ca. 1904. [Korean laborer and middle class in front of store]. Photographs. Place_ Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
ca. 1904. Husband and wife of Corea. Ephemera, Postcards. Place_ Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
Late Chosun Dynasty (before 1939), Image_ 04-Apr-2008. Jacket, N3.20 Front _ Recto. textiles. Place_ UBC Museum of Anthropology, Marion Stephan Collection
The hanbok (or Chosŏn-ot in North Korean) is a type of traditional Korean dress worn by all ages and genders. It came to prominence in the Joseon period (1392-1897). Initially, the hanbok was worn by Korean royalty and aristocracy as a daily costume and show of authority. Symbolism of status and rank were built into the hanbok colors, components, and characteristics. This symbolism included embroidered patterns of animals and plants such as lotuses, phoenixes, rocks/stones, white cranes, butterflies, and more. For example, a phoenix represented a queen and a dragon an emperor.
Over time, the hanbok began to popularize and once cotton was introduced to Korea in the fourteenth century by Ik Jam Moon, common people could make and wear their own hanbok. During the Joseon dynasty, women began to experiment with hanbok skirt lengths and silhouettes, as well as adding matching accessories. These accessories included a purse (bokjumeoni) that hangs from the waistband of the hanbok, a one-piece slip (sok chima), bloomers (sok baji), a white removable collar (tongjong), socks (poson), and an overcoat (durumagi). What we consider the hanbok today is directly linked to its development during the Joseon dynasty. Currently, the hanbok is worn for special occasions and not everyday attire. Due to its high cost, hanbok rentals are common, with people wearing them solely for a cultural outing or photo shoot.
The hanbok has recently received global attention with K-pop stars donning adapted versions during performances. Korean music groups Blackpink and BTS have both worn modified hanbok for their music videos and performances. Popular contemporary Korean hanbok designers include Lee Young-hee, Kim Me-hee, and Danha.
The hanbok is the most representative dress of the Korean peninsula, both North and South. As it pre-dates and outlasts the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula (1910-1945), Koreans pride themselves on the cultural symbolism and heritage of the hanbok.
Appropriation and Influence
Lee Young-hee Pret-a-porter 1993
Compared to the Japanese kimono or Chinese cheongsam, the hanbok does not have the same level of global visibility. It has been misnamed “kimono” on multiple occasions. For example, when celebrated Korean hanbok designer, Lee Young Hee, showed her collection in Paris in 1993, many journalists called her clothes “kimonos.”
Carolina Herrera Spring/Summer 2011
Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera showed hanbok-influence in their 2011 spring collections. Herrera gave credit, noting in the show program that “Spring was inspired by two things: the traditional clothes of Korea and botanical plates collected in the eighteenth century.”
BlackPink in modified Hanboks
In their video for “How You Like That,” South Korean girl group Blackpink wear modified hanboks, a style that carried through in their June 2020 performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC. The hanbok were designed by Korean designer, Danha Kim for her brand Danha. With a focus on treating traditional Korean clothes in a modern way, Danha aims to turn the hanbok into a global fashion trend— raising the issue of the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation for future wearers.
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