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Modernizing the hanbok

I don’t really care about fashion much, and I don’t blog about it, but I saw various mentions on the interwebs of Canadian actress Sandra Oh‘s above tribute to the hanbok, or traditional Korean dress, which she wore to the SAG awards earlier this week. The look was deemed worthy fodder for fugging on Go Fug Yourself (here it is again on Chosun daily).

The Fug Girls did backpedal from their scorn when they realized her dress was a take on a national costume; they were probably afraid of seeming culturally insensitive or ignorant or whatever. I don’t think the dress is ugly, but it’s not really all that interesting either — neither as a gown in and of itself, nor as an innovative new take on the hanbok. It’s just so LITERAL. There are ways to modernize the hanbok more cleverly. Making the bow really really big isn’t the only way to make something seem fashion-forward. And there are Korean designers doing it better. See what I mean after the jump.

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So there are lots of variations on the hanbok, and I apologize in advance for my limited knowledge. (Here, you can Wikipedia it for more info.) My experience with them is limited to childhoods wriggling in discomfort on New Years Day, bowing before elders, and outgrowing them so fast that there was no point in investing in another hanbok until, for example, my wedding, or never. Whichever comes first. Of course, as with children’s clothing in general, outgrowing them quickly usually meant buying cheap versions, the kind with the scratchy material that left me looking wistfully at all the pretty adult hanboks made from soft, cool silks, in prettier patterns than the regulation pink-and-green ones that little girls wear with the rainbow stripes on the sleeves. To the Korean girls out there, you know what I mean, right?

Below left is Gu Hye Sun wearing the most basic design; below right is her in the queen’s regalia, I believe from her recent role in the drama King and I:

 
There’s a variety of different headwear that can accompany a hanbok, and the design of the dress itself can be embellished with embroidered panels, or given a variation on the front panel for a more formal look like the one Seo Ji Hye wears, below left. Below right is Kim Hee Sun in formal bridal dress.

 

Now, as for modernizing the hanbok, take a look at the following, designed by “hanbok artist” Kim Hee Soo. How’s this for a slim, modern silhouette? The models’ old-fashioned braids provide a traditional accent to contrast with the contemporary sleekness. The flower detail on the right is gorgeous:

 
Darker, with fuller skirts, and handpainted designs inspired by ancient motifs:

 
These remind me of the full white slipdress customarily worn under the colorful outer of layer the hanbok, which add volume to the skirt.

 
And this is a pretty style that takes elements from the dress of the gisaeng, or courtesan. Love the veil draped on the hat, and the simple, clean bodice.

 
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pretty!

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i actually didn't think sandra's dress was that bad! i kinda liked it...

but i must say, those pictures you showed afterward are GORGEOUS. i love the modernized look! ever think of getting one maybe? :)

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the ones they wear in goong are prettyy too!

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hmm, i like sandra's dress.

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That last dress on the right is gorgeous! Absolutely love the hat.

Sandra Oh's dress isn't bad, it's just plain in my opinion, big ass bow or not. When I look at all the dramas and the pictures above, all the other dresses are colorful.

Almost makes me wish the girl in My Boyfriend is Type B, loaned her the dress from that movie.

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i also loved the last dress on the right. now sandra should have worn something like that! i'm not too crazy about her dress but i am glad she was showing off her heritage, even if i thought it was a huge fashion faux-pas at first =X
ps javabeans, i remember the days i was forced to wear a hanbok for new years. the only thing i liked about those days was getting money. ha!

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these are all so GORGEOUS!!! I also like Sandra Oh's too... =]]

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the hanboks are beautiful... love the gisaeng-style smoke grey gown w/veil & fuschia dress in the painting... sandra's dress is nice, but a bit simple, which makes it less exciting...

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sandra's dress is not ugly, but it could have been better... if it were really aiming to modernize the hanbok. like in the pictures you provided, there are better ones and prettier ones. i think the ones in goong were pretty. and the gisaeng-inspired one is pretty.

thanks for sharing. we all need some pretty things to look at today. :D

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ilike the 1st 1 w/ sandra..

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ooops. . . . forgot my name. see later post...

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Those are some really nice dresses

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Thanks for the Hanbok fashion show. I love hanboks and would love to try one on one day.

I think it takes courage to be proud of your heritage and not be afraid to show it. I'm also proud that Sandra's a Canadian girl. Go Canucks!!!!!

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Well, Sandra's dress aint to bad! i LOOOVE the Hanboks in Hwangjinyi!! i'm also very happy to be able to catch a glimpse of the modernised hanboks. Thanks dramabeans!

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i like sandra's dress! it's a bit on the plain side but i love the how the loose end of the bow runs along the front of her dress, which elongates her bod. my personal fave of the modern hanboks is the last one on the right. the one that the cartoon lady is wearing ;)

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In some of the other pictures I saw of the dress, it looked like it was slipping off her so I didn't think too highly of the dress. The ones you posted up are gorgeous, I quite like the white one lined with the white and yellow flowers, very feminine and light looking.

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I like Sandra's dress too.

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Sandra's dress is alright. I just don't know why she so often wears dresses that look like they're about to slide off her bust (maybe the lack bust to begin with?). She could still wear beautiful dresses that are cut a little higher, though. IMO.

I love the green and black w/red flower one and the top half of the last one with the hat. Definitely, no "mushroom" look there:
http://www.soompi.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=153411&st=1080
There was also a modern take on a hanbok in one of your posts about an awards ceremony or film festival that I thought was gorgeous.

"the regulation pink-and-green ones that little girls wear with the rainbow stripes on the sleeves. To the Korean girls out there, you know what I mean, right?" I hear ya, sista! Also, having to wear ones that you clearly had grown too tall for (with 3/4 length sleeves) or hand-me-downs from cousins. And they were always the ugly winter fabric ones, not the pretty summer silks. LOL! My nephew & nieces got really pretty hanboks in Korea from the marketplace for only $30. I think you can find kids' ready-made ones here for pretty reasonable prices, too (K-town, anyone?). How come we never had that option when we were kids? Globalization, what took you so long?!?! But the money was definitely always the highlight of New Year's. This year, I had to shell out a wad of dough to my nephews and nieces (including the kids of all my cousins - too numerous to count). Wow, has inflation skyrocketed or what? I miss the good old days of being on the receiving end of all that cash...

I'd wait on investing in a hanbok (they're so expensive!) until a big event like a wedding or your parent's 60th birthday (if they haven't reached it yet). Then, it can sit in your closet, only to be taken out once in every 5 or 10 years. The hanbok I had made when I got married is sitting in a box keeping my wedding dress, in an adjacent box, company. ;)

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I LOVE the last one.

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The problem with Sandra's dress is that without the bow, it wouldn't be reminiscent at all of what a hanbok should look like, and with the bow, it just makes the entire dress awkward. Maybe if the light print on the black colored fabric were more prominent, then the bow could've been done without/made smaller.

And the hanboks you posted are real gems, but I don't think they're American red-carpet appropriate dresses. Red carpet fashion seems to be aligned with sleek silhouettes and bold-but-simple coloring. The first four under the cut seem to be very traditional and then the rest seem to be too "busy" and slightly extravagant. I think if Sandra were trying to scream, "HEY, I'm Korean and I'm paying homage to the hanbok!" then those dresses would work. (And then of course she'll never make it onto Go Fug Yourself--because like you said, the writers will probably come off as being insensitive to others' cultures--but then again, not appearing on GFY is a good thing.)

Thanks for sharing all the great hanboks, I would've never known where to look for shots of them.

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Like all4movies, I really admire Sandra Oh for not being afraid to show her culture in terms of apparel. I'm not an expert on the hanbok, but I think the problem with the bow is that the pink colour makes it stand out even more on the black...if she used slightly subtle colours, I think the result would be much better.

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Snap. LOL, I blogged about Sandra Oh's hanbok inspired gown a week back or so. I immediately recognised it for what it was when I saw it and was rather unimpressed with the GFY ladies for their culture insensitivity and ignorance. Which is a pity as I usually quite like them.

Anyway, I agree that Sandra Oh's gown is not very impressive but I applaud her efforts to pay a nod of deference to her heritage and culture. By the way, how expensive is an adult hanbok anyway?

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Unlike some of the other posters here, I don't think that the Fug girls were being insensitive. An ugly dress is an ugly dress, and I think that Sandra Oh's dress is pretty hideous.

Perhaps it was a little ignorant of them not to know what hanbok looks like, but I pose a question for the criticizers: Can they say that they know what the cultural costume of every country and cultural region looks like?

I certainly can't.

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I think that the dress Sandra Oh is easily identifiable as being a modern take on the traditional Hanbok, but not all the others do - I think it's the bow that gives it the identity. The other dress, although all beautiful, do not come across (at least to me) right away as being Hanbok because it is missing the key element (the top with the long bow). Personally I'd never wear some of the "modernized" Hanboks I've seen (like the one with a tiger or a peacock for example), but I think the one that Sandra Oh wore is simple and yet elegant enough to be worn to something like the awards show because it looks "western" enough.

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I think Sandra Oh's dress is indeed quite ugly. The red bow reminds me of a long tongue. =X Oh and i totally LOVE the gisaeng-inspired hanbok!

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LOL I remember seeing Sandra Oh in that dress in the newspapers. I was looking at that and thinking "huh?" until I read the caption about it being a take on the Korean hanbok. I mean, its OK, but its not what I would have gone with. I like the photos that you posted with other modernizations of the hanbok much better.

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I saw in a exhibition some of the hanboks used in the Hwang Jin Yi drama which were so gorgeus.
Sandra Oh's version is a little boring compared to those others, I loved the Gisaeng influenced ones.
I would love to wear one, I've only worn a kimono (kimono is another obsession of mine)

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Coming across this a bit late, I see . . .
anyway, I have to disagree about the quality and identifiability of Sandra's hanbok, especially vs. the examples used here. First, I, like most people who'd seen hanbok before, was able to pick up on the structure instantly, which I felt was a big plus. I thought the color scheme was actually quite lovely, and worked well with Sandra's skin tones (although to be fair to everyone, the color pink looks considerably different depending on the photograph), and that she matched it well with hairstyle, etc. Yeah, the bow was big, but this was countered by keeping it very close to the body in terms of cut in the bodice. I keep hearing that it looked like it was going to fall off but in every picture I've seen it looks well fitted. And I think with her's the devil is in the details - it's made out of some very expensive, well made brocade with nice sheen and decorative weave, which I think didn't show up very well in pictures but made it very elegant. It's not a perfect dress, but I think it was an elegant and well made piece that suited the occasion and the wearer.
As for the other "modern hanbok" . . .well, in the first picture, I find the green with the black paneling very elegant, and while I don't find it very iconographically "hanbok" I do think it works with the motifs . . . the one next to it though is just hideous. Terrible, an eyesore . . . garish decoration and no shape. Doesn't look like anything so much as a rejected outfit from the Carol Burnett show. The next two down are slightly better, but much, MUCH too literal in the adaptation, and while the folk paintings are interesting the colors aren't the most flattering and the shape is . . . off, somehow. The underskirts aren't cut right, I think. The next two also aren't quite right. They're basically just the underskirt, one with an embroidered sheer overcoat that looks like it's from Dave's Bridal clearance racks and the other . . . god, that painting is so unbelievably tacky I do not know what to say. The fact it's basically painted on underwear does not make it ironic or funny, just sad. And with the last picture . . . once again, it's too literal to be "modern" hanbok. Somebody took a regular hanbok and removed the jacket. There's very little exploration with the garment at all except in the exact way in which the upper portion is done, and even that doesn't really manage to do anything interesting. Some of these are pretty enough, but they're not a new, wonderful take on the hanbok. Whatever you think of Sandra's dress personally, it's still a more innovative take on the hanbok than any of these. Sandra's dressmaker obviously played significantly with proportion and construction, added some very interesting bits of tailoring even if they weren't obvious (did anyone notice the pockets? ) and produced a dress that still manages to look identifiably Korean. These other dressmakers whose work you've highlighted here still have a long, long way to go.

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The dresses after the jump are beautiful, but I wouldn't say they're red carpet appropriate. I think Sandra's dress is more suited for the red carpet than the others, and I think she looks pretty great in it.

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i love the gisaeng dress :D

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I think it looks good on her. Just that it's so simple. The size of the bow against the too low cut tube made it look like the bow was too heavy for the top. I think anyone who would wear a traditional garb however trendy of simply presented is commendable. For one to show his or her ethnicity in a foreign land is a cool thing to do. sorry dont have a word for it. btw i like the one in green w/flowers on black vertical contrast. I think its ultra feminine.

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Ive seen prettier modernized hanboks. There are ALOT out there. Why did Sandra have to chose THAT one?
I can totally relate to you on the scrachy hanbok thing. Though, I did once have a nice silky one when I was like....5. All the rest were cheap summer hanboks.

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wowie,
i'd like to have one of those. am not korean but i like the hanbok. i think it presents our feminity well. hand-me-down please!

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How come Sandra Oh couldn't find a better designer? That huge bow is really tacky.
I like that last black dress and the white dress with the painting of the girl; would love to wear those!

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Skangrrl, my hanbok cost about $600 a few years ago from a reasonably priced establishment in K-town. I think we got a discount b/c my mom had one made, too. Koreans like volume discounting. My sister-in-law's cost about $1,000 and that was 12 years ago. Hanboks have to be hand-tailored, and they're made out of silk.

dae, hanboks are pretty comfortable around the waist (but not around the shoulders), but they also can make you look like a puffy meringue. ;)

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I'm not even sure I should admit this, but I never realized you were Korean until the bit in this post about wearing hanbok as a child. I feel a lot less unaccomplished now that I know you didn't learn Korean on your own as a teenager or something. hehe. :)

I liked Sandra's dress, and there's also a yellow one in the bg of one of the photos that was really pretty.

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thank you figbash for voicing my thoughts exactly. ;)

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Thank you so much! I love the hankboks!!!
They're so cute!
I'm in love with the drama The King and I!!!

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Hello everyone,

What perfect timing for me to have read your post on Hanbok. I am a girl scout leader for my 7th grade daughter. At world friendship dinner coming up in couple of weeks, our troop will be representing Korea. I thought I might be crazy and attempt to make each of the 5 girls a hanbok.
Can anyone tell me what Korea is famous for? We need to make swaps to trade with other countries. Brainstorming alone has gotten me nowhere and now am a little panic stricken. I would appreciate any ideas you might have.

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her hanbok reminds me of one of the new dresses in the couture of christian dior. i don't think its that bad either.

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no offense but actually i prefer sandra's dress much more than the others featured here. it's a lot sleeker and more modern, the other 'modern' versions are too fussy(trying to do too many things at one time) that even the trad ones look better.

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I like the hanbok trot Kim Hyun Jung flaunts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh-YMHLQbHQ

:)

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Hey hjk, thanks for the info. Wow, that is quite expensive! As expensive as getting an "ordinary" cheongsam from Shanghai Tang! By the way, are you also hjkomo in soompi?

Rocketfuel, that was evil. You should have warned us about the second combatant. I almost spat coffee all over my keyboard ...

How do they get the double bumps on the hanbok by the way? And they wear pants under the hanboks? I thought they wore shifts?

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I'll have to agree that Sandra's dress wasn't all the best. But really it's all about the bow and how it looks awkward around her boobs. Other than that it had nice draping and a good color scheme. I like some of the modern designs you posted but some of them I would pass like the black one next to that green and black dress. I know you probably didn't like Goong the drama, but try giving a look to the manhwa if you haven't already. The artist has a ton of modernized hanbok, focusing mostly on royal themes, that are just gorgeous and that I wish they had incorporated more of into the drama. Whenever I heard the term modified hanbok in fashion the artwork in Goong is usually the standard I go by.

thanks for another wonderful post javabeans :)

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I love the last one plus the green one with flowers

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Skangrrl, yeah, that's me. I'm sure you can find cheaper hanboks if you go to Korea. I don't know if adult hanboks come ready-made (usually, only the children's hanboks do), but I've heard of people getting hanboks made in Korea for as little as $200-$300. That still ain't cheap, though. Plus, when you get into the fancier designs (mine and my SIL's are fairly simple), they can run even higher. Hanboks are usually worn with a white shift underneath (like the ones in white shown above). Luckily, now the shifts and skirts come with shoulder straps. When I was a kid, only the children's skirts had shoulder straps. My mom had the old-fashioned ones where the skirt was held up by a ribbon at the top being tied horizontally around your chest (thereby making it even more uncomfortable and squishing down your boobs - and we Korean women usually don't have much there to begin with ;) ) I never looked forward to growing up and having to wear the adult version, but at least, they finally came to their senses and added the shoulder straps to the women's skirts, so I don't have to suffer the same fate as my predecessors. The traditional rubber shoes even come with heels now! (I don't have those, but my cousins do.)

Btw, what is an “ordinary” cheongsam from Shanghai Tang?

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Hey hjk! Nice to meet you here. Been reading your posts over at soompi. Ah, the last time I was in Korea was in the 90s! And I had no time to shop too. Sigh ...

The squishing of boobs part sounds really painful. An ordinary cheongsam from Shanghai Tang would be a simple, basic-cut cheongsam with plain, probably non-silk material with simple binding and basic frog-buttons instead of their more luxurious silks, lace, sequined, embroidered etc stuff. You can get some off-the-rack but they usually do not fit as well and if you want alterations, you can get the sifu to do it but after the cost of alteration, you might as well have gone the first option of tailoring a simple one.

Their stuff are really expensive but can be quite modern and wearable compared to the Street Fighter Pai or Chinese-restaurant-hostess brocade horrors peeps try to pass for cheongsam.

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gosh I want one of those modernized dresses soo bad!

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Oooh, the modern runway versions are lovely.

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I can imagine those vapid "Fashion Police" people criticizing Sandra's dress for it's poofyness or whatever. Not knowing it's based on a national dress, something completely foreign to America. Ignorance isn't always bliss.

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