Today I will talk about traditional Korean costume. This is remarkably uniform over the area which the Koreans inhabit. The differences are based on history and social class, rather than locality.
Korean ethnic territory is today divided politically into three areas. The southernmost part forms the Republic of Korea, or South Korea; The area between roughly the 38th parallel and the Yalu and Tumen rivers forms the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, and the area north of those rivers is politically part of China. The Chinese government has recognized the Koreans with two autonomous regions; the Yanbian_Korean_Autonomous_Prefecture, and the Changbai Korean Autonomous County.
Ethnic Koreans are, however spread more widely. Here is a map showing the geographical extent of the various Korean dialects.
The Koreans have an old and complex history, and have distinguished themselves in many fields of art, science and culture. One example is that they invented a printing press with moveable metal type in the 1200's, about 200 years before Gutenberg.
What should we call the Korean people, or what do they call themselves? This, surprisingly, is a very loaded question. We could refer to them by the word for 'people' in their language, which is often what ethnic groups call themselves, but the Korean word for person is 'guk' or 'gook'. This has been borrowed into English with unfortunate connotations. The word 'Korean' which we use in English is derived from the Koryo Kingdom, a period in Korean history, and is, luckily, politically neutral. South Koreans refer to themselves as Hanguk [not to be confused with the term used for ethnic Chinese.The etymology and written characters are completely different.] This is derived from the name for the Three Kingdoms period, the SamHan, a time when political power was concentrated in the south. North Koreans use the term Choson, which refers to a different period in Korean history in which power was concentrated in the North. In the Chinese occupied area, the term most commonly used is Chiaoxian, which also refers to Choson. You may read more about this complicated subject here.
Thus there are double terms used for most things Korean. The indigenous alphabet, for example, is called either Hangul or Chosongul, and the traditional costume is called either Hanbok or Chosonbok.
The Koreans have often been called 'The people in white', and indeed, the common people preferred to dress in white. Here are images of Korean peasants engaging in traditional festivities, the women's round dance and a 'chariot fight'. Both men and women are dressed all in white, except for the two men riding the 'chariots' who are dressed in historical military uniforms.
These garments are traditionally made of hemp, ramie, or more recently, cotton. The man's outfit is made up of 'jeogori', shirt or jacket, and 'baji', or pants.
The shirt is closed with two pair of ribbons, goreum, one small pair on the inside, on the left, and a larger pair on the outside, where the left side overlaps the right. You can see this on the man on the lower left of this image, showing a tug-of-war, another peasant festivity.
The goreum are used on both men's and women's garments, and are tied in the same way. Those used on women's garments are wider and longer, and often in a contrasting color.
Except when going barefoot, stockings are put on before securing the ankle ties. These are called Buhsuhn, and are made of cotton, lined or unlined, possibly with wadding, depending on the weather. They are made of woven cloth so that they do not stretch, and must be made to size. It is common for a pattern of the correct size to be kept in the house, as these stockings must be replaced often.
When working outdoors in dry weather, sandals woven of straw, mulberry bark, hemp, or some other such material are worn. These are called Jipshin, or, when made of hemp or ramie, Mituri. Similar footwear of woven fiber were worn by many other peoples, including Ukrainians, Russians, and the natives of the American great basin.
When necessary for ease of movement, leggings were worn over the lower legs. These are simple rectangles with ties at top and bottom, which were tied around the ankles and over the calves. These kept the full pant legs out of the way when working or walking. The two men on the right and left above are wearing these, as are the men in the following images.
In this image, which shows another variation of the 'chariot fight' from a different location, the leggings are black, which shows more clearly how they are made. They are also wearing black vests, Jokki. These vests are a more recent addition to the men's wardrobe, they open down the center and are generally secured with loops and buttons. They are not unlike western vests, and actually have pockets.
Today this type of working attire is not commonly seen, except for living museums or country festivals. Korean men more commonly wear what used to be the attire of the upper classes, or Yangban. This is essentially the same except that the clothing tends to be made of silk and may be in colors other than white.
For formal occasions, the vest may have an embroidered panel on the front. These were originally emblems of rank in the Chinese Empire, but have come to be used in men's formal wear.
These two examples are for boys. Men would not wear striped sleeves or this type of hat.
The vest may also be made to slightly overlap and be secured by goreum, this is an older and more indigenous style, and they are called Baeja.
For middle class men, and especially for scholars, there is a type of overgarment called 'Dopo' which is considered to be quintessentially Korean. This is a long coat with wide sleeves and a slit in the back. It is secured by goreum and is white for everyday, and usually pale blue for formal occasions. It is made to flare at the sides by the addition of triangular gussets. It is usually made of ramie for the summer and silk for cooler periods. A cord with tassels on the ends is worn tied around the chest, the color indicating the rank of the wearer. No vest is worn with the dopo.
Typical Korean shoes are worn, which vary in color and material.Here are man's shoes on the left and women's on the right.
The dopo is paired with a hat called Gaht. This is made in an open weave out of horsehair, and is actually in two parts. Korean men wore their hair in a topknot on top of the head. A sort of horsehair headband, Mahngun, was secured around the head.This actually supported the Gaht.
An alternative to the Dopo is the Cheollik. This, instead of being flared with gussets, has a separate lower part which is very full, and pleated into the upper part. It is usually made in colors similar to that of the Dopo.
Here is a man wearing Cheollik standing next to a woman in Wedding Attire. If he is the groom then he is underdressed.
Here you can see men wearing Cheollik watching two Gisaeng performing the sword dance.
[Gisaeng were female entertainers who predated and inspired the Japanese Geisha]
There is yet a third type of overgarment which is called Jungchimak. This differs from the Dopo in that it does not have panels set into the sides under the arm for fullness, but rather falls straight down and is slit up the sides to provide mobility.
The Jungchimak is often paired with the Junbok, which is an outer robe that has flared sides like the Dopo, but no sleeves, collar, or goreum. It is worn over the Jungchimak, ties at the neck but is open down the middle. It is worn with a cord with tassels tied around the chest, Sedodae, and the Gaht, just like the Dopo. HIstorically, the Junbok was worn by military officers
These images are from a popular historical TV drama. Note that the costumer decided to put collar and goreum on the Junbok.
There are many special garments which are worn for particular occasions, performances, or by particular personages, such as shamans, buddhist monks, royalty, aristocracy, etc. I will not go into any of these, as each would be an article in itself.
Dr Yushin Yoo, 'Korea the Beautiful - Treasures of the Hermit Kingdom', Seoul, 1987
Cultural Relics Publishing, 'Korean Folk Costume', Pyongyang, 1985
Sunny Yang, 'Hanbok - The Art of Korean Clothing', Seoul, 1997
Youngjae Kim, 'Korean Costume Through the Ages, Seoul, 2003
Yi Songmi, 'Korean Costumes and Textiles', Seoul, 1992
Zang Yingchun, 'Chinese Minority Costumes', Beijing, 2004
Korean Overseas Information Service, 'Korea Desk Diary', Seoul, 1982