My love affair with hanbok actually started with logic. I was planning my wedding in Korea, where it’s customary to rent or buy both a white wedding gown and a hanbok. You can wear a white gown once (so one would hope), but a hanbok is suitable for many milestones and occasions here. So I rented a white gown and I bought a colorful hanbok.
I love my special hanbok. The jeogori, or upper top garment, is a vibrant green top with oversized floral embroidery wrapping one shoulder. It’s complemented by a bright, blood-orange skirt that feels weightless, even with a poofy underskirt. For such a fancy piece, it’s surprisingly comfortable. Someone once told me that hanbok is the only traditional Asian garb you could play ball in. Instead of confining our movements or defining our bodies, the hanbok is designed to allow for ease of movement. Women in the fields to women on the throne have been wearing hanbok for centuries. Why shouldn’t I continue the tradition?
I wanted to wear hanbok more often, but I wanted something I could commute to work in. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. The hanbok is making a comeback as young Koreans embrace the heritage style and adapt it as their own. The jeogori has become longer, so that it can be tucked into your skirt instead of grazing it. The skirts are shorter, with the built-in waistbelt designed to be knotted at your waist. The modern hanbok is often referred to as lifestyle hanbok (생활한복) or modified hanbok (계량한복). You can find them online (one of my favorites is Daraewon Hanbok) or at a handful of small hanbok shops popping up around Seoul. There are many reasons why you should wear hanbok more often, if not every day. Here are some of mine:
“Free size” at its best
Everyone knows that the “free size” commonly seen on Korean clothing size labels actually mean size 2. But for modern hanbok shirts, there’s a little leeway when it comes to sizing. As long as the shoulders fit relatively well, the rest of the shirt can be adjusted to your liking with the inner and outer ties that wrap the shirt panels across your chest.
Choose your own waistline
Modern hanbok skirts come with the belt built right in. With these skirts, you have free rein to choose where you want to define your waist, and how tight you want it to be. I usually go for the empire waist with my hanbok because it’s flattering for my body shape (plus, I never know what I’m going to have for lunch).
Easy access for breastfeeding
As a breastfeeding mom, one of the main features I look for in buying new clothes that aren’t specifically designed for nursing is looseness and easy access to boobs. With hanbok shirts, that’s already part of the design. With the traditional jeogori top, you may not even have to bother untying your shirt. Whether I’m breastfeeding in public or pumping at work, I never have to work too hard to make sure my little one is fed when I’m wearing hanbok.
Easy conversion into capsule wardrobe
Hanbok essentially comes in one style, so as long as the colors and patterns don’t clash, you could very easily create a capsule wardrobe exclusively from hanbok without giving it much thought. For capsule-friendly everyday hanbok, create a collection of muted solid-color tops and skirts for easy assembly.
From casual to fancy in a snap
A billowing hanbok skirt can turn heads, but light skirt without the poof is just fine for daily outings. When it comes to hanbok, a petticoat layer is the difference between casual and fancy or day and night. Short petticoats are a great piece to have in your wardrobe for those special occasions.
Free admission to Korea’s palaces
One of the perks of wearing hanbok is that you’ll receive free admission to all five of Seoul’s palaces. Just be prepared to pose for pictures with tourists. Many other historic attractions and business in historic neighborhoods offer freebies and discounts to visitors in hanbok.
I was never a fan of Korea’s obsession with “couple look,” but my latest indulgence is twinning with the little version of me. Hanbok looks good on anyone, but somehow looks even cuter when it’s worn by a little human.