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Modesty In Women’s Clothing, Sumptuary Laws

1540 words - 6 pages

Women’s hanbok reflected the Confucian ideal of modesty. Although people generally considered that modesty could be achieved by concealing the female form, the hanbok’s unique design was concealing, yet revealing at the same time. According to Kyung (2010) “the status and rank of their husbands defined the dress of women during the Joseon dynasty” (para. 17). Sumptuary laws mandated that certain fabrics and accessories could be worn only by those who held an appropriate rank. Nonetheless, the categories were eroded over time, and restricted articles came into general use. Kyung (2010) found that geumseonhye, high-quality silk shoes once reserved for members of the royal family, became popular among ordinary people during the nineteenth century (para. 17). Confucian tenets stressing the importance of brides to families as the bearers of sons of the next generations resulted in elaborate marriage clothing that copied the court’s, such as the wearing of marten fur or deep-green-dyed clothes along with jokduri, coronets, and binyu, hairpins, both of which were prohibited several times by special edicts. When women went out in public, a seugae, or veil, was worn to hide their faces from men. Jangot, a long coat, was another type of face-covering headdress used by upper-class women, as it was worn over their heads to cover their faces in public (Kyung, 2010, para.21).

Accessories and Color

Paper fans, while made out of paper and seemingly simple, were not. Because fans were carried by both men and women and throughout all seasons, they were highly significant. First used as a helpful device, they quickly became an accessory. (Lawrence, Oen & Oka, 2005). Often, they were decorated simply with the five cardinal colors, directions, and elements:

Red/South/Fire, White/West/Metal, Blue/East/Wood, Yellow/Center/Earth, and Black/North/Water. Combinations of these colors were used on a wide variety of daily objects during the Joseon Dynasty. Red and blue are considered to be traditional colors for clothing. The Confucian beliefs had an impact on children wear. In order to keep children from malevolent spirits, they were dressed in bright colors. (Haboush, 1988).


According to Kyung (2010) norigae, decorative pendants, hung from the breast tie of a woman’s jacket were worn as an ornament, depending on the occasion or event. According to the number of pendants that make up the set, it was called danjak, a one-part, or a samjak, a three-part, norigae. Together with materials such as gold, silver, and precious stones decorations were added to the norigae to create beautiful ornaments (Kyung, 2010, para. 23). The motif of these ornaments came from many sources: nature, everyday objects, and auspicious characters, that is, letters. Kyung (2010) found the


the patterns applied to norigae represented the wearer’s personal tastes and favorite symbols, as well as serving a prophylactic purpose of warding off evil,...

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