Lunar New Year–not Chinese New Year! It’s not only Chinese!–is coming up Monday, so this seems like a perfect time to post about hanbok (한복), which I wore for the first time at my wedding last month:

hanbok photo from facebook
Photo by Christina Foto

Hanbok literally means “Korean clothing,” although, of course, most Korean people only wear it on special occasions. (Before our wedding, I think the last time Mr. Kim’s mom wore hers was his college graduation almost eight years ago!)

Like many types of clothing, fashions have changed over the years, and people of different social classes have worn different styles made from different materials. The lower-class women’s hanbok of the late Joseon period (late 19th century-early 20th century) were actually quite scandalous by today’s Korean (or Western!) standards, as you can see in this NSFW photo. Fortunately, the fashions have changed my hanbok was much modest!

Picking out our hanbok colors and embroidered trim

We got our hanbok at a shop, Jeontong Hanbok Yeon (전통한복연 – Traditional Hanbok Yeon – facebook) in Hyosung Jewelry City (효성주어리시티) in Jongno (Korean language only, it seemed). There, we talked with the tailor to customize our hanbok.

Here are the main things to consider:

  • Style: We went pretty simple and traditional. Some people like to dress like royalty or nobility for their weddings, but we wanted hanbok we could wear again many times in the future, like our children’s dol or traditional holidays.
  • Material: I got mine in silk; Mr. Kim got his in polyester.
  • Colors: A lot of the simple and basic hanbok you see–though by no means all–are in light or pastel colors. On the advice of the tailor, we chose bright and simple colors, red and blue. They just happen to be symbolic colors in both Korea and the US!
  • Embroidery: After we chose colors, the tailor showed us pieces of embroidery for my color and cuffs and for Mr. Kim’s… whatever the square on the front of his vest is called. I chose a pattern with orange/coral and teal roses, and it got so many compliments at the wedding.

After we made our choices, the tailor took our measurements and asked our shoe sizes.

Hanbok fitting

We paid part of the price about then. (We can’t remember how much we paid, but I think it was about 800,000 won/$800. There are more basic sets for less.)

About a month later–I don’t remember exactly–we went back for the fitting, and Mr. Kim picked them up again a couple of weeks after that.

When we got our hanbok, it came in boxes, all folded up. Even though mine’s silk, they were fine even after we transported them from Korea to Mississippi on a four-leg journey through Beijing, NYC and Atlanta!

My hanbok


Mr. Kim’s hanbok

Our hanbok also came with accessories–one of the reasons we chose Cheontong Hanbok Yeon is that the accessories were included. You can see one in the photo of my hanbok above–the norigae (노리개).

Norigae, shoes, bag

Above, you can see the norigae again along with my shoes (shinbal 신발 – literally, shoes) and bag (kabang 가방 – literally, bag). I loved the bright red colors of the shoes and the bag. (Mr. Kim’s shoes were black and grey; see top photo.) They actually had to special order my shoes because my feet are kind of big for Korea–about 8.5 or 9 in US sizes, or 255/260 in Korean!

Details of embroidery, bag and norigae. Photo by Christina Foto

The hanbok was so fun to wear, and it was also a gazillion times more comfortable than the American/Western style white dress I wore for part of the day–I can’t say how much I loved it!

Photo by Christina Foto

I don’t think we’ll be wearing them for Seollal–Lunar New Year–this year, but I’m already excited for our next opportunity! If you are thinking of buying a hanbok, I highly recommend doing it, and if you’re in Seoul, check out Jeontong Hanbok Yeon.