Seeing traditional dress from the tops: Exhibit celebrates history of hanbok and its modern design interpretations

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Seeing traditional dress from the tops: Exhibit celebrates history of hanbok and its modern design interpretations


A recreation of a clothing from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). [ARUMJIGI CULTURE KEEPERS FOUNDATION]

Fashion comes and goes. And such was the case for womenswear in ancient Korea.

In the case of jeogori for women, which is a top worn with a skirt, the garment was wider and longer in the 16th century. But beginning in the 18th century, it became shorter and tighter - a form contemporary Koreans are more familiar with.

However, one thing has remained the same in Korean clothing styles throughout its history. It has always consisted of two separate parts - top and bottom. And half of that traditional ensemble, the jeogori, takes center stage in an exhibition organized by the Arumgiji Culture Keepers Foundation this year.

Titled “Jeogori, and Stories about Materials,” the show is focused on women’s tops in hanbok, traditional Korean clothing.

Since its launch in 2004, the non-profit foundation has been promoting the aesthetics of traditional Korean culture through exhibitions. It’s unique that its annual exhibitions - either on clothing, food or housing - are always the result of year-long joint research and collaboration between traditional artisans and contemporary designers.



Although there have been many shows in recent years that attempted a modern interpretation of hanbok, few focused solely on jeogori.

Another thing that sets this exhibition apart from other hanbok-related shows is that this one invested so much on the study of the high-quality materials that can be used in reproducing traditional women’s clothing.

Such investment is evident in part one of the exhibition, titled “Traditional Women’s Jeogori.” Here, visitors can enjoy reproduced women’s clothing from Korea’s Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.); Unified Silla period (668-935); Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392); and Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

“The most difficult task for researchers of traditional clothing is finding the materials that effectively express the aesthetics of hanbok from the past,” said Cho Hyo-sook, vice-president of Gachon University and former president of The Korean Society of Costume. “Ancient silk fabric such as brocade and gauze, which had been widely used from the Three Kingdoms Period to the Goryeo Dynasty, cannot be produced today.”

For the reproduction, the artisans and designers examined how the women of the period are depicted in artifacts like paintings, tomb murals and clay figurines. They also studied fabric pieces stored inside Buddha statues of the Goryeo Dynasty.


A recreation of clothing from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.) based on a 5th century mural from Susanri Tomb in Pyongan Province in North Korea. [ARUMJIGI CULTURE KEEPERS FOUNDATION, JOONGANG ILBO]

Although the first part of the exhibit is the reproduction of hanbok, there is the present and the future. The reproductions are designed to fit a 172-centimeter (5-foot-8) woman. Also, researchers used modern production technologies, instead of a replica of an ancient hand-loom.

But it is in the second part of the exhibit, “Modern Women’s Jeogori Reinterpreted as Contemporary Clothing,” where visitors really get to experience the present and the future of hanbok. Three designers and design companies - Im Seon-oc, Jung Mi-sun and RE;CODE - present their works inspired by hanbok.

Im’s pieces are simple, clean-cut and avant-garde, yet details like metal ornament on the collar of boleros and spencer jackets as well as balloon shaped pants and skirts are obvious references to hanbok’s signature styles.


A recreation of a winter hanbok from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) based on an 18th-century painting, “A Secret Night Trip,” by Sin Yun-bok. [ARUMJIGI CULTURE KEEPERS FOUNDATION, JOONGANG ILBO]

Jung used knitted jersey and mixed them with wool and cotton. Many of her pieces have knots differently styled. “For its loose fit, hanbok does not reveal the silhouette directly, but its tie form and method of tying express refined feminine beauty in a delicate and subtle way,” she said.

RE;CODE, on the other hand, is an upcycling brand. It received donations from the public and used the donated fabric and hanbok for new works. Quilted cotton overalls for a baby used donated hanbok, while a cotton jeogori for a baby is made with a sports jumper. Also, a knit vest with pleats in the back is made by dismantling a women’s dress, while a pleated skirt is made using men’s trousers.

“The exhibition seeks new possibilities for traditional Korean clothing by combining new materials with traditional design, and traditional materials with contemporary design,” said Yun Gyun S. Hong, the chairperson of Arumgiji Culture Keepers Foundation.


*The “Jeogori, and Stories about Materials” exhibition runs until Nov. 4. Reproductions and works by Im Seon-oc and Jung Mi-sun are displayed at the Arumjigi office building, while pieces by RE;CODE can be seen at Isang’s House. Admission to both venues are 5,000 won ($4.48). Hours are between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and both exhibition spaces close on Mondays. For more information, call the foundation at 02-741-8373~6, or visit the website at
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