A Fashionable History: Korean Hanbok

Get wrapped up in traditional Korean fashion.
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Get wrapped up in traditional Korean fashion.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

If you're thinking about interesting silhouettes (and I generally am, 60% of the time), there are few in fashion more fascinating than the Korean hanbok. The traditional style has made a comeback to the fashion scene as of late, inspiring Chanel's Resort collection and making a return to Seoul's street fashion scene. Fashion designers like Hwang Yi-seul are now finding ways to make the old cool again, with hanbok-inspired clothing lines. 

There's a lot of inspiration to be found in hanbok, especially since you can't really find anything else that looks like it. Korean hanbok styles are incredibly unique and also incredibly diverse. And while you should definitely at least google hanbok when you get the chance, here's a really abridged history of the style.

Hanbok Fashion Overview:

Hanbok refers to the traditional costume worn by both Korean men and women, and it has been around in one form or another basically forever. The hanbok that we tend to see today, though, is mostly influenced by the those of the Joseon period. Of course the Joseon dynasty lasted for about five centuries, so, more specifically, we'll be focusing on the 19th century. 

Women's hanbok is comprised of the chimaa billowing, empire waisted skirt, and a jeogori, a cropped jacket that crosses in the front and is typically tied with a bow. Men also wear jeogori, though theirs are typically much longer, over baji, or baggy trousers that are usually cinched at the ankle. Men could also wear a po (a long jacket), a magoja (a short jacket) or a jokki (a vest) over their jeogori.

Of course, there's far more to it than that, as different pieces are added or subtracted based on the occasion or on the wealth and status of the wearer. In addition, the same basic pieces of the hanbok have changed greatly over time. The women's jeogori got increasingly shorter over the 19th century until it ended well above the top of the chima. Current hanbok usually falls halfway between the chest and the waist.

Lastly, shoes during the Joseon period were usually either hwa, a sort of traditional boot, or hye, a low cut flat shoe. Both of these styles also had numerous variations based on use and wearer. 

Outfits Inspired by Korean Hanbok:

There are many modern interpretations of hanbok out there, but for this article we're just going to be looking at how you can work hanbok-inspired silhouettes into your own style.

If you just want to dip your toes in, look number one is a good place to start. If you want something a little more traditional, then look number two is for you. And if you're ready to han-rock (I feel like I should apologize for that), then take a look at number three.

Outfit #1: Heart and Seoul


Products: Top, Pants, Shoes, Jacket, Rings

As usual, I wanted to do at least one look that took inspiration from men's fashion. In this case, loose joggers have a similar baggy silhouette to the baji of men's hanbok. The top, however, is far more inspired by chima skirts. Chima technically were worn just under the chest, but modern interpretations of hanbok often place the top higher. In addition, a sleeveless duster coat serves as a sort of middle ground between a po and jokki. 

As for jewelry, earrings went out of popularity during the Joseon period (for reasons involving Confucius that we won't get into right now), but rings were still well-loved accessories. Lastly, ballet flats serve as our modern version of the Korean hye. 

Outfit #2: Joseon, Joseoff 


Products: Dress, Shoes, Purse, Hairpin

I'm kind of in love with this dress, as it seems to be subtly - or more likely unintentionally - inspired by the silhouette of women's hanbok. The sleeves on traditional jeogori would usually be longer and slimmer, especially during the 19th century, but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth.

As in most cultures, the nicer fabrics were usually reserved for the upper classes, but most people still associate hanbok with rich and vibrant colors. As such, I picked a pair of flats in teal and a fuchsia purse to brighten up this look. 

Though earrings were out in Joseon Korea, hairstyles and hairpieces were extremely important. Wigs became especially popular among the upper class, and specific styles often denoted one's class. This gold hairpin pays a slight homage to that, and would look really cute with a low bun. 

Outfit #3: That's a Wrap


Products: Top, Skirt (similar), Shoes, Purse, Hairpins

I'm not gonna lie, it's really hard to find pieces that look even remotely like hanbok, without being actual hanbok-inspired designs. The women's jeogori, for instance, is cropped, boxy, and tied across the body. Not many things in Western fashion have a similar silhouette. However, a cropped wrap blouse like this one is a pretty good substitute, especially when paired with a pleated midi skirt like this one.

Once again, I opted for flats, and paired them with a simple matching cross-body bag. Lastly, hairpins make the perfect finishing touch, and these simple gold ones keep the outfit casual and fun. 

More Styles by the Decade:

Want to travel to a different decade with your style? See my other posts on'90s fashion, '80s fashion, '70s fashion, '60s fashion, '50s fashion, '40s fashion, '30s fashion, '20s fashion, '10s fashion, 1900s fashion, ancient Greece and Rome fashion, and American Revolution fashion for more!

What's your opinion on Korean Hanbok?

Are you planning to incorporate hanbok-inspired style into your look this year? Are there any fashion trends you think I should have included? What's your favorite look? Let us know in the comments, we'd love to hear from you!