Hanbok is the traditional attire of Korea. It is a beautiful and elegant garment that has been worn for centuries. The different styles and colors of hanbok have special cultural significance. In this article, we’ll explore the meanings behind the different types of hanbok.
History of Hanbok
Hanbok first emerged during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – 668 AD) of ancient Korea. It was initially only worn by nobility and the upper class. Commoners wore more simple, practical clothing. Over the centuries, hanbok design evolved with the introduction of new colors, fabrics, and silhouettes. Yet it remained a symbol of Korean cultural identity and pride.
During the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), hanbok became more standardized in its style. Noble women wore jeogori (jackets) with long sleeves and elegant chima (wraparound skirts) made of silk or ramie. Common women wore shorter chima and jeogori made of cotton, with less decoration. Men of all classes wore baji (pants) along with jeogori.
Today, hanbok is still worn forspecial occasions like weddings, birthdays, and holidays like Chuseok and Lunar New Year. As a national costume, it is deeply intertwined with Korean heritage and continues to evolve over time.
Types of Hanbok
There are several major types of hanbok that differ based on age, gender, and occasion. Here are some of the most common varieties:
- Chima jeogori – This is the typical style for women which consists of a blouse (jeogori) and a wrap-around skirt (chima).
- Baji jeogori – The male version includes loose pants (baji) and a jeogori jacket.
- Dangui – The dangui is a more formal style for married women featuring an elaborate jacket with fuller sleeves.
- Seuran chima – A wider, more flowing skirt worn by higher class women.
- Magoja – A vest-like top worn by children.
- Durumagi – An overcoat worn over hanbok for warmth.
Hanbok can have further variations based on fabric, colors, embroidery, hair ornaments, and other accessories. Let’s look closer at some of the symbolic meanings behind these design elements.
Colors and Symbols
The specific colors and patterns used in hanbok can signify different attributes:
- White – Worn by commoners and children, symbolizes simplicity and innocence.
- Black – Worn by boys until marriageable age and again in old age, symbolizes the life cycle.
- Pink – Represents the first phase of life including childhood.
- Red – Signifies passion, luck, and power.
- Yellow – Symbolizes nobility and implies high status.
- Green – Represents the growth of spring and new life.
- Purple – Traditionally reserved for royalty, connotes wealth.
- Blue – Worn by house servants, implies youth and vitality.
- Lotus flowers – Embody beauty, purity, and grace.
- Pine trees – Represent longevity and steadfastness.
- Clouds – Indicate high aspirations and dreams.
Women of different social classes wore distinctly colored hanbok to quickly convey their status. Royalty and aristocrats wore bright primary colors with luxurious fabrics like silk gauze. Common women wore subdued colors like brown, grey, dark blue, or pale pink.
Hanbok are made from natural fabrics including:
- Ramie – A breathable plant-based fiber used for its sheen and durability.
- Hemp – Made into lightweight fabric ideal for summer hanbok.
- Silk – Luxurious and lustrous, silk was reserved for nobility.
- Cotton – More affordable, cotton was worn by commoners and as inner layers.
These fabrics helped make hanbok adaptable to Korea’s four seasons. Layers could be added or removed as needed. The breathability of ramie and hemp helped handle the heat of summer. Cotton and silk were insulating for winter chill. Only the wealthiest wore silk year-round.
Hanbok silhouettes also varied by gender, age, and status:
- Jeogori – Women’s jacket with narrow shoulders, wide sleeves, and ribbon ties.
- Baekjeong-bokgeon – Short jeogori for servant women’s wide range of movement.
- Seuran chima – Full, voluminous wrap skirt for nobility.
- Sangtu chima – Longer and narrower version for common women.
- Dangui – Elegant jacket with billowing sleeves worn by married noblewomen.
- Baji – Men’s loose trousers that were roomy and airy.
- Maguja – Short vest-like top for young boys and girls.
The layers and flowing shapes allowed freedom of movement. But they also incorporated distinct shapes to indicate social status at a glance.
Children’s hanbok incorporated bright, vibrant colors and playful details:
- Girls wore yellow jeogori representing their future nobility as women.
- Boys wore magoja vests often in scarlet, pink or black hues.
- Sleeves were looser and shorter than adult hanbok.
- Royalty wore golden phoenix and dragon embroidery as symbols of power.
- Lotus flowers, fish, turtles and peaches symbolized health and wellness for children.
Until age seven, boys and girls wore the same styles. After that age, gender differences in children’s hanbok emerged. But childhood hanbok always conveyed wonder, joy and possibility through their colors and motifs.
Korean brides wear a special style of hanbok for their wedding day including:
- A white chima skirt symbolizing purity.
- A jeogori embroidered with flowers or phoenix motifs.
- A bright red bow accentuating femininity and power.
- An elegant headpiece or wedding crown/coronet.
- Intricate hair ornaments decorated with flowers, butterflies or gems.
- A ceremonial silk pouch given by her family.
- Elaborate makeup in keeping with nobility.
Every detail of bridal hanbok is carefully selected to reflect the bride’s virtue and nobility. Red is also considered a lucky color perfect for starting a new life together.
Hanbok worn during Korea’s traditional mourning periods also carried symbolic meaning:
- Women wore white hanbok for purity and lament during the mourning ritual.
- The skirt or chima was hemmed shorter to convey sorrow.
- Minimal decoration was used given the solemnity of the occasion.
- Men wore undecorated dark blue or white hanbok.
- Somber colors like grey, indigo, brown and black were worn in deep mourning.
- During the final mourning period, brighter blues and greens signaled the return to normal life.
The simplified palette and designs created a moving visual tribute to the deceased. They also reflected Confucian ideals of virtue and filial piety in Korean culture.
While respecting tradition, modern Korean designers also create new interpretations of hanbok:
- Contemporary fabrics like velvet, lace and jacquard add tactile interest.
- Bold, graphic prints and asymmetrical cuts give modern flair.
- Pants and shorter skirts provide freedom of movement.
- Diaphanous silk, chiffon and organza update traditional silhouettes.
- Youthful street styles incorporate denim and leisurewear with hanbok elements.
Celebrities around the world have also embraced hanbok’s elegant beauty on international red carpets. As Korea’s national dress, hanbok continues to inspire fashion worldwide.
Hanbok represents centuries of Korean culture, customs, and identity. From colors to fabrics, silhouettes to motifs, every component has profound symbolic meaning. As Koreans honor their heritage while embracing modern life, hanbok will continue evolving in both traditional and contemporary ways for generations to come.
|Hanbok Type||Key Features||Significance|
|Chima jeogori (women)||Jacket with ribbon ties, wrap skirt||Classic feminine style|
|Baji jeogori (men)||Jacket with loose pants||Classic male style|
|Dangui (married women)||Elaborate jacket with full sleeves||Married status|
|Seuran chima||Full, voluminous wrap skirt||High status|
|Magoja||Vest-like top for children||Childhood|
|Durumagi||Overcoat for warmth||Protection from cold|