Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Traditional Costumes of the Korean People, part 2: Women

Hello all, 
Today I will continue my article on Korean costume by talking about women's costume. Above you see two women spinning hemp in the traditional costume, called either Hanbok or Chosonbok.  
The two main visible pieces of the costume are the Jeogori, top, and Chima, skirt.
Jeogori is also used to refer to the man's shirt, which is of a similar cut, but the woman's top is much shorter.

The jeogori in this drawing is rather fancy, with contrasting collar, cuffs, underarms and goreum, which is the name of the ties which actually secure the garment. Notice that those worn by the women above are quite plain. There is a second set of ties on the inside securing the left side. The collar tends to have a facing which lies against the skin and may be easily detached for cleaning. . Here again are instructions on how to properly tie the goreum.

While Korean peasants often wore white, the women in general were more open to other colors, especially for the chima. 

A great variety of undergarments were traditionally worn, depending on the occasion and the social class of the wearer. As in the west, the richer or higher ranked you were, the more underwear.
Here are the five basic undergarments, Nae-ui, or Sok-got.

 Dari-sok-ot, a sort of breechcloth, then Sok-sok-ot, bloomers, followed by Baji, pants, in this image called Sok-baji, under-pants. The Jolitmal, breastband, which resembled the band found on the top of the chima followed, often with a jucksam, a top of light cloth. The jucksam is made of a lightweight or even gauzy material, and is closed with a button and loop. This has also developed into a summer jacket for use in hot weather, and a version is even worn by men in hot weather [but waist length].  These garments are generally made of ramie, hemp, or cotton. 
There are always exceptions. 
Korean women almost always wore baji, which were similar to those worn by men, tied with a sash at the waist and also tied around the ankle. Here is a pair of sa silk baji.

 In the past, women at times would omit the chima, as in this painting, and go out in pants. This woman seems to have found them practical for working.

Here are some village people from  a rice growing area performing a dance, or game, which was called paekjung. The womens' baji are quite visible.

Here is a photo of a jolitmal, or breastband.

This was, apparently, not always worn. Here is a painting from the Choson period of a woman doing her makeup.

This was likely meant to be titillating, even though she is clearly a nursing mother.
Here are a couple of photographs likely from the early 20th cent. It appears that they are wearing jucksam without jeogori or jolitmal.


On the other hand, middle and upper class women  often added more layers. Dan-sok-ot, or Sok-chima, were underskirts made much like the outer skirt, but in a contrasting color, often more than one. As the chima were wrap-around, this was practical. Mujigi were similar, but with tiered flounces. As was also true at times in the west, the desire was to create greater volume.

Here are some women performing a dance and showing off contrasting underskirts. They are also letting the chima ties hang down and be visible.

You can see this dance here:    

In historical paintings we can see very full skirts, always with pants underneath. Some of these are of Gisaeng, female entertainers, who predated and inspired the Japanese Geisha, with their customers. You can see that in the past, the skirts were often pulled up and secured with a sash. This is no longer commonly done.

In modern times a new undergarment has developed, called simply sok-chima, or underskirt, which combines the jolitmal and the daesyum chima. This greatly resembles a modern full slip and is a tube, not a wrap-around.

Here is a photo of a complete little girl's outfit, minus shoes.

The outfit is completed with buhsun, Korean style socks, of woven cotton, and shoes.

 Here we see men's shoes on the left, and women's shoes on the right.

The chima, or skirt, is usually wrap-around, and thus very flexible in size. It may be made in a great variety of colors and materials, and sometimes has two fields of cloth gathered into one 'waistband'.

Here is an example of a modern chima.

Contemporary chima may include shoulder straps to help support the garment.

Here is an example of a two layer chima, with solid cloth underneath, and a gauzy overlayer.

A very old method of embellishment used on cloth is Geum-bak-pan, gold leaf printing, which dates to at least the Yi dynasty. At that time it was a prerogative of Royalty only, but in the course of time has come to be more widespread, although it is still a sign of status. Gold leaf and glue are applied to wooden blocks, and then literally printed onto the silk. 
Here is a chima with two wide geum-bak-pan borders.

Jeogori, as you can see from these images can vary from simple white cotton to elaborate confections of contrasting fields of silk on the collar, cuffs, goreum and underarms with embroidery or gold leaf printing. The cut is always the same, however.


For some ceremonial occasions the jeogori is replaced with a garment called Dang-ui. This was originally worn only by aristocracy. It resembles the jeogori except that the front and back fields are elongated in an axe shape. The front and back of these fields are not sewn together but hang separately.

This last image shows a group of women doing a dance wearing the dangui and the jogdoori, small crowns. This were also part of the minor ceremonial costume for the Royal court, but became more widespread later. They are still not worn with everyday outfits. They tie with two silk ribbons at the nape of the neck under the chignon.

You may see the video of this dance here.  

A small vest called baeja may be worn over the jeogori for warmth. It is often lined with fur and may be paired with a fur lined hat.

Both men and women may wear a short outer jacket for warmth. This is called Magoja.  It is cut just like the men's or women's jeogori, but opens in the center with no overlap and is secured by one or more buttons.

Man's magoja.

 Woman's magoja. The colorful striped sleeves are normally worn by children, but may be worn by adults if their parents are alive as an act of filial piety.

 A long overcoat, Durumagi, may be worn over standard clothing by both men and women.

There were at one time two other outer garments which are no longer used.

The Nuhwool is a round hat with a veil attached. High ranking women in the Yi dynasty would never leave the house unless they were veiled. The highest ranked would wear a nuhwool which reached the ground, less highly ranked women would wear one that merely hung to their shoulders.

The other was called Jang-ot. It was cut much like the Durumagi, only fuller, but was worn over the head, the goreum being held under the chin instead of being tied. 

Unmarried girls generally wore their hair in a braid, which was secured by a hair ribbon, daenggi.

Married women wore their hair in a bun at the nape of the neck. 

I obtained these excellent drawings from this website: 
This was often secured by a large hair bar called binyeo, which came in various sizes and might be highly ornamented.

Other ornamental hair pins, Ttul-jam,  may be inserted into the bun. These often had extended ornaments mounted on springs, which fluttered when the wearer moved.


Accessories such as small knives, jangdo, were hung from the goreum by both men and women, men often hanging them on the waist ties of their pants. 


  Another such accessory was the Joomuhni, small bags that were worn by both men and women. They tied with a drawstring and varied from simple and utilitarian to very ornate. 

 Necklaces and bracelets, although known from early periods of Korean history have not been worn in recent centuries. Instead, a couple of distinctively Korean accessories are worn with the traditional dress. 
Both are based on the old Korean art of Maedeup, ornamental knotting.

 Large examples of such knots are hung on the walls of homes and temples. Smaller examples which feature a knot with a loop on top and tassels on the ends are still hung from the goreum of women's hanbok or chosonbok.

 If these ornaments include another object between the knot and the tassels, then they are called Norigae.

 The variety of objects included in norigae is immense. jade carvings, sachets, perfume vials, needle boxes, and amulets for good fortune, many sons, prosperity, protection from evil, etc. Materials used range from embroidered cushions to jade, silver and amber. There is a symbolic meaning to the shapes, characters and images used. The norigae above has three white jade pieces in the shape of bats; bats are a universal symbol of happiness and good fortune in East Asia. 

The following norigae include tiger claws which are believed to provide protection against evil spirits, the five poisonous animals, and pestilence. They also include what are known as octopus tassels.

The following norigae is extremely opulent and would be worn with ceremonial clothing. It features a coral branch, an amber nugget and two jade and silver cloisonne butterflies.

Here is an example of large opulent norigae worn with the dangui. This one is hung on the outer goreum.

This design of three jade pearls was once reserved for the empress.

Hand embroidered norigae were often worn by common people, and usually made by the wearer. Butterflies symbolize beauty, and bells chase away evil spirits and call forth fortunate events. 

Here is another example of the grouping of coral, jade and cloisonne butterfly and carved amber nugget.

 These are modern mass produced norigae with a design of two cranes. Cranes symbolize marital fidelity and long life.

This norigae features a gourd, locust leg, and bunch of grapes in silver, the gourd symbolizes abundance, the grapes fertility, but the significance of the locust legs has been forgotten.

This norigae features an embroidered pattern of bamboo, one of the four gracious plants.

 Another pair of embroidered silk cushion norigae.

Another example of contemporary massed produced norigae.

This is a museum piece which includes a perfume case of enameled silver. The contents would be a mix of aromatic materials.

Here we see two women with norigae attached to their inner goreum.


As with men, there are many specialized costumes for court dances, shamans. etc, that I am not going to go into.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman K. 

I will close with some more images




Here is the website of a woman who designs norigae. 

 This is a blog posting written by a woman who describes the process she used in making her own traditional Korean dress.


Source material:
Lee Kyung Ja, 'Norigae - Splendor of the Korean Costume', Seoul, 2005
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



  1. Thank you for this article. It helped with our unit study on the book A Single Shard.

  2. Thank you so much! It must've taken a lot of work to gather all this. Highly appreciated!

  3. The custom of exposed breasts after birthing a son was mostly done by commoner women, which probably explains why the artwork with the woman setting her hair has covered breasts. The practice died out after the Korean war.

  4. Hi, I love all this information you have here. I saw that you sew costumes and I was wondering if you have a pattern for baji, in particular for boys. We have an event coming up and we have I have a top but no pants. Thank you!