A modern president in old-style garb

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A modern president in old-style garb

In recent weeks, and especially since the Lunar New Year holiday earlier this month, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has often been seen dressed in a dark hanbok, the traditional Korean attire.
This came as a surprise, since none of Mr. Roh’s predecessors was often seen dressed in hanbok. The public is more accustomed to seeing the president in a dark suit and tie.
“I really didn’t notice at first, but now I see President-elect Roh dressed in hanbok frequently on news coverage,” says Kwon Young-min, a Seoul resident. “It’s not usual but still I think it looks good on him.”
The hanbok that Mr. Roh has been wearing is an overcoat called durumagi, explains Choi Young-a, secretary general of the Korea Hanbok Association. The garment was introduced during the “enlightenment period” of the 1870s, Ms. Choi says. “In earlier periods a person’s class was determined by the outfit he wore, but durumagi is an overcoat that any class could wear.”
Kim Young-jae, honorary chairman of the Hanbok Association, says she sent the president-elect and his wife a set of hanbok as a Lunar New Year gift, and Mr. Roh wore it during the holidays.
“I’m very proud that Mr. Roh is wearing his hanbok,” Ms. Kim says. “It’s the best way to show the world our tradition and is a good example of how hanbok should be worn as a daily outfit. In fact, I hope he will wear his hanbok during his visit to the United States.”
Some of Mr. Roh’s supporters have asked him to wear the hanbok at his inauguration next week.
“Hanbok is the symbol of our 5,000 years of heritage and history,” agrees Lee Ki-bok, an office worker. “It would be the first step toward recovering our lost pride if we were to see Mr. Roh in hanbok at the inauguration.”
Despite strong public support there are some who are less excited over Mr. Roh’s new fashion.
“I think Mr. Roh’s making the wrong impression,” says Lee Chan-soon, an outspoken conservative. “With the country run by a left-winger, it seems as though Mr. Roh is trying to portray an image of a nationalist. Mr. Roh’s outfit seems to stir anti-American sentiment and pro-North Korean support.”
According to Kim Hyun-mi, deputy spokeswoman for Mr. Roh, the president-elect is wearing hanbok because he had surgery last month to repair a slipped lumbar disk. Mr. Roh is wearing a back support and finds the hanbok more comfortable to wear, says Ms. Kim.
“Mr. Roh’s hanbok is taken care of by his wife,” says Park Cheon-suk, the image coordinator for the president-elect.
The team preparing the presidential inauguration said that Mr. Roh will be wearing his usual suit and tie for the event next week.
“After thorough discussion of whether Mr. Roh should be dressed in suit or hanbok, our team thought it would be best that he participate in the inauguration in a suit, and that his wife should be dressed in hanbok,” says an official of the preparation team. “There’s no political motive in the outfits.”


by Lee Ho-jeong

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