The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Dressed in tradition

3 min read


Two Korean presenters executed a Powerpoint presentation in the upper wings of Trinkle Hall, as students and professors alike listened with rapt attention, many with cameras, as the presentation proceeded.

One Korean speaker conveyed the information in English, pausing after each chunk of material so that the other professor could translate the information to Korean for the numerous native-Korean speakers in attendance.

Before the journey through the customs of traditional Korean costume, the presenters informed the audience Korean costume is directly representative of ones social class.

The presentation of Korean costume began with a simple definition of basic Korean attire, or “Han Bok.” “Han Bok,” the word for Korean costume, is trousers (“Baji,”) and shirts, (“jeogoi”) for the men, as well as skirts, (“chima”) and shirts, (“jeogori,”) for the women.

The Korean class system is divided into four distinct parts; the Royalty, or Kings, Queens, and their relatives; the Nobility, or bureaucrats, military officers, scholars, and practiced Confucians; and the finally the middle and lower class.  The clothing and headdresses that Koreans wear defines their location on the social ladder of Korean society.

The Korean presenters also made an interesting and poignant comparison between the costumes of the 18th century Joseon Dynasty, and traditional European Rococo styles.  Both traditional Korean and European costume feature women of the similar familiar silhouette of overly large wigs, extremely small waists, and puffed skirts.

In addition to the clothing styles and patters as representative of one’s social standing in Korean culture, the wig also showcases one’s wealth and importance similarly in both Korean and European culture.

For the final section of the presentation, Korean models came out into Trinkle Hall wearing all the traditional Korean attire.  Each Korean model was representative of a different social class, beginning with the highest, or clothing of the Emperor and the Empress.

One interesting addition was that the Emperor’s robe had noisemakers on the sides. It was explained that these noisemakers were in order to announce that the Emperor was on his way.
The robe of the Emperor was the most elaborate of the Korean costume, and rightly so.

As in Korean Tradition, according to the Powerpoint, the Emperor, “has the eyes, ears, and wisdom to rule the universe.”

Such a tall order requires a robe with a total of 154 pheasants, which symbolize, ironically enough, either marriage, or grief.  The robe also contains the universal emperor symbol of a dragon on the front, back, and shoulders.

The most defining aspect of the clothing of the empress was definitely her wig, which was saturated with a multitude of hairpins and ornaments.

Besides the elaborate clothing of the Emperor and the Empress, myself and the audience witnessed models of “wonsam,” or other royalty and nobility, Dangbi,” or robes for daily situations, “danryong hwalot,” or wedding attire for the wedding guests, yumui,” the clothing of the bride and groom, and “chima” and “jeogori,” which are worn by women in the palace for ceremonial occasions.  Finally, the audience witnessed the beautiful and elaborate “jangot,” which is the typical dress of the commoners.

In conclusion, the costume of Korean culture has an extremely relevant place in the overall structure and social-standing of Korean society.  Subsequently, the Koreans take great pride in the intricate patterns, ornate styles, and vivid colors that make these costumes so unique to their culture.