New Display of Korean Fashion at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre

Voices of Asia intern Myunghae Seo created this Korean costume display
at Leeds Discovery Centre.
As a Korean living in the UK it has been amazing to engage with the Korean costume collections here in Leeds during my internship and select seven items for this new display. 


High class traditional Korean dress or hanbok continues to follow designs developed over the past 1600 years. The Fan Dance doll (pictured above) shows us a complete costume, while the finely embroidered shoes are a good example of contrasting colours, and the fur trimmed hood is typical winter wear.

Traditional Korean wedding costume
These days, Koreans only wear hanbok for special occasions such as weddings (pictured right), funerals and first birthdays, but it was worn daily up until 100 years ago. 

Hanbok are created beautifully through combinations of colours and curved lines. Women’s hanbok in particular are composed of short jackets and full skirts, which make the upper body look small and the lower body look full, creating an attractive balance.

Personally, I really like wearing hanbok because of its delicate colour and patterns, though when you are not used to it, it can be a little uncomfortable. 

The History of Hanbok
Hanbok developed during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), which was built upon Confucianism. This philosophy and faith permeated the whole of South Korean society, including people’s behaviours and lifestyles. The ideal woman was believed to be pure, obedient and faithful. They were supposed to be completely hidden from the outer world and obey their fathers, husbands and sons. 

Only upper class women were allowed to wear a variety of colours and patterns and only the royal family could use geumbak, or gold printed patterns, on their bottom of skirt. A navy colour worn on a woman’s blouse cuffs indicated that she had son(s). Upper class women were meant to act demurely and partly hide their face. (Watch this You Tube video by Korea Today for an overall idea of hanbok.)

Embroidered hanbok bag from the
Leeds Museums and Galleries collections.

What is it like to wear hanbok?
I vividly remember dressing up in hanbok and carrying a little bag like this with me on Korean New Year’s holiday, Seollal, when I was little. After the family meal on that day, the younger generation would pay their respects to their elders by taking a deep bow called sebae, and the elders would offer their blessings and wishes for the New Year. 

Children would receive sebatdon (New Year’s money) as a gift. Right after I received the money from my grand-parents, uncles and aunts, I put it into my bag, and then when they left, I counted the money in my room, and hid it in a secret place. All the money was for my sweet treats for the year and I wanted to keep it secret from my mother. 

Embroidered hanbok bags
These small traditional bags (pictured above) have various patterns which are believed to bring fortune and luck. As hanbok does not have separate pockets, their purpose was to carry money, goods or a perfume box. Many of these bags are embroidered with flowers and animal patterns, and with gold and silver Chinese characters, and are gathered shut by silk cords with large tassels.

Find out more:
To learn more about hanbok, see Hanbok: Timeless Fashion Tradition by Samuel Songhoon Lee, Korean Textiles and Costumes of the Choson Dynasty by Claire Roberts and Huh Dong-Hwa, or Hanbok – The Art of Korean Clothing by Sunny Yang, both published in 1998​.

By Myunghae Seo, ‘Voices of Asia’ Intern

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