- Examining the contemporary craze over hanbok
UPON VISITING the Gyeongbok Palace, you will spot many people wearing colorful, bell-shaped dresses, taking photos with their selfie sticks. These dresses are Korean traditional attire called hanbok, and it has not been long since wearing them has become a fad among young people. Just ten years ago, they were worn only during national holidays such as the Lunar New Year to celebrate Korean tradition; but now, hanboks have successfully claimed their place in every day attire and are considered a “new, trendy fashion”. With the revival of hanbok, people are reassessing its significance in today’s society.
Looking at the history of hanbok
The origin of hanbok can be traced back to 1,600 years ago, during the Goguryeo Dynasty. Several mural paintings of this era show the earliest versions of hanbok, consisting of a long upper garment called jeogori with a full, widespread skirt called chima for women, or voluminous pants called baji for men. While the basic format of hanbok remains to this day, people’s preferences in colors, designs, and lengths of clothing have changed over the years.
Since the Goguryeo Dynasty, hanbok played an important role in distinguishing different social classes. The intricate carvings and designs in hanbok differed according to people’s social statuses. People from the upper class usually wore hanbok of bright, vibrant colors with symbolic embroideries. Patterns included lotus, butterflies, dragons, mountains, cranes, and tigers. The upper class also embellished themselves with accessories, such as overcoats, hair pieces, and caps. Meanwhile, those from the lower class wore shorter jeogori with chima or baji that were less colorful, with no patterns. Their attire focused more on functionality rather than design, since most of these people were manual laborers.
The main colors of the traditional hanbok reflect the five elements of yin and yang─metal (white), fire (red), wood (green), water (black), and earth (yellow). Just like energy flowing from one element to another, the colors harmonize and interact with each other.
There was a major change in the design of hanbok in the 13th century, with the influence of the Mongols. After a peace treaty was signed in 1235 between the Mongols and the Goryeo Dynasty ending the Mongolian conquests in Korea, several Mongolian princesses got married with the royal princes of Goryeo. In the process, they brought Mongolian clothing to Korea, and thereupon altered the hanbok with a more Mongolian look. As a result, the jeogori and the chima became shorter in length, and there was the addition of otgoreum, a long bow tied in front of the jeogori. It was not until the 19th century that most hanbok were replaced by Western-style clothes, such as suits and dresses. However, hanbok is still the national attire, holding great historical significance for the Korean people.
CONTRIBUTED BY MOON SANG-WON
The renaissance of hanbok
Until a couple of years ago, hanbok was rarely worn, except in traditional holidays, weddings, or in dramas and movies. However, wearing hanbok has become a trend in the past few years. But what has triggered such sudden revival of tradition? A combination of factors led the trend, and one of such factors was the modernization and the globalization of hanbok. Thanks to some famous hanbok designers, the Korean traditional dress has become more renowned around the world. Lee Young-hee is one of those remarkable designers who first showcased collections of hanbok abroad in 1993, at Pret-a-Porte Paris. As she became famous, she continued to reach overseas to promote the Korean dress in the global fashion stage. Since then, many other designers have been redesigning hanbok in modernized ways.
Now, many versions of hanbok are suitable for everyday wear. They are usually much simpler in design and much shorter in length. Also, the chima is less voluminous than before, and the attire comes with wider variety of colors, especially in bold, pastel colors, with trendy patterns. Unlike the traditional hanbok made of silk or cotton, the modernized ones are made of variety of fabrics, including cotton, linen, and denim. Some hanbok are designed with buttons, zippers, and pockets. More and more people are starting to enjoy wearing these modernized hanbok on the streets.
The increase in the use of Social Network Service (SNS) has also contributed to the revival of hanbok. Few years ago, many Koreans started to post pictures of them, traveling around the world wearing hanbok. With young people uploading photos of themselves wearing fashionable hanbok via Facebook or Instagram, Internet searches for hanbok has doubled, from 960,000 to 2.1 million between the years 2014 and 2015, according to SK Planet. On Instagram, there are about 700,000 posts under hashtags(#) related to hanbok, such as #hanbokstagram, #hanbok, and #hanboksnap.
With the increasing popularity of hanbok, the number of hanbok rental businesses have also soared. Due to its high-quality, hand-woven fabric, hanbok may be too expensive for purchase. This is why it is now common to spot stores that rent the costumes for certain hours, so that people can wear them, take photos, and visit palaces for free. Wearing hanbok has now become part of entertainment.
CONTRIBUTED BY MOON SANG-WON
Incorporating hanbok into daily life
Though currently majoring in Electronic Engineering in Yonsei, Moon Sang-won takes more interest in clothes, especially hanbok. He has occasionally been wearing hanbok since high school. Today, hanbok is definitely in vogue, which is one of the reasons why Moon has started a modern hanbok rental service in 2015.
During the short interview with The Yonsei Annals, Moon shared his visions of his new hanbok business.
Annals: What drew you into the start-up business?
Moon: To be honest, I have always wanted to take part in any kind of jobs related to clothes, whether that involved working part-time or working in a textile factory. One day, while I was taking a semester off, I befriended this modern hanbok designer. We easily became friends since we were same age. I often visited his workroom in Hongdae, where I frequently peeked into his hanbok designs.
After a while, I thought it was quite cool, what he did─redesigning traditional hanbok into modernized, trendy versions. I was keeping that in mind, until one day, the school started to offer start-up education programs to students. I took this as a chance to do something new, and I persuaded my designer friend to begin a start-up together on a modern hanbok rental business.
As many already know, many people these days, especially girls, enjoy wearing hanbok. But most hesitate to actually purchase them and wear them on a regular basis. At first, I thought it was because of their high prices, but that did not make sense because many are willing to buy costly luxury goods. I realized that what matters is not the price of a certain product. What matters is the fact that many still undermine the true value of hanbok. Since then, my goal was to help people realize the worth of hanbok.
The reason we started a casual hanbok rental service was to give people a chance to “experience” wearing modern hanbok at a low cost.
Annals: Tell us about your start-up, Jangrong.
Moon: Jangrong, or wardrobe in Korean, lends people jeogori, chima, and baji for both men and women, at costs starting from ₩15,000. We receive the clothes from other hanbok enterprises and rent them out through our website. Our main objective is to share the true value of modern hanbok with people. I want them to familiarize themselves with the attire and accept its precious value.
I actually don’t like the word “rental” because there are people who believe that the rental service is disrupting the competition of the hanbok market. People renting more hanbok means that they will purchase less of them. Thus, when we first launched the rental service, we were not completely free from criticisms. But at the same time, I thought that if people are only able to buy and not rent hanbok, they would never be able to familiarize with the clothes. I thought that someone, at least, should provide people with the chance to wear casual hanbok at a low cost.
Annals: What are the future goals or plans, regarding the start-up?
Moon: In general, our start-up aims to spread the value of hanbok, and once this becomes successful to some extent, we are planning to start selling modern hanbok. I believe it is important for the hanbok market to grow. But before that, I want people to change the way they perceive hanbok. I don’t want them to merely consider them as “special clothes that you wear to take photos.” I want hanbok to become more popular among the public, just like tennis skirts, ball caps, and china collars.
Yeo Ye-rim email@example.com