Jules Does

Jules Does K-Pop Academy: Week 8!

Posted on: November 10, 2014

Oh hi, GD, fancy seeing you here.

This week was so much fun for all of us, it may have been the best week so far. This is because we got the amazing opportunity to learn about and try on Korean traditional dress (hanbok)!

We began with a lecture from Lee Jung Taek from SOAS (I love SOAS) about Korean fashion broadly and hanbok specifically. Hanbok literally means ‘Korean clothing’, although in North Korea they call it Choseonot, which also literally means ‘Korean clothing’. I suppose they thought that the word hanbok was influenced by the Chinese language and tried to purify it. Just one more barrier between SK and NK.

Anyway! Lee Jung Taek explained how, since Korea has been relatively isolated from the West until recently, traditional fashions have stayed largely the same, without too much outside interference. The political stability provided by the Joseon dynasty (each king ruled for an average of 18 years, which is pretty impressive) meant that huge changes weren’t all that necessary, though small alterations did develop over time. In general, the hanbok we know from costume dramas and seasonal photoshoots (see above) copies the styles of clothes worn in Joseon-era Korea, between 1392 and 1910. The evidence for traditional styles of dress can be found in art, such as in the drawings of Kim Hong Do, but also in excavated tombs – Lee showed us a number of pictures of artefacts recovered from burials which demonstrated Korean workmanship and style.

We also briefly discussed the influence of hanbok on contemporary Korean fashion and saw this beautiful piece from the V&A’s collection, made by Lie Sang Bong for the S/S 2012 collection:

Lie Sang Bong dancheong bustier dress, S/S 2012. V&A Museum.

Lie said he was also inspired by dancheong, a traditional Korean art form involving printing in bright colours on wooden blocks, which features prominently in Korean architecture. Although the lines of this dress are clearly modern, the focus on the bust, the use of silk and the freedom allowed the shoulders has clear ties to traditional hanbok.

I won’t give you all of the notes I took (so, so many notes), but I did want to mention a few things which really stood out for me. Firstly, the styles of the clothes were designed to complement a largely sedentary lifestyle, which went hand-in-hand with the Confucian ideals of constant study for the elite. One way this can be seen is in how men’s trousers tied at the ankles – the knot is always on the inside of the ankle, so that it doesn’t dig in when you sit cross-legged on the floor. Clever! Secondly, the colours used had a ritual significance and corresponded to the ohaeng, or five directions. This is a common idea in Confucianist cosmology and ties in to ideas of harmony and balance. The colours each correspond to an element in the universe (earth, fire etc) and a direction (north, centre, east etc). The use of these colours was supposed to invite good fortune and turn away evil, which is why children’s clothes tended to be so colourful in this period. Combinations of the key colours were also employed, especially in the brightly coloured architecture of the day.

The Ohaeng.

Thirdly, women were sometimes criticised for taking fashion inspiration from the courtesans (gisaengs), who were of the lowest class, along with travelling performers and butchers. That seems rather familiar to us as a criticism mow, that women are taking inspiration from ‘ghetto’ or trashy pop stars rather than dressing nicely at all times. Female fashion was, of course, supposed to underline how demure women were meant to be in society, so dressing like the flirty courtesans would have undermined that in a way. I love this about fashion history – who is taking inspiration from whom, and why? Was it because the courtesans seemed to have more fun (and more sex) than ordinary women, who were a little more cloistered in their daily lives? Did some women want to break out of their rigidly-defined role and live more freely? Fashion sometimes raises interesting questions about attitudes, particularly to women.

The last thing I wanted to mention before getting on to the pictures of all of us looking amazing was a small point that I made in my review of The King and the Clown, where I noted that the king had embroidered roundels on his chest and shoulders, and the ministers had a large square panel on the front of their robes. It turns out that round vs rectangular shapes were intended to divide royalty from non-royalty. This was not confined to clothing, but also can be seen in architecture – royal palaces have round columns, whereas non-royal buildings have to use rectangular columns. A distinction I had never noticed! Lee gave us a short reading list, which I will reproduce at the end for anyone who would like to learn more.

Ok, let’s get on to the pictures. Daniel and I were chosen to demonstrate how to put on hanbok. Here Daniel is wearing the dopo, or traditional scholar’s dress, including the horsehair hat called gat. You can see a gat in the British Museum’s collection, although they’re doing a big revamp of the Korea Gallery, so it might have gone back into storage.

Daniel is wearing traditional trousers and jacket (called baji and jeogori) as well as a durumagi, or overcoat (the blue robe). Everything ties at the right hand side for both men and women, unlike Western clothes, were the women button up on one side and the men on another.

I had a few more layers to wear, and would have had more if I had been wearing the traditional petticoats. I had a skirt, called chima, which tied around my bust, then a short jacket (jeogori again) which you can see the lovely Ruby tying on me in the picture above. I then got another, longer jacket on top, called a dang-ui, which would have been part of daily court dress. I also wore an excellent hat often worn in weddings, as well as a long hairpin.

I was surprised by how easy it was to move in the outfit – apart from the ties around my chest, I could do quite a bit and had lots of space to move around – I could have run or done the can-can or waved my arms in the air, which is hard to imagine doing in more restrictive clothing involving bodices or corsets. The fact that hanbok wasn’t apparently designed to keep women tied down (like feet-binding or hobble skirts) is an interesting glimpse into attitudes to women and their role in society.

Looking spiffy in hanbok.

Thanks for the photo Ruby! Seen here: my goofily happy face.

After we had been used as models, everyone got to pick outfits from the rail and try things on. We were rather short of boys, so some of the girls were good sports and dressed up as men. Very Sungkyunkwan Scandal!

Daniel and Annabelle.

Many selfies were taken, unsurprisingly. Here you can see Hamed dressed as a military official with Annabelle dressed as a scholar (I believe, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Nella also wore an elaborate hairpiece which I think is called eonjeunmeori, which was the hairstyle for married women and employed a huge false plait to give the hairstyle height and bulk. Decorations could also be fixed into the false plait. If you were unmarried you wore your hair in a long, straight plait instead.

When we were all suited and booted, we had a fashion show, which Melissa generously recorded:

Hanbok Catwalk

After we all (sadly) took off our beautiful clothes, there were traditional Korean snacks waiting for us upstairs to finish our day. Homework this week will involve looking at hanbok and/or contemporary fashion, so look for that later in the week. Thank you for reading!

The 6th K-Pop Academy in hanbok.

Suggested Reading

Lee, Kyong Ja et al. (2003), Traditional Korean Costume

Yang, Sunny (1997), Hanbok: The Art of Korean Clothing

National Palace Museum of Korea

The National Folk Museum of Korea

This wasn’t on Lee’s list, but I’d also like to add the Korean comic (manhwa) Goong by Park So Hee. It’s set in a modern-day Korea where there is still a royal family (and no North Korea), and the characters use hanbok and a variety of traditional styles and accessories in absolutely beautiful ways, as well as adapting traditional dress for modern use. Plus it’s romantic! You can buy individual volumes for not much money on eBay, Waterstones Marketplace or AbeBooks, and it’s also been adapted into the drama The Princess Hours.


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