Sometimes clothing is more than just an item that we wear to look good and protect ourselves from elements, it’s a communicator of culture and identity. In Korea, many items have this significance but often the most identifiable is the Hanbok, also referred to as a Joseon-oth in North Korea.
What is a hanbok?
The Hanbok is a traditional dress with a long history dating back as far as the Goguryeo Dynasty, although the designs today are a reflection of the Joseon Dynasty. While they are no longer an everyday garment it is still possible to witness their beauty in person with the chances increasing significantly with semi-formal and formal occasions. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one worn, which was during a visit to a school in Pyongyang. I was instantly struck by their vibrant colours and unique patterns, which are in par what the Hanbok is so notorious for. The longer I stared the more I came to admire, just watching the women move in them was mesmerising. They radiated eloquence and femininity, and were so graceful as a result of the Chima (skirt) design which is oversized and billowing.
The hanbok in North Korea
As the days went on, I was exposed to more Hanboks, and each time I was equally impressed. I began to see how important they were for identity, how they preserved history and they demonstrated patriotism. Each embodied decades of traditions that were truly unique to the people of Korea, which was another incredible discovery. Often, we hear about the differences between the North and the South instead of the merging similarities. It was a very special moment to have my guide explain these parallels when I was viewing a poster of two ladies wearing hanboks, one representing north, the other south together holding hands signifying unity.
How to wear Hanbok?
Eventually, I decided to try one on which was a rather tedious task that certainly required the know-how but thankfully I had assistance from the staff at the gift shop at the Yanggakdo hotel. It was a great privilege to wear the dress and a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself a little further into the culture and express my genuine appreciation for their tradition. Of course, I sought approval first which is always important and yes, I bought it!
Putting on a hanbok: