Hanbok was not only a daily object of necessity; it also embodied the beliefs of traditional Korean people. Ideas of Buddhism or Confucianism, theories on the elements that make up the universe, and respect for nature were all important philosophies present in ancient Korean society that affected the design, construction, and wearing of hanbok.

Five Direction Colors or Obangsaek <오방색: 五方色 > refers to the five colors derived from Yin-Yang Five Elements theory <음양오행: 阴阳五行>. The theory describes the relationship between the five basic elements that make up all of nature, and is applied to hanbok as well as traditional Korean architecture and cuisine. The five colors and symbols associated with each are as follows:

Ogansaek palette and colorful interior roof of Gyeonghui Palace

Ogansaek <오간색>

is another traditional korean color palette derived from mixing the tones of Obangsaek. Together, Ogansaek and Obangsaek provide harmonious tones used in traditional Korean arts from architecture to costume to cuisine.

Saekdong artifacts at the Saekdong Museum in Seoul


translates directly as 색: color and 동: sleeve cuff of jeogori jacket. While typically referring to the colorful striped sleeves of children’s hanbok, saekdong also embodies the color harmony seen in traditional ceremonial attire, accessories, and even wrapping cloths.


Traditional Korean society emphasized living harmoniously with nature, values which impacted the way hanbok was designed and constructed.

Dancers wear hanbok for traditional performance at Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation

Balanced form

hanbok silhouette is spacious and embodies a sense of freedom and openness. In contrast to traditional western attire that uses structural elements such as tailoring and cinched waistlines to accentuate the human form, traditional Korean clothing drapes and encompass the human form. Details such as fabric tie closures instead of zipper or clasp hardware, and decorative norigae <노리개> pendants that hang and sway along with the wearer’s movement, create a sense of purity and harmony with nature.

Silk dyed with natural plant materials at National Folk Museum of Korea


hanbok also utilized natural elements in its materiality, including plant fibers such as cotton and hemp, or animal product such as silk or wool. Ordinary civilians showed preference for hanbok that maintained its natural ‘white’ color. When making colored hanbok, fabric dyes were derived from natural sources such as saffron flower, indigo plant, or persimmon fruit. These materials also have scientific health benefits, for instance indigo has medicinal properties and persimmon dye can repel insects, resist odors, and has a cooling effect. Using and rinsing natural dye materials also produces minimal to no pollution.

Research compiled from 2019-2020 Fulbright Fellowship by Ying Bonny Cai
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