Braided Hair and a Hanbok: Korean Traditional Clothing and Style

Disclaimer: The information in this post is based on information I found online when reading about a few aspects of Korean culture and history after my first exposure to it in a Korean animated series. It’s possible I’ve included misinformation that I found online. I’ve linked to my sources at the end of this article, but not all of those pages are online anymore. After reading this article, please check the comments as well, as there is more interesting information there. (Disclaimer added 2012-01-13.)

Watching Janggeum’s Dream leaves me wanting to know more about traditional Korean culture. In Janggeum’s Dream, the two things which stand out right away are 1) the outfits worn and 2) the hairstyles.

The Hanbok Outfit

A traditional style of clothing for Koreans is the 한복, or “hanbok”. While hanbok refers simple to clothing worn by Koreans, it appears to be used commonly to refer to the semi-formal and formal outfits worn during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910, within which is the time Janggeum’s Dream is set). This style of hanbok is still worn today during special events, such as traditional festivals in Korea.

Screenshot of Dongi and Janggeum running, showing the unique style bow on the front of their hanbok outfits.

The first thing I noticed about the hanbok is its unique bow. Rather than two loops, there’s only one. Right from the first episode of Janggeum’s Dream, I had to know more about their outfits.

The Main Outfit

There are two main parts to the hanbok: the top piece and the bottom piece. The long-sleeved, blouse-like top piece is the 저고리, or “jeogori”, held closed by a ribbon tied in a 옷고름, or “otgoreum”, style bow. During the Joseon Dynasty, the female jeogori became shorter over time while the male jeogori remained longer. Beneath the female jeogori, Janggeum appears to wear a smaller piece of clothing. This is to compensate for the shortening of the jeogori on women. I do not know if this is a part of the belt, or separate.

The bottom piece differs based on the sex of the wearer. For men, it’s baggy pants called 바지, or “paji”, bound at the ankles. Women wear the 치마, or “chima”, a long skirt. Worn under the chima is a pair of long bloomers, as seen in the first episode of Janggeum’s Dream, when Janggeum catches the food Dongi drops when he trips over his dog, Mongmong.

The shoes worn are fitting around ones feet, and are wide around the ankle, with almost an upside-down bell shape to them. Additionally, a white belt, the 허리띠, or “heoritti”, is worn at the waist.

Due to the hanbok having no pockets, men and women both carried a type of small purse called a 주머니, or “jumeoni”.

Class Differences in the Hanbok

Screenshot of an upper court lady in her brightly colored hanbok.

Traditionally, men wore darker colors whereas women wore a brighter, or multi-colored hanbok. Aristocratic classes such as the yangban, their class based on their education and position, not on wealth, wore brightly colored hanbok. These outfits consisted of a plain or patterned silk during colder seasons, and materials such as closely-woven ramie clothing for light-weight cloth during warmer seasons.

Screenshot of Janggeum and other commoners, all wearing pale-colored hanbok.

Law and finance both limited commoners to wearing hanbok made of cotton and bleached hemp, and they were only able to wear white. Exceptions to this were some pale colors, such as pink or light green, as well as gray.

The outfits worn in the first episode of Janggeum’s Dream put Janggeum in a light brown outfit, and her adoptive brother, Dongi, in a brown hanbok with a darker blue bow, and white sleeves. Some nearby children wear browns and grayish light greens. Dongi’s dog, Mongmong, wears a rainbow-colored outfit, so his family cannot be doing too badly. Dongi’s father wears pale blue and white. Dongi’s mother may work as a cook, and she’s seen wearing a green jeogori shirt with a reddish-brown chima skirt. Others seen preparing food around her wear blues, pinks, or greens. For the most part, the townspeople do wear pale colors. The court ladies, on the other hand, wear bright blues (such as turquoise), purples, and darker greens.

Commoners wore skirts wrapped on the right, and yangban women wore wider skirts wrapped on the left side.

Other Differences in Hanbok Worn

Screenshot of new court ladies in their yellow-above-red hanbok.

A yellow jeogori shirt and red chima skirt are worn by young women before they reach marriage (and a green jeogori with a red chima after the wedding, probably similar in color to what Dongi’s mother wears in Janggeum’s Dream.)

Screenshot of Yeonsaeng wearing a white hanbok while sleeping.

Also seen in Janggeum’s Dream, the characters sleep in a white hanbok. I don’t know if this was the common “pajamas” of the Joseon Dynasty.


Screenshot of a couple of court ladies with their hair up.

Males and females wore their hair long, in a braided ponytail. This lasted until marriage. After marriage, a man’s hair would be worn in a topknot 상투, or “sangtu” at the top of their head (seen below). Women would wear their hair in a ball just above the nape of their neck. In Janggeum’s Dream, there are two styles of hair worn up, one with the hair braided and worn in a circle around the top and back of ones head. I do not know what the difference between the two is.

Both styles are seen in the screenshot just above, and those hair styles as well as the unmarried style are seen in other screenshots on this page, especially the one with the crowd of commoners. It makes it easy to recognize who’s married and who isn’t, doesn’t it?

Screenshot of a traveler, showing his half-transparent gat hat.

Men having passed the gwageo wore a black “gat” (a type of hat). Made from horsehair, this type of hat is black, and is half-transparent. The gat was worn by married and middle-aged men, and protected their topknot, as well as showing their social status.


4 Responses to “Braided Hair and a Hanbok: Korean Traditional Clothing and Style”

  1. Mrs Wilkinson Says:

    There is a small section on Korea in the book called Travelogues by Burton Homes isbn 978-3-8228-4815-9

    Page 223

    referring to the women on the street as having been shrouded in bright green coats which are just thrown over the head and held under the chin. the sleeves hang empty have white cuffs and the coat has long red ribbons. The coat is the husbands fighting costume worn During peace time by the wife. The ribbons supposedly red from the enemies blood wiped from the sword. There is a photograph dated 1899 that has been hand painted. I hope you find this interesting. Kind regards.

  2. Kimberly Says:

    Maybe the braided and up hairstyle is indicative of status. The more elaborate the hairstyle the more likely one has help to do it.
    BTW there are several videos of traditional korean hairstyles on you tube. take a look

  3. Anon Says:

    I’m not sure where you get that yellow and red are for unmarried women. Having studied a lot of Korean history I haven’t seen where these colors make a difference. The only real issue with hanbok color during the Joseon/ 조선 era was using Gold, very similar to British culture. Only gold trim was reserved for the royal family, but not extended royal family.

    I’ve read a lot about the hanbok and I’m not sure where you get where nobility wrapped their chima differently than commoners. Wikipedia would have had it, at the least. I’ve read full on tutorials on traditional Hanbok wear. Sometimes anime adds to things that aren’t there.

    For hairstyles, you will need to be more specific. Noble women would wear more elaborate braids in their hair along with the single braid. They had servants so it could be done more easily. Considering the Hanbok was worn during the Joseon time period, inspired by Confucian ideals, it’s rather ironic. Unmarried women wore their hair down in one braid with these tiny braids that would decorate the hair (which could have been extensions) and further decorated with the headpiece and combs. The headpiece/headband was basically a must-have. It seems that yanban men would wear almost a bun form of topknot, in spite of historians claiming all unmarried men wore their hair down too. What paintings show and what historians say seem to be different. Dramas will show you that commoner men wear their braid down while men had a non-braided topknot. So who knows with that one? The had would go over that topknot. The headband men wore would keep the hats from going over their ears, if you notice the flat beads on each side.

    Now, I notice some of the images you posted show a women with her hair in a coiled braid. Only very loose women truly used this, or gisaeng, who were like the Geisha, only actual prostitutes. Many try to argue that Geisha were prostitutes, but this is incorrect. They have a very complex history, and only one city actually had men who forced Geisha to give it up. But that takes a lot of research and time to explain. Gisaeng wore wigs of elaborate coiled braids. This was a wild outward statement, along with their wild outfits to flaunt who they were and what they did. I mentioned loose women because those women who didn’t hold to conservative Confucian ideals dressed this way also. Think of it as your Joseon sluts. lol.

    One more thing about married women. They wore a hairstick to represent their married status along with the braided bun. Typically the husband would buy it for them, from what I understand.

    On the female hanbok, the heoritti is actually what compensated for the shortened top. During the 500 years of the Joseonn period, the hanbok changed frequently. Many period tv shows take lots of liberty on how the hanbok is portrayed. Really a lot of them will stylize things in the modern fashions instead of sticking to the actual time period. So what you see in this anime takes liberties also.

    The “gat” as you say doesn’t seem limited to married men, because many single yanban men were pictured to have this. It’s the male’s form of the small headpiece that tied like a headband on women. It could be that some tv shows portray it wrong and unmarried men didn’t wear it, but I have only seen portraits of men having it, so it’s hard to figure out. That still seems to be greatly vague. A few websites that legitimately list info have said unmarried men and wore a single braid, yet so many period shows these days display the opposite. Seongkyunkwan and Scandal seems to be pretty accurate compared to The Princess’ Man., so I’m more prone to follow what they displayed. there’s also a noticable had difference between the politicians in Seongkyunkwan & Princess’ Man. (And yes, it should be Seong, not Sung. ㅓ/eo and ㅜ/u are different letters entirely, people pronounce it wrong).

    Last thing, in the Joseon period, it seemed more so that they slept in their undergarments. The white hanbok isn’t actually a hanbok at all. It’s the undergarments they wore under their hanbok. It’s almost like wearing a shift. Both men and women have this. I keep forgetting the actual name of it. Just as Japanese had layers in their kimono besides the outer robe we’re used to seeing, the hanbok had several layers, for men and women. The men had underpants and a robe that went under the real baji and jeogori.

    On a side note, apparently shoes made a large statement about social class, too. had a mini article about it.

    Anyway, I’m just listing lots of stuff I’ve learned to reading and researching. Different articles I’d found before were pretty obscure and I forgot to save them sadly, or else I’d link to them. Wikipedia is pretty legit with their footnotes and citations. There’s not a whole lot that shows what a heoritti is, though. It’s more like a narrow piece of cloth, much like a ribbon, from what I gather, but not the same thing as the type of “slip” that they’ve shown in more modern hanbok ensembles. This is where I think the Korean dramas do a better job showing the whole set up. Instead of a “bra” Korean women used the heoritti. They’ve never had a corset. Thank God. Corsets ruined women in childbirth. It also pushed the liver, lungs, and kidneys in ways they shouldn’t have been. If you’ve seen Korean dramas like Seongkyunkwan and Scandal, they show the heoritti a few times, especially if gisaeng wore sheer fabric.

    Oh yeah! That 1 loop bow you see in hanbok, that’s just the Korean’s version of our way of tying bows. We do the “bunny ear” bow, they do this. It’s so simple and I actually use it on my trench coats more often because it’s slimmer. In Boys over Flowers, I saw one woman tie her coat that way. I can tie it in about 2 seconds now. In most Joseon Dynasty shows/films, this is the common knot/bow in everything, from hair ribbons to those sports headbands guys wear, even down to the knot that ties the “gat.” It also lets you know if the person is left or right handed depending on how the gat is tied.

    I hope that all helps. I just wrote these as I remembered them. I’m not picking on stuff you wrote, just adding to it, since lots of shows kinda take too much liberty and forget the history for the sake of “looking cool.”

  4. Chris Says:

    Thank you very much for all that information! I appreciate it very much. Back when I write this page, I had had very little exposure to Korean culture, and was looking all over the place online to get any information I could.

    Regarding the red/yellow outfit and pre-marriage, I can’t remember where I read that (this was back in 2007, after all), but it was probably on one of the three sources linked to at the end of my post. …and two of those pages no longer exist, which doesn’t help any.

    I’m going to edit my post to put a disclaimer at the top that this article is the result of searching online, and to check the comments for more information.

    Thanks again!