean people.
    Modern design of Hanbok dress
    Hanbok is now being blended with more modern forms of dress, opening up a new era of Korean clothing design.
    Korean traditional clothing – the history of Hanbok in Korea and its modern usage. Hanbok patterns including wedding culture.
    (credit :  Photos courtesy of Korea Tourism Organization and Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea )