New Year’s Colors: The Korean Hanbok

New Year’s Colors: The Korean Hanbok

Whether celebrated January 1st or the Lunar New Year (February 7, 2008), New Year’s Day (seol nal ) ranks high in Korean culture. It’s a celebratory family affair with the exchange of gifts (usually money), games, lots of food, wishes of fortune, and blessings.

It is also one of the special occasions when Koreans dress in the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress and pay respect to their elders (sehbe) with a deep bow and the greeting, “seheh boke mahnee pahdtu sae yoh”.

Korean dolls dressed in hanbok
img by bebouchard

It’s not a ‘Kimono’

Both men and women wear the hanbok. In the most basic arrangement, the woman’s hanbok consists of a skirt that wraps above the bust line (chima) and a bolero-style jacket (juhgori or chogori) with sleeves like wings and a long fabric tie sash (otgoreum). The man’s hanbok is usually a parachute-style pant (bahji) with ties around the ankles and waist paired with a short jacket (jeogori) and vest (joggi).

For such occasions as a wedding, the basic hanbok can be transformed with additional layers such as a hwalot or wonsam (bridal topcoat below) or a durumagi (for men).

Korean bridal clothes detail
img by rinux
 like sweets

Worn for celebrations such as first birthdays, 61st birthdays, weddings, burials, or cultural reenactments and performances, the daily hanbok started to disappear as Korea began to blossom onto the global economic stage in the 1970s. It often reflected Korea’s transformation and influences over the centuries through its function and aesthetic.

Harmony in Contrast

Traditionally, hanbok colors are based on hues from the natural world and have taken meaning and symbolism from East Asian beliefs and philosophy. The five elements of yin and yang: wood, fire, earth, water, and metal had great influence in how colors were arranged and worn among the different social classes.

korean hanbok fabric colors
img by killrbeez

Color gave indication of social status, circumstance and even age so while royalty and upper classes wore a wide range of colors, the lower classes were limited to wearing white but permitted to wear subdued colors such as charcoal, light green, or pale pink for special occasions.

korean royal hanbok embroidery
img by momboleum

Still rooted in the style from the Chosun Dynasty, the hanbok’s timeless beauty lies in the pairing of its simplicity of structure with vibrant; sometimes bold colors, embroidery, and patterns.

hanbok embroidery detail
img by killrbeez

Today’s designers have modernized the hanbok with modern fabrics, cuts and colors of every hue allowing for the expression of individual taste and lifestyle.

Hanbok Goes Pop?

Britney Spears wore one. Nicholas Cage apparently owns one and Paris Hilton was recently photographed in one, too.

Korean actor Lee Young-Ae turned heads and grabbed media attention when arriving at the 2005 Venice Film Festival wearing a hanbok created by hanbok designer Lee Young-hee down the red carpet: a contemporary pairing of rich colors (ruby and mocha) and sheer fabric for her jeogori (short jacket).

venice film

In October, Korean Vogue published a fashion spread on hanbok by photographer Kim Kyung Soo. Here are some palettes inspired by the photographs discovered on flickr:

Vogue Korea IVogue Korea II
Vogue Korea IIIVogue Korea IVVogue Korea V

And, here’s a palette inspired by a contemporary hanbok featured on popseoul from the Hwangjin-i fashion show:


For a more in-depth history on the hanbok, visit Han-Style.

In New York City, visit the Lee Young-Hee museum in Koreatown for more hanbok color inspiration.

Title img by ~Mers.

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 Comments
great article. (:

interesting, but the celebrity picture links are a bit messed up. (:
Thanks velveteen for the heads up on the picture links. It's fixed. :-)
very pretty. i've always wanted one of those jackets but never knew what they were called. i love the whole ensemble.
I'm a huge Hanbok fan - check out my post
I'm sure you'll enjoy it :-)

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