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South Korean Culture: The Costume

South-Korean-Culture-The-CostumeWherever you may travel to, you will notice that every culture has their own traditional costume. These traditional costumes can be summed up as an indicator of their national character and values. In South Korea, their traditional clothing is called “hanbok”, which is an abbrevuation of Han-guk boksik (Korean attire).


The change in its design throughout the ages is parallel to the nation’s cultural development. The forms, materials and designs in hanbok represent the Korean lifestyle, while the colours indicate the values of the Korean people. In its own way, the hanbok can be summarised as a historical lesson for the enthusiast.

Hanbok has undergone many changes but still maintains the same elements of pants, outer coat, skirt, and so on. During its development, the hanbok acquired some elements from neighbouring nations, while changing to suit the particular needs of the times. The design of the hanbok can be classified as the Caftan type; a style of attire commonly seen in Northeast Asia and Central Asia. The outer top garment is loose-fitting and opens in the front. Its single-piece coat mirrors other Asian designs. The design is characterised by a two-piece outfit without pockets and buttons that are closed with strings, belts or cords. In traditional ondol houses, people sit on the warm floor, thus the legs of the lower garment tend to be baggy.

Hanbok colors


It’s based on natural hues which are interpreted according to East Asian theories of eum-yang (yin-yang) and the five elements. The female aspect is represented by yin and likewise, the lower garment is given a yin color. Yang represents the male aspect as well as upper and outer garments.

As mentioned, colours on the garments are used symbolically. There are five main colours, white, red, indigo, black and yellow. Each represents modesty, good fortune, constancy, creativity and order, respectively. These five colours are the main properties, established as symbols of the four directions and the centre of the universe. There are also the neutral colours which symbolise implicit virtues and usually used for embroidery on garments worn below the waist.

At present, the Korean attire can be divided into Western-style dress, which has become the common form of attire throughout the world, and various forms of traditional dress. The hanbok presently can be classified, according to use, as everyday attire, ritual attire and special attire. Unlike most of the world’s peoples, Koreans have managed to preserve the basic design of their traditional attire up through the modern period. Their ability to do so can be attributed to their strong sense of national identity.


With a modernisation of countries all over the world, it is expected that most traditions are lost through increased globalisation. Westernisation is partly to blame, but it all boils down to the individual. But the government such as in Korea can be an example for other countries to retain their identity while also moving forward in the world. As you may well know, a country with their traditions intact makes for a more pleasurable visit, such as demonstrated by Korea and its traditional clothes.

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