women wearing Chinese Hanfu

Anthropology in Fashion: Cultural Clothing in East Asia

Welcome back to another week of the anthropology in fashion series, where we look at the various traditional dresses from a region in the world every week. This week we discover the cultural outfits of East Asia.

East Asia refers to the northern and eastern parts of Asia spreading from China to Japan, from the West to the East, bordered by Russia to the north and India and the Southeast Asian countries to the South. It includes the countries of China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan.

Like most places in the world, the type of traditional clothes available in East Asia depends on the following factors. Firstly, it depends on the climate. Secondly, it is influenced by people’s lifestyle, cultural and philosophical beliefs. Finally, it depends on external influences and the evolution of the aforementioned factors. Or to put it simply, it depends on the history of the region.

Since antiquity, China has been the most prominent power in the region. Its position as an important eastern power through trade with the West and the rest of Asia, helped them gain that reputation.

They gained this status especially after the discovery of manufacturing silk; an important commodity that was the reason behind the establishment of the Great Silk Road. A collection of routes that connected China to Europe. The route not only exchanged goods with other kingdoms but also culture, knowledge and technology.

historical picture of women in ancient china making silk
Women of the Ancient Chinese court making silk. Image Credit: Thoughtco

As an influential territory, the neighbouring East Asian nations were highly influenced by their culture, beliefs and goods. This has had an influence on fashion as well. This is why many similarities can be spotted between the clothes of Eastern Asia, with most drawing inspiration from Chinese clothes and, to an extent, Central Asian elements as well.

The traditional garments have a common structure consisting of a loosely fitted robe or a long shirt jacket with long and wide sleeves that are open at the front. The lapels of these robes cross over to close the front and a sash is tied over the flaps to fasten the flaps.

Now that we are slightly more familiar with the style of clothing, let us look at the dresses of some of the East Asian countries to see what differentiates them.


Historical evidence shows that clothes made of animal skins were used in the Paleolithic times, over 1.7 million years ago, but it was only 5000 years ago that clothes were woven into clothes from plant or animal fibres. It was also around that time when silkworms, sericulture and manufacturing silk were discovered. The art was developed and mastered over time and the earliest evidence of silk fabric was found from 2700 BC.

Once discovered, the wealthy and the royals preferred clothes made out of the material, while commoners wore clothes made of plant fibres such as linen and hemp. Hemp was a material that was abundant in the region due to the terrain and climate. Cotton was introduced to the country much later, in around 200 BC, when it was brought over from India.

Commoners wore long robes as the upper garment, under which men wore trousers or loincloth, while women wore skirts. Both men and women would have their hair tied up and covered with a headcover to complete the outfit. The style, designs, colours and cultural significance evolved with the change of a dynasty.

Below, we’ll look at an ancient form of traditional dress known as the Hanfu and a set of more modern traditional garments; the Qipao and the Tang suit.


Hanfu translated to the clothes of the Han people. The Han people are the major ethnic group in China. As of 2020, 92% of the total Chinese population was identified to be of Han ethnicity. That means that the culture in China is dominated by that of the Han people.

The clothing of the Han people has existed for over three millennia and it is said to be the oldest form of traditional dress in China. An early form of the dress is believed to have been invented 4000 years ago by Leizu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi.

The garment was modified and developed during the Shang dynasty (1766-1046 BC) eventually evolving into the style people are familiar with today. Han clothing was replaced by the clothing of the Manchu people during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD). Manchu clothing was ultimately replaced by Western and western-style clothes during the modernization of China in the 19th and 20th centuries.  It was in this era that the Cheongsam and the Mao suit were invented.

Recently, the Han youth are trying to revive the use of traditional Hanfu, as many of them believe that the westernized traditional clothes do not represent the Han identity. This attempt of revival is called the Hanfu Movement, where the youth don Hanfu clothes and promote them over social media.

woman wearing a blue and white hanfu
Traditional Chinese Hanfu. Image Credit: Pinterest

The Hanfu is made up of two parts, an upper and a lower garment. The upper garment is known as the yi, which is a long-sleeved shirt jacket open at the front, where the right lapel crosses over the left one when tied. The lower garment consists of an ankle-length skirt known as chang. The skirt is wrapped around the waist, tied once at one side of the hip, then the remaining cloth is wrapped again on the other side and tied again. Finally, a sash at the waist secures the whole outfit, tightening the chang and ensuring that the yi remains covered. As the garments would not need to be worn over the head, the hair would be tied up in a bun and covered with a headcover or headpiece.

Both men and women wear the Hanfu, where the difference lies in the colours and the designs on the clothes. Women’s Hanfu is brighter in colour and has beautiful patterns and designs, usually designs inspired by nature. Floral and zoomorphic designs are most common. The men’s Hanfu usually come in colours that do not capture one’s attention, usually black, blue, dark green or grey. They also contain simpler designs or very sparse designs. Another difference is that the upper garment of the men’s Hanfu also tends to be longer than those of the women’s.

man wearing a black hanfu with a light colour sash
A man wearing traditional Hanfu. Image Credit: Fashion Hanfu

This describes the basic structure of a Hanfu but, there may be several types based on the colours, designs and the purpose of wearing. The different types of Hanfu are categorized into court wear, formal, semi-formal and casual. The modifications may include a variation in the width of the sleeves, the length of the robe, the style of wearing and the addition of a waist skirt to mention a few.

Nowadays, the Hanfu is worn by very few, at religious and cultural events, but as mentioned before, it is trying to make a comeback in the 21st century thanks to its youth. They do this by cosplaying historical characters, wearing them in public for everyday errands or simply donning them to post a picture on social media. The comeback, however, has mixed responses as many find that it wouldn’t be practical for the fast-paced 21st-century lifestyle.

The Tang Suit

After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, led by Han rulers, the Qing Dynasty came into power. In that period, the cultural norms, including clothing, were replaced. During this time, an upper garment known as the Magua was worn by government officials. The Magua was a jacket with round collars and 3/4 length sleeves that would reach just below the waist. It would be open at the front and would be fastened with a line of buttons at the front.  This garb evolved into the Tang suit or the tangzhuang. During the modernization of China in the 19th and 20th centuries, elements from the western-style suit and the Magua were fused to create the Tang suit. 

a light colour tang suit jacket
Tangzhuang jacket. Image Credit: Pinterest

The jacket has a standing collar, it opens at the front with both lapels opening symmetrically, a series of knot-frog buttons fasten the jacket and finally, it is decorated with Tuanhua patterns. The patterns are traditionally circular motifs with geometric and symmetrical floral designs. The most common material used to make the suit is silk, while the patterns use satin.

Compared to its ancestor, the jacket is shorter in length and longer in the length of its sleeves. The upper jacket is worn with a pair of black trousers, like in a western suit. Today, it is the most popular traditional dress for men in China.

Qipao or Cheongsam

The most popular traditional dress for women is the qipao or the cheongsam. Both words are used interchangeably. Like the Tang suit, the qipao also combines elements of western clothing and Manchu fashion. Many believe that it combines characteristics of a loose robe with slit sides known as changpao worn by the Manchus for riding horses and the western straight skirt. Nevertheless, the dress was popularized in urban areas such as Shanghai in the 1920s as the symbol of the modern Chinese woman.

a woman wearing a traditional chinese qipao
A traditional qipao. The colour red is usually worn at weddings and auspicious occasions. Image Credit: Pinterest

The dress has a standing collar, has short sleeves and clings to the body to highlight the beauty and curves of the female body. The dress may be long or knee-length but both will have slits on each side of the leg. Worn on most formal and cultural occasions today, the common qipao is made of either silk, cotton or linen, though silk is the one that is most worn. They come in both sober and vibrant colours and often feature vivid patterns, floral designs and may be decorated with embroidery, beads and other decorations. The dress has become synonymous with the Chinese identity.

The costumes discussed above only cover a part of the Chinese traditional clothes. It covers the national dress of Qipao and the Tang suit, which are standard for all Chinese, regardless of ethnicity. And, we learned about the Hanfu, which is the dress of the ethnic majority, the Han people. China currently has 56 recognized ethnic groups, each with its own costume. Discussing each one would take a lifetime.


The traditional Japanese dress is the very famous Kimono. Kimono is actually an umbrella term that translates to something to wear. So, really, it refers to all types of Japanese garments designed since the Heian era (794-1185 AD) because that was when the ancestor of the present-day Kimono was created.

The Japanese culture we know today seems to have developed around 710AD during the Nara period, a  time when the country was trading with China. Being introduced to new knowledge, technology and products, the interest in their clothes also developed, ultimately inspiring the creation of the Kimono as we know of today. It was also around this period that clothes began to be seen as a reflection of one’s status and wealth. And, at the time, more clothes on a person’s body equalled higher social status.

With time and political changes, the costume evolved and the beliefs associated with it evolved, and today, it refers to a long cross-collared T-shaped robe with long square-shaped sleeves, open at the front, fastened with a fabric belt.

Today, the common western-style attire worn globally remains to be the clothes of every day, but, the Kimono is still worn on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies, certain professions, festivals and formal events. That is because, in the 19th century, Japan was compelled to trade with America, which influenced a gradual transformation in Japanese fashion clothing.

In the same century, Japan was putting its efforts into developing its economy and military forces to become an Eastern power. With these efforts, the country began adopting Western ideologies to catch up with the Western world. This motivated people to wear western-style clothes at a quicker rate as it was synonymous with efficiency, modernity and authority. After the Second World War, when the country was under US occupation, more and more people had to dress in western clothes, thus completely replacing the traditional Japanese garb.

Today, the Kimono that we’re familiar with, is the more formal type of Kimono. Like the Chinese Hanfu, the Japanese Kimono also has several styles that are categorized based on the occasion, material, the accessories worn with it and the way of wearing it. They are ranked according to their appropriateness on formal occasions.

There are 13 types of women’s Kimono and 5 or fewer types for men.


The most famous type of Kimono for women is the Yukata, which is a summer Kimono. The Yukata is also the least ranking Kimono for both men and women because it is worn only in casual situations and is the easiest to wear.

The reason why it is considered to be casual wear is that originally it was used as a bathrobe worn straight out of the springs. It only became everyday casual attire for the summer between the 17th and 19th centuries, in the Edo period.

The dress comes in three parts; the himo or ribbon, the yukata or the robe and the obi or belt. First, the ankle-length robe is worn directly over your underwear, then, the left lapel is crossed over the right lapel, forming a distinct crossed collar. Next, the himo is used to close opened front. If the garment is too big, the extra fabric is folded and tucked into the himo from the inside. The objective is to not let the robe extend over the ankles to the floor. Finally, the broad obi, made of thin material, is wrapped around the waist and folded into a ribbon at the back. The obi neatly hides the himo and secures everything in its place. The hair is tied into a top knot bun and decorated with a traditional Japanese hair accessory. And, to complete the outfit, geta sandals are worn barefoot.

woman wearing a bright red yukata with floral designs
The Summer Yukata. Image Credit: OPAC

As it is a summer garb, the kimono is made of light material such as linen, cotton or polyester. That is also why it is the most inexpensive type of Kimono.

The outfit is overall comfortable. However, it is difficult to walk with long strides in the dress. Women are therefore expected to take small and slow steps with the feet facing inwards. This applies to all Kimonos.

Women’s yukata are more colourful with vibrant floral designs, whereas men’s yukata comes in more sober colours, such as white, navy blue or grey. The outfit is especially worn during the Japanese summer festival and for the Habani fireworks.

Formal Kimono

Kimono dressing is an art and even a serious profession, so much so that Kimono dressing is a valuable skill in Japanese society. One can gain a national qualification from the Japanese government by attending an intense training course and by gaining 5 years’ worth of work experience. No qualification, however, is required to wear a Yukata.

Things that differentiate an informal Kimono from a formal one:

  • Formal Kimonos are made of silk, linen, wool or polyester. The more formal the Kimono, the thicker it is.
  • The Japanese wear formal Kimono only on extremely special occasions such as weddings, coming of age ceremonies and tea ceremonies.
  • To wear the more formal types of Kimono, first, a juban or a white undergarment is worn.
  • In a formal Kimono, the belt is thicker and more complex to tie. It must follow strict rules to tie the obi. The breadth of an obi may vary.
  • With formal Kimono, both men and women must only wear socks called tabi and shoes known as zori are worn. Zori is traditional sandals that resemble flip flops. Only the soles of the shoes are rectangular in shape. These are the sandals that inspired the creation of the common flip flop. They’re traditionally made of straw or wood. Tabi socks are white and are different from regular socks because they have a separation for the big toe.
  • All parts of the formal Kimono have specific rules for folding them, making the garment difficult to wear.
  • Formal kimonos have more parts than the average three-part informal Kimono.

Some examples of formal kimonos are:

1. Bridal Kimono Shiro-muku: This is the top-ranked Kimono, meaning that it is the most formal type of women’s kimono. It is a Shinto wedding kimono completely white in colour with five parts to the dress. Here, where white symbolizes the rays of the sun, innocence, virginity, etc. It is overall a sacred colour.

woman wearing the white bridal kimono
The bridal shiro-muku kimono. Image Credit: Hanami

2. Mofuku is a black kimono made of silk that is worn for mourning at a funeral.

full black mourning kimono, mofuku
Mofuku Kimono. Image Credit: Pinterest

3. Kuro Montsuki Haori Hakama: This is the most formal type of men’s kimono. Men’s Kimonos tend to be simpler than women’s. Their Kimonos are less colourful and have fewer decorations. This Kimono, in particular, is made of a special kind of silk fabric called habutai. It consists of a black robe, an obi, a hakama, which are skirt-like trousers made of grey-striped patterned silk and, a haori, which is a thin over-robe worn over the elements. There are five kamon or family crests on the clothes.

man wearing the most formal kimono for men
Kuro Montsuki Haori Hakama Kimono. The circles on the Haori are the family crests. Image Credit: Kyoto Wakon


The deel (pronounced del) is the national dress of Mongolia. Like clothing everywhere in the world, the traditional costume of Mongolia depends on the climate and surroundings. In addition, they are a reflection of centuries of history, changes in political changes, culture and economy over time.

The traditional costume of Mongolia is designed in such a way that it is well suited to the country’s climate and the lifestyle of the local people.

The deel protects its wearer from the cold and windy winters, dry springs and hot summers. Traditionally, the Mongolian people were nomadic tribes who would spend their time herding livestock and riding horses. Therefore, the deel also acts as the ideal garb to support this sort of lifestyle.

The costume consists of a knee-length padded robe, a sash and a hat. Out of all the components, the robe and the hat are the most important parts of the dress because of their purposes and the meanings that their designs hold. The colour, quality of fabric and designs determine a person’s social status, age and marital status.

The costume borrows elements from the nomadic culture of Central Asian states, such as thick furry headwear and elements such as robes with cross collars from other East Asian cultures.

The costume is traditionally made by hand using very basic tools such as a sewing machine and scissors. The size of a person’s body is used as a measurement and to measure, the seamstress would measure the required length using the distance between her thumb and middle finger. The traditional tailors today, have inherited the tools required to make the deel from ancient court tailors and leaders. And, they can only be made on days that are auspicious according to the lunar calendar.

There are several types of deel among the various tribes of Mongolia but the structure remains the same for all. The designs, colours and headgear would distinguish one clan from another. The Khalkha tribe’s deel is discussed below, as the tribe makes up 90% of the ethnic Mongolian population.

The deel was intended to be worn as an everyday dress and people have done so since its inception. The style of deel known to the Mongolians today is said to have evolved from the clothes of the nomads called Huns, living in the region nearly 1000 years ago. By the 13th century, the costume resembled the deel found today.

image of the mongol emperor kublai khan wearing a white deel
Kublai Khan (1215-1294), the first Yuan emperor, wearing a simple deel. Image Credit: Ghost of Tsushima

When Mongolia was under the rule of the Chinese Qing dynasty in the 17th century, Chinese influences made their way into the Mongolian culture. For example, the neckline and the concept of crossing the flaps evolved from traditional Manchu clothing.

During this time, the elite would have their clothes made of imported materials such as silk, decorated with gold, silver, precious stones etc. While ordinary people would wear clothes made of local resources such as the fur of local animals.


The type of deel worn depends on the weather and the occasion. For example, deels padded with sheepskin and fur would be most suited for colder temperatures. While in the summers, a thinner deel made of lighter fabric such as cotton would be preferred. The summer deel is called terleg.

The deel is a long-sleeved ankle-length robe that protects the parts of the body that are particularly vulnerable to the Mongolian winter. Such as the hands, knees, legs and feet. The robe has a right and a left flap, the left flap is crossed over the right and fastened at the right side with five to six clasps. Under the deel, people wear a shirt and a pair of loose fitted trousers.

man and woman wearing blue deel with red borders and brown leather sash
A man and a woman wearing the deel. Image Credit: Mongolian Culture

The garb is decorated throughout its neckline, borders and the cuffs of the sleeves with various designs and colours that communicate the person’s identity, social status and mood. The designs are what make deel so important. They’re decorated with embroidered patterns using silk or metallic threads.

Due to its high importance in Mongolian culture, there is a small ritual that is done the first time a child wears a dress. The family gathers together and the adults bless the child by reciting rhythmic words that bless them and hope that they grow to be worthy of wearing the deel.

The more ceremonial deels are made of expensive fabrics like silk and satin dyed in beautiful bright colours. The ones for everyday use are sober in colour.

The main function of the dress is to cover the body in a way that is convenient for the lifestyle of the local people. However, what makes the deel more fascinating is that it has purposes other than that of being an article of clothing. It can also be used as a blanket, a pillow, a sleeping bag and even a tent. These alternative purposes make it easier for the nomads to accommodate themselves anywhere while travelling from place to place.

Sometimes, people wear a vest or a waistcoat over the deel. The vest that men wear is known as khantaaz, while the one women wear is called a uuj.

man wearing the full mongolian traditional costume, the deel, vest, hat and sash
A man wearing the full traditional costume. Image Credit: China Daily


The deel is secured with a sash at the waist with a piece of cotton, silk or leather. The average sash is around 3-4 metres. The fabric used for the sash may be of a solid colour or patterned. The leather belts usually have silver ornaments and precious stones to decorate them.

The sash has several purposes, just like the deel. Firstly, it is to secure the pieces of clothing underneath in place.

Secondly, it is used to carry various items required for a journey. The sash creates pockets that provide space to carry a Mongolian knife, a set of chopsticks, a piece of steel in case they need to start a fire and, a small pouch to hold a cup. Nomads, while travelling, would sometimes need to stay over at other people’s ger or yurts so they’d carry a knife for protection and, in case they needed to cut something; chopsticks for cutlery and a cup to hold liquids to hydrate themselves.

Lastly, a tight sash at the waist would protect the organs from the rough movement the body experiences while riding horses.

Men tie their sashes fairly wide and always wear one with the deel.

Women’s sashes are shorter than men’s and after marriage they no longer wear them. They replace the belt with a waistcoat.


The headdress represents leadership as it is the article of clothing that sits on top of the head. Leadership is also one of the important values respected in Mongolian culture. This also explains why the headdress is a significant part of traditional attire. The hat is also given a lot of respect, as it is considered rude to step on the hat or to leave it lying here and there.

As per tradition, the hat is mandatory, especially in public, as it communicates where the person is from and what tribe they belong to. As such, there are numerous types of headdresses in Mongolia.

One of the more common headdresses is the buriad hat. Both men and women wear this hat with the deel as it is a symbol of Mongolia. The hat consists of a circular frame made of black velvet and a centre with a conical protrusion. The conical object represents straightforwardness and enthusiasm, prosperity. The cone is made of 32 embroidered columns, hence a symbol of the 32 tribes of Mongolia. At the top, there is a tassel that falls down to the cone that symbolizes the rays of the sun that provide warmth and light to the tribes. The black frame represents the barrier that protects Mongolia from its enemies.

For men, the black frame is sometimes replaced with a thick lining of fur. The men also wear another type of headdress known as the loovus. It is a pointed skullcap made of felt that is worn on festive occasions.

Women’s headdresses are more complex and far more ornamented compared to men’s. It is unique in many ways and may even seem bizarre or unusual to foreigners.

First, the woman wears a base cap adorned with precious stones and metals such as coral, turquoise and silver. From the sides, strings of pearl bunched up suspend down to the face. From there, the hair is divided into two, and with the help of metallic ribbons and silver pins, the hair is sculpted into the shape of the horns of a cow on each side. Cows are important livestock among the nomads, symbolizing freedom. Unlike the horns of a cow, the horns are made of hair face down and the remaining locks fall to the shoulder. Those locks are then braided and then covered with decorative plates. On top of the initial cap, a hat resembling a buriad is placed. Only in this buriad, the outer black frame has a slit at the back, from where two red ribbons hang down to the back.

The frame here represents the enemies of Mongolia, and the slit means that these enemies will be destroyed from the back. The red ribbons symbolize fire.

woman wearing the traditional mongolian headdress
Elaborate Mongolian Headdress for Women. Image Credit: Local Style

Traditionally, the wealthier married women of the Khalkha tribe would wear their hair like this. The amount and type of jewels on a woman’s headdress would show how wealthy her family was. Today, the hair is only made in this manner during festivals. Women of other tribes have other headdresses, but this is the one that truly stands out.

Wearing the Deel Today 

The deel can be worn for any and all occasions. However, only those living in the more remote areas do so. People in urban areas wear western clothes, and traditional ones only on special occasions.

They wear it on national holidays, festivals and ceremonies such as Independence Day, Lunar New Year, weddings, etc. The costume is also worn at the Deeltei Mongol Festival. This is a festival celebrated every year since 2006 on the 10th of July. It is organized by the Ulaanbaatar Governor’s Office to promote the national traditional dress and give people the opportunity to embrace it and wear the costume with pride.

woman in traditional attire demonstrating how the deel is made
A woman demonstrating how the deel is made in a ger at the Deeltei Mongol Festival. Image Credit: Ayan Travels

In this festival, people cosplay as kings and queens, there are parades featuring people wearing the deel, cultural performances, a deel fashion show and contests of the three manly games in Mongolia (archery, horse riding and wresting). There are also stalls set up in the form of gers (Mongolian yurts), where artists demonstrate the art of making the deel and other cultural arts such as calligraphy.

It has become a popular summer festival, one that attracts over 10,000 participants and tourists from all over the world.

South Korea

The Hanbok is the national dress of both South and North Korea. The discussion, however, will be inclined more to the South Korean context.

The term Hanbok was coined at the end of the 19th century when western clothes first reached Korea. It was used to differentiate traditional clothes from the newly introduced western ones. Hanbok translates to Korean clothing. The Hanbok was everyday clothing of the Koreans until the 1970s, when western clothes completely replaced daily wear. The dress is a representation of Korean history, culture, spirit and values.

The Hanbok consists of an upper and a lower part. The upper garment is a cross collared jacket with long sleeves under which, a pair of trousers or skirt is worn. The outfit is roomy, making it well suited to the Korean climate; it is elegant and is shaped almost like a bell as the upper garment is tightly fitted while the lower garment is looser and fuller in shape.

woman wearing a white and pink hanbok, man wearing a grey and white hanbok
A man and a woman in traditional Korean attire, Hanbok. Image Credit: Expat Guide Korea

Over the course of time, the dress has evolved to become the version of the Hanbok we know of today. The earlier versions of the Hanbok were slightly different in the length of the jacket, the type of lower garment, colour and significance.

The Hanbok is believed to have been created in the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea between 57 BC and 668 AD, inspired by the garments of the indigenous nomads around West and East Asia. That would explain the cross collars, long and wide sleeves and the use of trousers. The outfit only retained the elements that would best suit the Korean lifestyle. At the time, both men and women would wear trousers as their lower garments.

Women’s clothing, however, was influenced by the fashion of the neighbouring Tang Dynasty (618-907) and by the end of the three kingdoms era, women started wearing long skirts and shorter jackets. While the men started wearing baggier pants and jackets that extended to the waist.

At the time, only some fabrics, like silk and satin, were reserved for the elite, government officials and the royals. The commoners wore Hanbok made from hemp. Cotton also became a popular material among the commoners, after it was introduced to the country in the 14th century by a scholar named Mun Ik Jeom, who had brought over cotton seeds from China.

Today, as the dress is only ever worn on special occasions, they are mostly made of silk and satin.

Chima and Baji: The Lower Garments

The Chima is a big skirt that women wear as their lower garment. It is fitted at the waist and wider at the bottom, giving it the shape of a bell. It reaches beyond the ankles, making it seem like the wearer is floating. It is designed to make a woman look graceful, gentle and beautiful.

a bright red chima on a mannequin
A bright red chima. Image Credit: Seoul Searching

The Chima is the first garment to be worn. However, even before that, women wear a white underdress that reaches the calves and that is buttoned at the chest. Then, they slip on the Chima, which is in fact a sleeveless dress that gives the illusion that it starts from the bust down. The sleeveless dress is tied at the bust with ties attached to the garb.

The Chima is then covered with a jeogori or jacket.

Baji is loose fitted trousers that are worn by men, as their lower garment. The trousers are tied at the waist with ties attached to the cloth. The trousers are tightened at the ankle, by tying the ties at the ankles. This gives the trousers a baggy and balloon-like structure.

a pair of purple colour baji made of silk
A pair of baji. Image Credit: UBC Museum of Anthropology

Only a special type of traditional shoes, known as gomusin, can be worn with the Hanbok. However, before wearing the shoes, they must wear specially designed traditional white socks known as beoseon. Both men and women wear the socks and shoes. Men, however, must tie their ankles after wearing the socks.

a pair of black traditional shoes and traditional white socks
A pair of women’s gomusin and traditional socks beoseon. Image Credit: Pinterest

Jeogori: The Upper Garment

The jeogori is the shirt-like jacket that forms the upper part of the Hanbok. Both men and women wear this article of clothing. Only the women’s jacket is short, extending to the diaphragm, while the men’s extends to the waist. Men also wear a vest or joggi, an outer jacket known as magoja, and a long outer jacket known as the durumagi over the Hanbok.

The jacket has two flaps, a left and a right. The left flap is crossed over the right flap and fastened with a metallic snap button. On the right flap, there are two ribbons that hang at the front. One of the ribbons is longer than the other, and both are used to tie a half-bow. The part of the bow faces the left while the remaining ribbon hangs on the right side.

The collar is slightly thicker and usually has elaborate embroidery. A detachable collar made of paper is worn over the embroidered collar.

The sleeves of the jeogori are long and fairly wide. The inner sleeve has a round curve that gives the dress a certain softness. The cuffs of the jeogori are usually of a contrasting colour, matching the colour of the lower garment. Sometimes they’re decorated with embroidery or left plain.

Some of the women’s jeogori have two ribbons at the back to tie into a ribbon.

The jeogori is the last item of clothing to be worn.

a bright coloured womans jeogori
A woman’s Jeogori is shorter in length. Image Credit: KKDay


Unmarried women tie a top knot bun and place a colourful ribbon decorated with designs, on their hair which communicates their marital status.

Men wear a black hat called gat, which is made of horsehair. Its objective is to protect the top knot bun. Under the gat, they wear a manggeon, a fabric headcover that is fastened with small traditional buttons to keep hair from falling on the face.

man in traditional korean hanboek wearing a gat on his head
Man wearing the traditional black hat called gat. Image Credit: Pinterest

Uses Today 

Today, the Hanbok is loved by Koreans but it is regarded as too outdated and impractical for daily wear due to the time it takes to wear and because it brings a certain discomfort. Most only wear it on special occasions such as solstice celebrations, New Years, weddings, funerals, religious events and national events.

There are many different types of Hanbok, worn according to the appropriate occasion. For example, a child on their 1st birthday will be made to wear a Dol Hanbok. For weddings, the bride and the groom wear the Hollyebok and Hwarot.

child wearing the dol hanbok
A child wearing the dol Hanbok. Notice that the sleeves of children’s Hanboks are very colourful. Image Credit: Pinterest

Many are showing their love for the dress by travelling around South Korea wearing the dress, taking pictures and posting them on social media. For these occasions, people find shops that rent out Hanboks for the day. These shops even help them wear the dress, tie their hair and do their makeup in the traditional way so it matches the outfit.

To encourage people to embrace the Korean culture, many sites even offer free entry to those wearing a Hanbok.


This post discussed just some of the many traditional clothes in the East Asian region. We learnt that the Chinese Hanfu clothing is an ancient Chinese dress that has survived 4000 years of history and remains to be an important cultural heritage of the dominant ethnic group of China. We also discovered how historical Chinese clothing shaped the present national dress, the qipao and the Tang suit. Next, we moved on to explore the clothing items of Japan and saw that the Kimono was in fact inspired by the Chinese clothing in the Nara period, perhaps referring to the Hanfu. We then learned about the Mongolian Deel and the South Korean Hanbok.

Do you see any similarities between these dresses?

Link to last week’s post in this series:  Anthropology: Cultural Clothing and Fashion in Central Asia

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below and click here for more articles like this.


Lee, K.-Y. & Lee, H., 2019. Traditional costume experience at a cultural heritage festival. Tourism Management Perspectives, 32(1), pp. 1-13.

Sun, G., D’Alessandro, S. & Johnson, L., 2014. Traditional culture, ideology in China, luxuries. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 38(1), pp. 578-585.

Wang, X., Colbert, F. & Legoux, R., 2020. From Niche Interest to Fashion Trend: Hanfu Clothing as a Rising Industry in China. Company Profile, 23(1), pp. 79-89.

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