Modernity meets over 1,600 years of tradition in hanbok rentals
Story and Photos by: Heather Allman
The hanbok (한복), the most well-known form of traditional Korean clothing, is one of the most idolized and well-preserved elements of Korean culture. Known for its elegance, definitive lines, full curves, and dynamic color schemes, the culturally rich and aesthetically pleasing elements of the hanbok reflect the true beauty and structure of Korean tradition. With a history over 1,600 years old, the hanbok has undergone numerous changes in style over time. Ancient mural paintings dating back to the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BC-668 AD) provide the earliest evidence of this style of clothing, but it is the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) that is responsible for influencing the shape and style of the hanbok we are familiar with today.
A little over 100 years ago, Koreans citizens wore the hanbok on a daily basis. Today, it is reserved for special events, holidays, and celebrations, though it continues to influence modern fashion from high end to street wear, and the popularity of hanbok rental shops continues to grow. The vibrant colors, illustrious fabrics, and intricate designs of the hanbok leave both Korean nationals and visitors from around the globe desiring a chance to try one on.
The vibrant colors, illustrious fabrics, and intricate designs of the hanbok leave both Korean nationals and visitors from around the globe desiring a chance to try one on.
Throughout Korea, commonly situated near or around palaces and traditional Hanok Villages, hanbok rental stores provide visitors and residents with the unique opportunity to wear Korean culture. Hanbok rental shops do not simply want patrons to try the clothes on. They take pride in allowing their customers to embody their appreciation for tradition, while experiencing everyday life. There is no limit to what one can do while wearing a hanbok. Whether looking for a way to create memorable photos, dressing up for a trip to a street vendor, or making a bibimbap lunch feel even more authentic, donning a hanbok allows customers to simultaneously honor a timeworn tradition and modern Korean culture.
If you’re interested in partaking in this age-old Korean tradition, here’s how to get dressed up. The best places for renting hanboks lie within Seoul and further south in Jeonju in the North Jeolla Province. If you’re in Seoul, Insadong, Samcheondong and Bukchon Hanok Village are the perfect settings to wear a hanbok. There are an estimated 70 rental shops in these areas alone. In Jeonju, rental shops are strewn throughout the city’s Hanok Village, lining the streets of the main entrance and scattered throughout. In both cities, some rental stores display hanboks in their windows and others on mannequins in the street, making identifying them fairly effortless.
While renting a hanbok is easy, choosing one is a very difficult task. The rental shops seem to offer every design and color imaginable. The top of both the traditional men and women’s style hanbok is called a jeogori, while the woman’s skirt is called a chima and the man’s pants are called baji. When selecting a hanbok to wear, you may mix and match the pieces. If you so choose, men can sport a chima and women are more than welcome to sport baji, however, this may result in a few laughs from people on the street.
Donning a hanbok allows patrons to simultaneously honor a timeworn tradition and experience modern Korean culture.
From dark colored militaristic school uniforms to a strikingly royal hanbok, it is important to choose an outfit which expresses your personality. Don’t be afraid to pick something bold; the clothing is a reflection of Korean tradition, not your own style. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, do not despair! Those working in the hanbok rental shops are always willing to assist a customer in choosing which hanbok best suits them. They’ll also ensure that you don the outfit in the correct order. For those wearing a chima, the process is not complete until the otkorum (bow) on the jeogori is tied, and the skirt is pinned properly.
Once you’ve chosen your hanbok, it’s time to accessorize. Hanbok rental stores carry handbags, shoes, hats and hair accessories to complete the ensemble. After choosing a hair accessory, the employees will appropriately style your hair to respect tradition. The cost of the rental is specific to each hanbok shop and varies with the amount of time desired. Hourly rates tend to cost about KRW 10,000-15,000 per hour, while some shops offer daily rentals for KRW 25,000 and up. Hanboks of different styles may carry different prices, and accessories cost anywhere from KRW 2,000-10,000 extra.
So what should you do once you’re dressed? First, make sure to take a lot of pictures. There’s something undeniably special about a mix of modernity and tradition, and Hanok buildings provide the perfect backdrop for photos that will last a lifetime. Aside from taking photos, make sure to eat food, shop, wander the city, and enjoy the rich culture that lies around you. As an additional perk, Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Changdeokgung and Deoksugung Palaces in Seoul grant free admission to any visitors wearing a hanbok.
Why rent a hanbok? Wearing a hanbok is an expression of appreciation for a preserved part of Korean culture which has survived both turmoil and victory. Jordan Ostas of New Orleans rented a hanbok while visiting Jeonju’s Hanok Village. When asked why she chose to rent a hanbok and whether she would recommend it, Ostas said that, “Renting a hanbok sounded like another cool way to connect to Korean culture on my first visit. I would absolutely recommend this! It’s a fun, exciting way to enjoy new sights, sounds, and flavors. The combination of wearing a hanbok and the visual stimulation of the Hanok Village was a very special experience.”
Hanboks are available for anyone to rent, yet it is much less common to see foreigners wearing them, so if you’re not a native Korean, be ready for a little extra attention. When asked how Koreans reacted seeing Ostas in a hanbok, she said, “It brought them great joy, it seemed! I was greeted with many smiles, and one couple even asked to take a photo with me.” Lee Eun Jung, a native of Jeonju, said that, “It is really great to see foreigners in hanbok, and it makes me feel really happy. I think it’s part of sharing our culture with other countries. Visitors can feel how our ancestors lived, and while they wear them, it reflects a kind of beauty we sometimes can’t feel in ourselves.”
Hanbok Rental Shop 3355. Located near Gyeongbokgung in Seoul, specializing in daily rentals ranging from KRW 30,000-50,000.
Address: 45 Sagan-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea. Phone: +82-2-720-1255.
Yu Hyun Hwa Hanbok. Located in Samcheondong near Bukchon Hanok Village, offering hourly rentals beginning at KRW 10,000 per hour.
Address: 5 Samcheong-ro 9-gil, Jungno-gu, Seoul. Phone: +82-02-547-4440.
Hanbok Rental. Located in Jeonju’s Hanok Village, offering hourly rentals beginning at KRW 10,000 per hour.
Address: 39 Eunhaeng-ro, Wansan-gu, Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea. Phone: +82-063-282-1330.