It’s a known fact that our hanbok has it’s origins with the Northern Mongolians– specifically, the Altai people. This northern clan (Kokuryo), who played a pivotal part in the development of Korean history, were great warriors who were skilled on the horse. They wore pants and jackets with narrow ends and sleeves to suit their horse riding and hunting, and this is how our 2-piece hanbok culture was born.
The oldest record of our traditional hanbok can be found in Kokuryo murals, and these show both men and women wearing long jackets for tops and pants or skirts for bottoms, with differences in elements per status or profession. Kokuryo was influenced by the Chinese Tang Dynasty and Buddihism, and when Korea’s King married a Mongolian Princess while the Chinese Yongan era’s clothing entered Korea, that is known as what became the beginning of Hanbok.
True to our nickname, the people of ‘baek’ (meaning ‘white’, and also ‘100’), the standard color of hanbok was white, and the decorum for wearing them, the materials, and colors, changed according to their social status or the season. But for special ceremonies like a grand wedding, civilians got decked out in clothing and accessories in the color worn by the nobility. The hanbok was usually made of silk, cotton, or ramie, and the color of the jacket ribbon or the ends of the sleeves reflected the social status of the woman. But even if the age, the social status, or the season, gave the colors or accessories a difference, the shape of the hanbok was same for both a rural farmer’s wife or the Queen.
From the 8.15 Liberation to the 6.25 Affair, hanbok became more common as a rebellious reaction to the systematic control received from Japan. But after the 6.25 Affair, with more and more women entering the work market, it became the norm for career women to wear more western wear and the interest towards that fashion increased while our own hanbok became an archaic and uncomfortable form of apparel and naturally suffered lack of progress.
From mid 1950’s on, the traditional hanbok becomes widely accepted as a formal wear reserved for special holidays and ceremonies only.
The 1960’s saw much turmoil of repeated chaos. But even through this part of history, levels in economy, society, and culture showed consistent progress. The hanbok also saw some alterations during this period and a more easier and practical Daily-Hanbok was born and worn.
Entering the 70’s, the hanbok becomes a special dress for holidays, parties, and stages, and a short jacket with a full skirt that is highly decorated becomes fashionable. The skirt was also cut to be wide and long as a flare skirt, and a petticoat was worn underneath to further widen the silhouette. This desire for highly decorated skirts and wide silhouettes sees its climax in the late 70’s.
In the 80’s the trend receives criticism that the loud and glamorous hanbok damages our culture’s traditional beauty. So in the 90’s we see the colors and forms going back to more traditional, using more neutral colors and traditional color combinations.
The new styles of ‘Daily-Hanbok’ continues our love for the hanbok in a newer, more practical form. In 1996, December 4th is celebrated as the 1st [Day of Wearing Hanbok].
Our modern times are once again seeing a renewed interest in the hanbok. Not only as daily-wear, but as fashionable and stylish casual wear, and even as high-fashion walking the run-ways. As the younger generation returns our gaze to our traditional hanbok, we are seeing more and more fashionable designs for even daily-wear, and now there are numerous hanbok designs that are suitable for our daily modern life today.