A Wedding Hanbok Fit for a Foreigner

Getting ready for the Korean traditional wedding ceremony was, I assume, similar to what it will be like getting ready for the American ceremony in a few months.

Make-up preparation taking longer than I’m used to and putting on clothes that I’ll never wear again and mean so much. The only difference is I know what to expect in the American style and with the Korean one I was moved around by two Korean women getting me all done, thankfully, since I wouldn’t have known where to start.

The Hanbok has roots dating as far back in Korean history as the Three Kingdoms Period (57BC – 668AD).

Today the style of the Hanbok is most similar to the Joseon period in Korea from 1392-1910. I’ve always thought Hanboks were beautiful when I’ve had a chance to see Koreans wearing them and I was excited to get to wear one for our ceremony.

The Hanbok isn’t about being tight fitting or showing off curves but the elegance and style when the women seemingly float across the floor in the abundance of cloth draped around them.

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Korean Traditional Wedding: American bride getting readyThree hours before the ceremony was set to begin I got settled in the make-up chair at the Traditional Ceremony Shop ready to get my traditional Korean look on. My two younger sisters, mother and Jae-oo and his friend sat around eating ramyeon just behind me as my stomach growled in the make-up chair. The women wanted to get me started so I couldn’t eat until after I’d gotten my face all finished up. They told me it’d take an hour to get all of the make-up done and that it did. I had no idea make-up could ever take that long. A little cover-up, mascara and two minutes later I’m usually out the door. But she did a fabulous job making me look like a porcelain doll.

Korean Traditional Wedding: American bride getting readyAfter I gulped down my ramyeon and took the bathroom break they said would be my last until after the ceremony had ended and the Hanbok was removed from the hanger so that we could start the layering process. The traditional Korean wedding Hanbok has layers galore. A normal Hanbok has a couple layers as well, but this one had a couple beyond that. First was the sokchima, a corset-like layer with a skirt attached, which isn’t pictured as the Korean women thought taking pictures of the under things wasn’t proper, though you really couldn’t see anything. The second layer was the red dress or chima, the Hanbok skirt.Korean Traditional Wedding: American Bride in a Traditional Korean Hanbok

Next the Hanbok jacket, or jeogori, was put on. A few minutes later, upon adding the fourth part, I was asking myself what the point of the jeogori was since you couldn’t even see it. But such is tradition and I didn’t really voice this question to anyone.

Korean Traditional Wedding: American Bride in a Traditional Korean Hanbok

Next was the wonsam, the ceremonial jacket worn by queens and upperclass women during the Joseon dynasty. After the wonsam was added the women wrapped a blue ribbon around my chest to hold it in place. Originally these colors had meaning and when we went to pick out our jacket colors I put up a bit of a fuss when I was asked what color I liked and I asked the woman what color was traditional to which she responded by asking me again what color I liked. I was under the impression we were having a traditional ceremony and therefore should really be traditional about it. I know these days people just choose the color they like and that’s what they wear, but at one time they did have meanings and I didn’t want to go walking down the aisle in a Hanbok that meant something about me that wasn’t the case that perhaps someone might understand. When I did push it a bit further she said she didn’t know the meanings of the colors and then I understood why she wasn’t answering my question. The red skirt, traditionally worn at wedding ceremonies, symbolizes wealth and good fortune. Good thing I wore that one. Traditionally the yellow wonsam was for empresses, the red wonsam for the queen, magenta for concubines and princess consorts, and green for princesses and women of the noble class. I ended up with green, though not because of the meaning, which I didn’t know until later upon further searching on the internet, but because I liked the color.

Korean Traditional Wedding: American Bride in a Traditional Korean HanbokAt this point the clothing part of the Hanbok was basically finished. Some socks, or beoseon, that resemble footwear fit for an elf were put on and I sat down to get the head pieces in place. First, the jokduri was added.

Earlier, after my make-up had finished being applied and before I started getting dressed, one of the women did my hair. She put my shoulder length hair up in a bun and then took a long length of fake braided hair and pinned it in as well. When I asked my mom what it looked like she said it looked like an upside down horse-shoe shape. At that time I didn’t really know what that was for, but upon sitting down in the chair to get my head-pieces added it soon became clear. After the jokduri was put on, a long hairpin, or binyeo was placed through the loops made by the fake hair and fastened so as not to fall out. The ends of the binyeo stuck out about 3 to 4 inches on either side of my head. Daenggi, or pieces of cloth, were attached to either side and hung down in front of my chest. Another piece of cloth was then attached to hang down in the back. The whole contraption made walking through doorways later interesting and when it was finally removed 2 hours later I was very thankful as it wasn’t too bad at the beginning, but became heavier and heavier over the course of the ceremony. She did a stupendous job of getting it firmly attached though. I had to do full bows down to the floor at least 20 times over the course of the ceremony and paebeck and it didn’t budge at all.

Finally, the shoes were put on and we made our way to the wedding ceremony location.Korean Traditional Wedding: American Bride in a Traditional Korean Hanbok

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3 Responses

  1. October 27, 2014

    […] Getting dressed in the Hanbok fit for Joseon royalty took hours along with the make-up and hair pinning but I turned out beautiful, if I do say so myself. Getting dressed in the Hanbok didn’t feel so much like I was getting dressed for my wedding day because it wasn’t the white dress that I had envisioned, but in the end I was glad it was so different from my mother’s white dress in the American ceremony that I wore later. The two ceremonies were so different that there is really no comparing them. The Korean ceremony encompassed so much of what I have grown to love about Korea from the colorful traditional buildings and Hanboks to the respectful bowing and quiet gracefulness that the conservative culture requires. Another aspect of living here has been accepting with a laugh or a giggle whatever might be thrust in front of me that I’m not expecting and this ceremony certainly had many of those kind of moments too. […]

  2. October 17, 2016

    […] don’t really know what time everything got under way as I had no watch to look at, and even if I did the sleeves on my Hanbok were two feet longer than my arms so I couldn’t check all that […]

  3. March 3, 2017

    […] the wedding ceremony I was taken into a small room where the wonsam, or long overcoat, was removed a…. I changed into a small blue top and a new hairpiece was placed on my head. Jae-oo and I made our […]

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