Cutest card from Korea

Real Live Bilingual Donna Ko made a big trip to Korea recently and sent me the most adorable card! It’s in the shape of a traditional Korean hanbok dress, and I thought I would tell you a little about it.



The hanbok is the traditional costume of the Korean people. It’s now only worn for special occasions but up until 100 years ago it worn on a daily basis in many parts of Korea! There are hanbok for men and hanbok for women, and this card is a traditional woman’s dress.

Painted murals dating back to the  kingdom (third to sixth century AD) show early forms of Korean dress, and while the length of the chima (the skirt) has fluctuated and men and women’s hanboks have evolved separately, the basic idea has remained the same.

Nowadays, Koreans wear event-specific hanbok for weddings, holidays, and other formal occasions. Certain birthdays are very important in Korean society – the doljanchi (돌잔치), or first birthday, and the hwangap (환갑), the 60th birthday, both merit some serious hanbok swag.

The jeogori is the upper part of the hanbokand the chima is the lower half. The undergarments worn underneath the hanbok are very important, and the hanbok was not considered complete without them. You can see the girl in the video below has at least one petticoat on.

Compared to a sari or kimono, I think putting on the hanbok looks more or less straightforward!

The exact style and color of the hanbok traditionally showed social status, class, age and gender, and commoners were only allowed to wear white. Yellow and gold, symbolizing the center of the universe and the emperor, were reserved for the upper classes, while indigo, symbolizing fidelity, was only for ladies of the courts (christinathepolyglot).


The designs on the hanbok are highly decorative, intricate, and full of meaning: “Peonies embroidered on a bridal gown represented a wish for honor and wealth. Lotus flowers represented a wish for nobility. Bats and pomegranates represented a wish for children. An axe-shaped pendant represented a pregnant woman’s wish for a son. Chinese characters embroidered on hanboks such as 복,회, and 수 were used to represent a wish for (복) good fortune, (회) happiness, and (수) a long life” (christinathepolyglot).


The epic and powerful creatures like dragons, phoenixes, cranes, and tigers stood as symbols for royalty and high-ranking officials.


The hanbok saw quite a few changes to the style and form over the course of time. The Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) saw the introduction of the otgoreum , the large bow sash that goes across the front of the dress. It was previously put around the waistline, as a result of influence from nearby Mongolia ( Now, it’s one of the most prominent features of the hanbok!


In the mid-16th century during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), hanbok for women were styled as in the photo on the above left. By the 18th century, women’s hanboks had evolved to they way they are still fashioned today as in the photo on the right(

The biggest changes to the hanbok probably took place during the period of Japanese colonization (1910 – 1945), when fashion in Korea underwent major changes due to the inflow of Western influence. Westernized Korean women started (you guessed it) wearing hanbok with shorter skirts. Typical!



And to bring this to an end, here’s some modern hanbok inspiration on Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh.


And before I forget, a few years ago I posted a link to a photo essay of all the different ethic groups in China, and there was a great shot of an ethnic Korean family, and sure enough, you can see several hanbok in the photo!


Thanks for sending Donna! Korea looks beautiful 🙂

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
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One Response to Cutest card from Korea

  1. 오 현애 says:

    You’re reference for some common 한자 is incorrect. 회 is not the symbol for happiness, it’s: 희(囍) which is actually a doubling of the term, because happiness should provide more happiness as an effect. 복(福), while it can mean fortune, can also mean happiness. ^^

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