[FOUNTAIN]A coat of equal colors

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[FOUNTAIN]A coat of equal colors

Durumagi, the traditional Korean coat, is a garment symbolizing equality. It is worn by men and women, young and old, from palace to shack. Men’s durumagi are formal dress, while women’s are winter coats. There are also five-color durumagi for children.
The durimagi, however, was not loved by many at first. During the Joseon period, the high-class yangban wore dopo or jungchimak, which had lengthy sleeves, instead of durumagi. Commoners were not allowed to wear dopo or jungchimak, thus their outer layers were often durumagi. The dress code, however, was broken in the late Joseon era. Dopo became fashionable across all classes ― even the lowly wore them.
As empty formality and vanity went too far in fashion, King Gojong initiated dress code reform in 1884. He banned lengthy sleeves and yangban were forced to wear durumagi, with no slits.
People felt more comfortable in these clothes and durumagi became the favored formal dress. With such changes, the symbol of social hierarchy in clothing faded, encouraging the ending of Korea’s social hierarchy.
The appearance of vests in Korean fashion also contributed to the wide spread of durumagi. Yangbans used to put their belongings into pockets inside the sleeves of their dopo. As vests widely spread, their pockets played more effective functions.
King Gojong encouraged people to wear black durumagi, because white clothes were uneconomical. In 1903, he banned people from wearing light-colored durumagi and allowed only black ones. That was certainly a measure that went too far. Pojol, the Joseon’s policemen, stood on every corner and allowed only those with black durumagi to pass. Those wearing white were punished by having ink applied to their coats. Such a measure angered the public, as much as the order to cut Koreans’ long hair into a short, Western style.
Enforcement of the dress code loosened only after public petitions that it was inappropriate to stop wearing white mourning clothes to honor queen Myeongseong, since her murder had not been avenged, according to Hwang Hyeon’s book, “Maecheonyarok.”
After finishing meetings at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the leaders of all member countries wore durumagi in seven colors for souvenir photos. It may be too much to expect a spirit of equality to spread through the international community simply because the leaders wore durumagi, but it may not be too much to expect them to remember that all matters should be resolved with reason.


by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.

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