Contemporary Artwork of Women

Complied by Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.

Reading most costume books that mention Korean dress, you might be mistaken to believe that from the Goguryeo dynasty until the 18th century, either fashion didn't alter in over 1000 years, or that Koreans simply didn't wear clothes. Both ideas are obviously nonsense, but there seems to be a persistant idea that 16th and 19th century dress is interchangeable. (An example is the 16th century Hwang Jin-i wearing a short 19th century jeogori in the K-drama series of the same name.)

The Joseon Dynasty existed from 1392 to 1910, and for over 500 years. The early- to mid-Joseon is usually the description given to the late 14th to 16th centuries, which still covers quite a large period of time. My personal focus is the 16th century, but due to the dearth of artwork, I've included 14th to 17th century depictions of women as well.

Enjoy! (If you find some artwork of women that I have not included, please e-mail me!)

12th Century

  • Water Dropper in the Shape of a Girl (Important Art Object), first half of the 12th century. Koryo dynasty (918-1392)
    Stoneware with touches of iron-brown under celadon glaze; H. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
    Lent by The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka. Gift of the Sumitomo Group (acc. no. 20171)
    Sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and there are more photos, and a matching boy, at The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka website.

14th and 15th Centuries

  • Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, early 14th century. Unknown Artist.
    Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara
    The retinue of the dragon king of the Eastern Sea (pictured) appear to include a woman on the left. The group is presenting offerings to the Buddhist deity Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, bodhisattva of infinite compassion.
    Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, Koryô dynasty (918–1392), early 14th century
    Unidentified artist (early 14th century). Korea.
    Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
    44 3/4 x 21 3/4 in. (113.7 x 55.3 cm)
    Charles Stewart Smith Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles Stewart Smith, Charles Stewart Smith Jr. and Howard Caswell Smith, in memory of Charles Stewart Smith, 1914 (14.76.6)
    Follow the link on the Met Museum website for the full picture.
    Source:Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, 1323. Unknown Artist.
    Water-Moon AvalokiteshvaraCropped image of Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara
    As above, the retinue are presenting offerings, and appears to include two, maybe three, women. All of these probable female figures in the two Buddhist paintings all have pale skin, with hair tied back in a bun.
    Like the murals from the tomb of Bak Ik (below), the jeogori is loose and appears split at the sides. The skirts however are unique for their brightly patterned orange and white fabric.
    Sources: Herstory: Women in Art, '수월관음보살도', Wikipedia.
  • Mural tomb of Bak Ik in Gobeop-ri, Miryang.
    Bak Ik was a civil official who lived from 1332-1398.
    Mural from MiryangMural from Miryang KOGL Open License 04
    Image licensed under KOGL (Korean Open Government License, Gonggongnuri Type 4 [PDF])
    Source: Cultural Heritage Association, Historic Site 459, and in Korean.
  • Lady Jo Ban (1341-1401). Copy of original portrait.
    Lady Jo Ban
    Sources: Museum Portal of Korea and Herstory: Women in Art.

16th Century

  • Literary Gathering, 16th Century.
    This figure I have redrawn from a hanging scroll held at the Cleveland Museum of Art Collection. She is described as being a servant. There is a second figure in the scene who may be another female servant but it is difficult to tell.
    Literary Gathering
    Sources: Cleveland Museum of Art and ARTStor.
  • Hojonanggwangyehodo “Fraternity Meeting of Mid-level Officials of the Ministry of Revenue” (호조낭관계회도, 戶曺郎官契會圖), ca. 1550.
    Ministry of Revenue
    Sources: Lyu and Cho, (2002; 70), Kang147741 and Ahn (2009; 79).
  • Gathering of State Examination Alumni at Huigyeong Pavilion (희경루방회도, 喜慶樓枋會圖), 1567.
    Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk; 38 3/4 x 30 1/4 in. (98.5 x 76.8 cm)
    Dongguk University Museum, Seoul
    Important Folklore Materials 267.
    Huigyeong Pavillion Huigyeong PavillionKOGL Open License 04
    Colour photo licensed under KOGL (Korean Open Government License, Gonggongnuri Type 4 [PDF])
    Sources:Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400-1600. Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Link dead], Yun (2005;16) and Cultural Heritage Administration.
  • King Sala's Rebirth in Amitabha's Paradise, dated 1576
    Hanging scroll; color on silk; 41 5/8 x 22 3/8 in. (105.7 x 56.8 cm)
    Seizan Bunko, Kōchi

    Commissioned for King Seonjo (ruled 1567-1608), it appears the entourage of the pregnant queen is depicted.
    Follow the link on the Met Museum website for the full picture.
    Source:Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400-1600. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Giyeonghoedo "Painting of the Assembly of Elder Statemen" (기영회도, 耆英會圖) 16th century.
    Designated Treasure 1328.
    The painting is of a meeting of elders in the Joseon Dynasty, whose members were the literati of the second-or-higher court ranks who were 70 years of age or older. Featured in this painting are Hong Seom (1504-1585), No Su-sin (1515-1590), Jeong Yu-Gil (1515-1588), Won Hon (1505-1588), Jeong Jong-yeong (1513-1589), Bak Dae-rip (1512-1584), Yi Myeol (1510 - 1591). Therefore this painting would have been composed in the 1580s at the earliest.
    Giyeonghoedo 1584KOGL Open License 04
    Image licensed under KOGL (Korean Open Government License, Gonggongnuri Type 4 [PDF])
    Source: Cultural Heritage Administration and the National Museum of Korea.
  • “Meeting of Senior Officials under the Reign of Seonjo” (Seonjojo Giyeonghoedo, 선조조 기영회도, 宣祖朝 耆英會圖), 1585.
    Anonymous, ink and color on silk, 40.9 (h) x 59.2 (w) cm,
    Seoul National University Museum

    Court Painting Image Court Painting Image
    Source:The Glossary of Korean Studies, Herstory: Women in Art and and Ahn (2009; 79).
    There is also an 18th century re-drawing, Tangible Cultural Properties 219.
  • Buddhist Painting. 1589
    Buddhist Painting Image Buddhist Painting Image
    Sources: 감로왕도[甘露王圖], Keum (1994) p.23, Chong (2000) p.98

17th Century

  • Embroidered scent pouches, with two female figures praying to Buddha.
    These pouches would have been used as decoration at a Buddhist temple.
    Important Folklore Materials 42.
    Embroidered pouchesEmbroidered Woman 1Embroidered Woman 2KOGL Open License 04
    Image licensed under KOGL (Korean Open Government License, Gonggongnuri Type 4 [PDF])
    Source: The Cultural Heritage Administration. Chung, (2005) p.345.
  • Fraternity Meeting of Retired Senior Officials by the South Pond (南池耆老會圖)
    by Yi Giryong (1600-?), ink and color on silk, 116.7 (h) x 72.4 (w) cm, Seoul National University Museum.
    Classified as Tangible Cultural Property 75.
    Fraternity Meeting of Retired Senior Officials by the South PondKOGL Open License 04
    Image licensed under KOGL (Korean Open Government License, Gonggongnuri Type 4 [PDF])
    Source: The Cultural Heritage Administration.
  • Giseogseol yeonjido (기석설연지도, 耆碩設宴之圖) dated 1621
    Giseogseol yeonjidoGiseogseol yeonjidoGiseogseol yeonjidoGiseogseol yeonjido
    Sources: Yun (2005) and Yeon (2007).
  • Meeting on the 48th anniversary of sitting exams in 1582. (壬午司馬榜會圖) dated 1630.
    48th anniversary of sitting exams in 1582.48th anniversary of  sitting exams in 1582.48th anniversary of  sitting exams in 1582.
    Source: Yun (2005) p. 17 and Lee (2013).
  • Meeting on the 52nd anniversary of sitting exams in 1582 (壬午司馬榜會圖) dated 1634.
    52nd anniversary of  sitting exams in 1582.
    Source: Lee (2013).

Comparing artwork

Although there are fewer than fifteen sources, spanning three hundred years, there are some similarities between them. Even though there are numerous preserved items of clothing from the same period, that does not mean that we can correctly deduce how the garments should be worn. For example, the tomb of Bak Ik, Lady Jo Ban, and the buddhist painting show what may be a long sash draped down the front of the skirt. It is possible that this is the band of the skirt, doubling as a belt to tie it in place. This is of interest, as it appears that the majority of preserved skirts have lost their bands. An exception is the late 16th century Important Folklore Materials 116-5, although the sash does not appear to be as long as those worn by the ladies in the 1589 painting.

All of these images are also recognisable as what would be called hanbok or chima-jeogori, as a long skirt is paired with a wrap-front jacket. Some of the women from the court painting, and Lady Jo Ban wear a long coat over this, although the court ladies have shorter sleeves, and it appears to be either tied closed or left hanging open. It is possible that this is an early incarnation of the ceremonial wonsam coat, especially for the dancing court ladies, as their hems swing in opposite directions like there are splits in the side. Certainly, the newly developed dangui (Important Folklore Materials 57, before 1608) had side slits, so the technique would not have been unknown.

Later Fashions

For the sake of completeness, I've included some images of 18th, 19th and 20th century women, to better illustrate the shrinking of the jeogori jacket hemline, the tighter fit, and how the skirt becomes more bell-shaped.

18th Century

  • Artwork by Cho Yeong-Seok (조영석), 1681-1761.
    Women in painting. Women in painting.
    Source: Herstory: Women in Art
  • Artwork by Yun Deok-hui (윤덕희, 尹德熙), 1685-1776.
    Woman in painting/ Woman in painting.
    Sources: Chong, 2000; 257, Herstory: Women in Art
  • Artwork by Kim Hui-gyeom (김희겸, 金喜謙), 1748.
    Woman in painting. Woman in painting. Woman in painting.
    Sources: Herstory: Women in Art, Keum 1994; 54.
  • 'Beauty' by Kim Hong-do (김홍도, 金弘道) aka Danwon (단원, 檀園). 18th to early 19th century.
    A Beauty.
    Sources:Herstory: Women in Art and Wikipedia.
  • The jeogori has shortened, so that the waistband of the chima can be seen. The sleeves have also become narrower, although still appear to be straight-cut.
    At the end of the 18th century, and beginning of the 19th, the heoritti (허리띠) or breast-band became visible as the jeogori became shorter. There are photographs of these bands at the Good People Co. Ltd. Korean Underwear history website.
  • There was also a trend for tying a belt at your waist and blousing the skirt over, so that the bloomers underneath can be seen.

19th Century and Early 20th Century

  • Portrait of a Beauty, or Miindo by Shin Yun-bok (신윤복, 申潤福) aka Hyewon (혜원, 蕙園).
    Portrait of a Beauty
    Source: Wikipedia.
  • Album of Genre Scenes by Kim Jun-gun (김준근, 金俊根).
    Genre Scenes Genre Scenes
    Genre Scenes Genre Scenes
    Herstory: Women in Art Page 1 and 2.
  • Unknown Photographer, ca.1899-1900
    Early Photograph
    Source: OLD KOREA 한국 100 년 전에.
  • l'Extrême Orient en Image by Joseph de la Nezière, 1903.
    l'Extrême Orient en Image
    Source: Wikimedia
  • The length (or lack thereof) of the jeogori becomes extreme-- it is now cut so that it barely covers the armpits. The heoritti is worn to cover the bare skin, although an alternate fashion for the commoner and lowborn classes would dispense of the breast-band so that they could indicate they had given birth to a son. This also assisted with breastfeeding in public. (Han 2004; 140)
    The skirt is moved up from the natural waist to under the bust.

20th Century

  • Photograph by Peter Kauffner, 1999
    Modern, brightly dyed hanbok.
    Sources: Wikimedia and Flickr.
  • The length of the jeogori lowered slightly, and the heoritti vanishes from view again. The 'reformed' hanbok, simplified for ease of wearing, gains popularity, and the skirt gains a sleeveless bodice, so it is suspended from the shoulders and acts as a combined skirt and heoritti. For more information about the modern chima with straps, see these page from the Good People Co. Ltd. Korean Underwear History website.
  • Photograph by kimhi-kimchi, 2007.
    Modern dangui. Modern, shortened jeogori.
    Source: Wikimedia.
  • In the early 21st century, there seems to be a fashion for the skirtband to be widened and embroidered, covering the same area as the old heoritti, to be worn with a short jeogori. This may be influenced by the gisaeng-themed TV series and films that are being produced in South Korea.
  • The class distinctions of dress become less important, as the dangui is worn outside of the royal court, and colour symbolism is ignored in favour of being able to wear bright colours.

Although this was a very short overview of how womens' hanbok changed over the centuries, hopefully it will help dispel the myth that fashions from the early Joseon dynasty until today remained static! So a modern hanbok does not look like a medieval outfit, although they are comprised of the same basic components.

So, now that the general look we are aiming for is known, it may be best to refer to some extant garments.


All links checked as of June 20th, 2013.