In 2013 I visited South Korea for the first time, attending the International Summer School at the University of Seoul, which offered us foreign students the opportunity to experience some Korean traditions including tea ceremony, taekwondo and mask painting. One of the excursions organised by the university was a trip to Korea House for an afternoon to experience Korean crafts, a traditional court food meal, and dressing in Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress and official national dress of the country.
The name hanbok literally means ‘Korean clothing’, but now is used specifically in relation to clothing from the Joseon era (1392-1897). The hanbok is worn mostly in formal or semi-formal settings, especially during traditional events or festivals, though it can also be seen being worn by foreign tourists and sometimes even Koreans themselves while walking the grounds of the royal palaces such as Gyeongbokgung.
Koreans will also wear the hanbok on their first birthday, during their wedding ceremony, and on their 60th birthday. (Hwangab 환갑, the 60th birthday, is significant in Korea, and in other East Asian countries. Reaching the number 60 is an accomplishment as it ‘closes a circle’ and starts a new one, related to the 60-year-cycle of the traditional lunar calendar.)
The female hanbok consists of an underskirt (sokchima), a skirt (chima) and a jeogori, the short jacket-like top worn over the arms and upper body. There are lots of variations of the hanbok, including extra ‘accessories’ or attachements, or optional decorative features, but this is the most basic form of a female hanbok.
The hanbok that I wore consisted of a dark royal blue skirt which is worn up around the armpits and tied across the chest, and a light pink jeogori with plum cuffs and tie.
My experience of the hanbok was pleasant, despite the warm weather. As we were taking part in the experience as tourists, the hanbok was, as expected, of a lower quality, and we didn’t wear them by themselves. With our clothes underneath, they were very warm, but I imagine they’re not too uncomfortable if worn properly! The skirt is loose and airy and the jeogori is not too restrictive. The only thing I found uncomfortable was the skirt being tied over the top of the chest, and it wasn’t particularly flattering either! I’m aware that nowadays, hanbok are sometimes made to be a little more flattering and fashionable, as seen on the amazing one worn by Miss Korea at Miss Universe 2015.
The hanbok is a very distinctive and, in my opinion, classy national dress, and despite being quite bulky, can often be very elegant and soft-looking. I would love one day to try a proper hanbok as opposed to a cheap tourist version, and on the day that happens I will update you.