Joseon’s Court Attire: Kdrama Style (Part 1)

I think as a sageuk lover, I’m really being way too pampered by kdrama gods these recent years. So many good sageuk and so many pretty served in front of me. Who wouldn’t love that? Actually, I’ve been meaning to do this post since Tree with Deep Roots days, but I couldn’t find decent sources. Then The Moon that Embraces the Sun came…and it’s centered about life in court. Upon seeing Lee Gak, the Rooftop Prince with his robe, I know I have to do this one. So…here it is!

As The King is the top man in the hierarchy, let’s take a look at His Majesty’s collection of robes.

The most common one, seen in dramas is the red colored robe with large, round embroidered emblems of dragon sewn on it. It is called gonryongpo (곤룡포), an everyday cloth for the king and the crown prince. So that explains why the king is always wearing the red robe all the time he appears in front of people.

Gonryongpo is worn by the reigning king, the crown prince, and the first son of the crown prince (future crown prince). The difference lies in the color and the dragon emblems. Red/scarlet gonryongpo is reserved for the king, while the blue is for both the crown prince and his first son. For the emblem, the king wears a five-toed dragon emblems known as ohjoryongbo (오조룡보), while the crown prince wears sajoryongbo (사조룡보), a four-toed dragon emblems. For the first son of the crown prince, he wears samjoryongbo (삼조룡보), the three-toed dragon emblems.

I never squinted really close enough to see whether they being precise with the emblems in the dramas or not, but most of the time it’s a five-toed dragon emblems since there are more kings depicted in the dramas than crown princes.

Lee Hwon as a Crown Prince, wearing a blue gonryongpo and sajoeryongbo on the front, back, and shoulders. The dragon’s toes are visible on his left shoulder: four for him as a crown prince.

As a king, Lee Hwon is now donning a red gonryongpo with ojoeryongbo. The dragon now has five toes, visible on his left shoulder.

Along with the gonryongpo, a crown known as ikseonggwan (익성관) is worn. It is mainly depicted as being black in color is dramas but there were many variations and colors back in Joseon Dynasty. The waist belt with jade, gakdae, is another crucial accessory for the robe.

For any special ceremonies and rites such as coronation and wedding, the king wears a special robe, myeonbok (면복). There are actually two kinds of myeonbok: gujangbok (구장복) or ‘nine symbol dress’ for the king and sibijangbok (십이장복) or ‘twelve symbol dress’ for the emperor.

It is called gujangbok because of the nine kinds of symbols embroidered on the robe. For the upper part of the robe, dragons on the shoulders, mountains on the back, fire, pheasants, and tiger-designed wine barrels on the sleeve hems; called ojang, meant for yang. For the skirt, millet, rice grains, axes, and fire; called sajang, meant for ying.

From the far left, clockwise direction: dragons on Hwon’s shoulders; five peaks on the back; fire, dragon, and peaks on the skirt (probably for crown prince); fire on the hem of the sleeve.

The robe is reddish black in color for the outer side and purple for the inner side. It is shorter in length compared to normal robe so that  it won’t hide the embroidered patterns on the skirt. The inner garment (most of the time not visible), known as jungdan, is white in color and lined with blue fabrics on the hems. Daedae is the red and white waistband used to tie the skirt. The waist belt, hyeokdae is lined with jade. There are a pair of jade plates called pae, hung from hyeokdae. The skirt is rosy pink (or nearly red) in color. A knee pad, pyeseul, was once tied to the waist behind the skirt, but nowadays it’s usually sewn to the skirt. It is rectangular in shape, made with red silk with black fabrics lining the hem.

The things visible in this scene: the robe, the square hyeokdae, and the upper part of the skirt.

Husu is the tasseled rear part of the skirt.

 

Hwon is wearing the husu at the back, but husu worn by Minister Yoon is more visible in the right picture.

Mal, a pair of ceremonial red socks are worn together with red shoes called seok. And for the mortarboard-like headgear, it is a crown called myeonrugwan. A number of strings with beads are hanging from the front and the back of it. The number varies for each of its wearer as to show his status: twelve for emperor, nine for king, and eight for crown prince.

The king also has the military clothing used when he’s going for an outing or a military missions, i.e. paying respects to the Dynasties in China.

Moving on with the robes for Her Highness The Queen and also The Princess.

The top women of the country are just like the ordinary women: they are given chance to wear different colors for their court attires but there are some restrictions and color coordination reserved for each of their own ranks. Nevertheless, the queens and the princesses are luckier than the kings and the crown princes as they get to don colorful clothes, rather than sticking to single color only.

The most common and everyday attire worn by the female members of the royal family is dangui (당의). It is actually part of the ceremonial dress or jacket, but the queens and princesses adapted it for daily wear. It is characterized by a shaped front and back lower parts, like part of a circle with pointed ends.The striking difference between the dangui for the royalties and the other court attendees such as court ladies and noblewomen is that those of royal family members have geumbak, or golden leaf patterns on them. Plus, for the empress and the queen, they have the dragon emblems sewn on the shoulders, the front, and the back of the dangui. It is the same as what the king wears, ohjoeryongbo. Dangui is worn with a seuran chima, a type of skirt with geumbak on it.

Yeon-Woo wearing a pink dangui and a scarlet seuran chima.

 

Princess Min Hwa’s dangui is less elaborate, probably because she’s still a girl, but for a more matured princess like Princess Kyung Hye, her dangui (which is worn by Se Ryung here) has more geumbak on it. Notice how they replace the dragon emblem with circular flower patterns for the princesses.

For the important ornaments, it depends on the hairstyles used by the respective people.

Queens usually sport the halo-like hairstyle as what Queen Soheon has above. It is known as eoyeo meori (어여머리), also called as ‘the royal hairstyle’ because only women of the court can use this one. Tteoljam (떨잠), the two round-shaped ornaments with fluttering metal flowers and butterflies are used for this kind of hairstyle alongside other large and small hairpins.

The next one: the most common style used by queens and the married princesses is jjeokjin meori (쪽진 머리), in which the hair is brought to the back and tied into a bun. A long hairpin is used to fasten the bun and also decorate the hair while showing the rank of the wearer. The generic term is binyeo (비녀), but the specific name differs according to the shape.

The dragon-shaped hairpin, yongjam, is reserved for queen. The red pearl in the dragon’s mouth gives the meaning that each of one’s wish will come true.

 

Queen Dowager Yoon’s changing yongjam.

The phoenix-shaped hairpin, bongjam, is used by the concubines and the princesses.

Different shapes of bongjam for each of them; from the top left, clockwise direction: Lady Park, Queen Yoon, Yeon-Woo, and Princess Min Hwa.

The young princesses will use the normal hairstyle, in which the hair is tied at the back in single braid. It is known as daenggi meori (댕기 머리). As the name suggests, this hairstyle has daenggi, a ribbon tied on the braid. Another ornament called baetssi daenggi is also worn on top of the head. Additional small but elaborate hairpins called cheopji are put on both sides of the hair.

During special ceremonies, there are several options for the queens and princesses to choose for their ceremonial robes.

Wonsam is the ceremonial robe that can be worn by the empress, the queen,and the princess. However, there are specific colors and patterns for the respective ranks: yellow color with dragon  pattern (hwangwonsam) for the empress, red color with phoenix pattern (hongwonsam) for the queen, purplish red color with phoenix for the concubine, and green color with flower pattern (nokwonsam) for the princess. A crimson waistband, daedae, is worn with wonsam like this.

Hwarot is the lavish crimson robe with embroidered patterns on it. It is usually worn by princesses when they are going to get married. Underneath the robe, a yellow samhuijan jeogori (jacket) with crimson/blue daran chima (skirt with gold patterns) are worn by the princess.

 

Princess Kyung Hye with samhuijan jeogori and Se Ryung with daran chima on.

Se Ryung with a yongjam through her sushik

Various patterns like peonies and lotuses along with waives, rocks, phoenixes and butterflies which symbolize long life and good luck are embroidered on the hwarot. Letters symbolizing good luck and marriage lives are also embroidered,for instance ‘二姓之合’ (two last name are united) and  ‘萬福之源’ (the foundation of every luck). For the headgear and ornaments on the  hair, a longer yongjam is put through the sushik (a hairstyle for the wedding itself) in order for the ap daenggi, a pair of ribbons to be hung from it to the front. A coronet known as hwagwan is worn on the head and doturak daenggi, a big ribbon is hung from it to the back.

From the day of Princess Kyung Hye’s wedding; from the top left, clockwise direction: the various patterns on the  hwarot and daenggi, the embroidered letters in the front, the doturak daenggi, the hwagwan and the ap daenggi hanging from the long yongjam.

Jeokui is a blue ceremonial robe with red fabrics lined the collar until the lower hem and also the hem of the sleeves. Patterns of clouds and phoenixes are embroidered on the red linings while clouds and dragons on the blue parts. Most of the time, the princess or the queen will be holding a slab of white or greenish blue jade (depending on what their spouses are using) known as paeok or gyu just like this one. (picture credit: Princess Hours’ Soompi Forum)

Chijeokui is a variety of jeokui. It’s a red ceremonial robe with circles down the hem of both sleeves and at the lower part of the back flap.

 

Yeon-Woo is wearing  jeokui and holding the paeok.

There are two types of hairstyles used for jeokui. The first one is keun meori (큰머리). It is almost the same as eoyeo meori, but has an additional headgear called tteoguji. The second one is wearing daesu, a very large and heavy headgear or crown.  Daesu is the headgear reserved for the queen or crown princess.

Yeon-Woo wearing chijeokui with keun meori.

Bo-Kyung wearing chijeokui with daesu.

The ordinary princes have different robe compared to a crown prince. Their court robe is almost the same as what the government officers wear; the difference lies on the colors and the patterns on the rank badge, or hyungbae.

The round-collared robe is called dalryeongpo. For the princes like Prince Gwangpyung, the color for the robe is purple.

In the picture above, it is shown that only Grand Prince Suyang and Grand Prince Anpyung who wears the purple dalryeongpo while Prince Yangmyung wears a dark red dalryeongpo. The purple robe is probably for the princes whose mother is the queen and the dark red is for the princes whose mother is the concubine. For the prince consorts, there isn’t any rigid color set for them (as what I’ve found until now) . Royal Consort Jong wears a blue robe, while Heo Yeom is wearing a purplish red robe.

The daily wear for the officials are also known as dalryeongpo.

The colors are based on the ranks of the officials: red for 1st senior to 3rd senior rank, blue for 3rd junior to 6th junior rank,and green for 7th junior to 9th junior rank. During the early Joseon Dynasty, the robe color was the only reflection to one’s rank inside the government, but soon they begun to adapt the mandarin square from the dynasties in China. The rank badge, or hyungbae is made up of embroidered cloud patterns and animals: cranes for the civil officers and hopyo, a tiger-leopard mythical animal for military officers. Hyungbae with two animals are for 1st to 3rd rank and those with single animal are for the 4th to 9th rank.

 

One look and you could tell who is more powerful than the others: Minister Yoon donning a red robe with two cranes on his rank badge while the three Physiognomy Ministers are all in blue robes with single crane on their rank badges. All of them are civil officers.

For the special ceremonies like announcement of royal decrees by the king, the officials will dress in a special red robe called jobok. A yanggwan, which is a crown with two tassels hanging from the long hairpin. In the picture above, all the ministers are holding scepters made of ivory.

Lady-in-waiting,or gungnyeo also have their own robes. They usually wear dangui, a ceremonial jacket just like the queens or princesses, but with no geumbak or gold patterns. The colors and hairstyles differ according to their ranks. The highest among them, which is sanggung or court lady, wears a dark shade of jade dangui with binyeo and cheopji, a small hairpin worn on the hair in the shape of frog. They usually tuck their hair behind in a bun. Nain will wear a lighter shade of jade dangui with their hairstyle being the same as the sanggung. Trainee nain wears a pink dangui, but most of the time they will wear a pink jeogori. Their hairdo is a bit different: they will use saeng meori, in which the braid is brought onto the head and daenggi is used to decorate the hair.

Court Lady Jo wearing a silver cheopji on her head and a binyeo.

A trainee nain sporting saeng meori hairdo.

A color variation is used for Sejong’s special nain:they wear a dark jade jeogori here.

For the time being, let me stop right here. I’m going to add some more after I’ve found reliable sources for the military attire, like what Woon wears..but do browse through the sources below! They’re quite informative and a great read for those who are interested in the Joseon’s culture 🙂

sources | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 |

from me | a condensed introduction to Joseon’s clothing style | a short post about the hanbok, hairpins etc |

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43 thoughts on “Joseon’s Court Attire: Kdrama Style (Part 1)

  1. Thanks a lot for this post! I’m writing a thesis about royal male court dress in Joseon, so this will definitely be useful ❤ There's so little sources in English and my Korean isn't good enough to read the Korean stuff, so I'm glad for any piece of info ;3;

    1. Wow, that’s so cool! You can look at the list of sources for this post and also the others. There are some English articles that I think would be good for your reference.

      Good luck with your thesis! \(^o^)/

  2. It would be good to see the back of the married women’s buns also. I like to see the styles they use with the smaller decorative braids, like in The Princess’ Man.

    I know how they’re done: While the single woman’s hair is in a braid, the married woman takes the secured bottom of the braid and uses a wide ribbon to secure it just under the start of the braid, wound around several times to keep it in place. The doubled over section is lifted up and the hair stick is pushed through both looped ends that are now created, so that its behind the section covered by ribbon.

    What I have trouble with is my braid being much longer than the wigs/hair pieces you see. They’ll show this small bun, while the loops my hair creates are about twice the size. I use a black paranda (or parandi) based off of what Punjabi women wear (see here: https://sites.google.com/site/habioku/home/do-it-yourself ) to help balance my braid out for braided buns, but even with that I can’t seem to create it without giving a slight twist before I bring it over.

    It would be helpful to me if you find more sources on that braid, because it seems like a nice variation to me wearing a Chinese bun or single braided bun with a hair stick.

  3. Reblogged this on Мираленд and commented:
    Интересная статья об одежде…всегда хотела насобирать фото с разных дорам – свадебная одежда королей

  4. Very helpful thank you! Like comment above I’ve found it hard to find English resources and information on the subject so this is very helpful. I guess I’ll need to start learning Korean 🙂
    But I do have a question regarding the royal dragon emblems on the king and crown prince robes. I’ve noticed in seveal of the K-dramas that there is two types of dragon. One with the face of the dragon facing the viewers and another version where the dragon’s head is looking to the right (on profile). Was the two dragons used at the same time or is one earlier than the other? Maybe you might know? Here are examples…
    Front facing version http://www.korea.net/upload/content/editImage/wooden_stamp_for%20insignia_01.jpg
    Profile version https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/King_Taejo_Yi_01.jpg

    1. Hello!
      Glad you like the post, and thank you for the question. I’m impressed that you’ve noticed the different positions of the dragons on the emblems because not many could see the difference 😉

      The profile version of the dragon emblem was used during early Joseon Dynasty, as seen in King Taejo and King Sejong’s portraits.It depicts a flying dragon, symbolizing the strong energy of the kings as the rulers of the newly found dynasty. However, King Yeongjo’s portrait shows the dragon emblem facing forward, symbolizing the stability experienced by the nation at that time, more than 300 years after its founding. Although there are only a few royal portraits which survived until today, it can be concluded that the forward facing dragon emblem came into usage in the late Joseon.

      Hope this answer your question 🙂

    1. Hello! Sorry for the late reply ^^;

      Well…recent fusion sageuk series put little attention to details especially when it comes to clothing and hairstyles. They often overlook small details like the examples you have mentioned above. Part of it because of recycling outfits from previous dramas to save budget etc. Older historical dramas like The Great King Sejong paid attention to the clothes for the characters and you will appreciate all the details, but that can be attributed to the huge budget for the wardrobe alone.

      Hope that answers your question 😉

  5. Hello!
    Thank you very much for the royal costumes information! I am always curious about the name and also it’s meaning and I found a lot of answer from this article.

    However I am still confused with the king costumes colors that Yoo ah in wears in Jang Ok Jung drama. Why the color did not chang right away from blue to red after the former king passed away? Why was he still using the blue dragon robe until he married the second queen?Or is it related with the king’s aged?
    I am really curious right now. Do you possibly know the reason? Thank you 😀

    1. Hello ^^
      Glad you found the post useful. Thank you for the question too!

      The colour set for crown prince was dark blue, but for the king, there was no clear restriction with regard to his robe colour, except for yellow, which was reserved for the Emperor (in Joseon’s case, it was to show their respect and submission to Chinese Ming and Qing’s emperors). Red was the standard that symbolized the king, but in history, there were kings who did not stick to that colour alone and in some cases, even got the crown (ikseongwan) to have matching colours with their robes instead of the standard black. However, as the kings grew older, it would be possible for them to resort to darker colours too.

      Hope that answers your question 😉

  6. Just a correction:
    Joseon kings were not allowed to wear 5-toed dragon emblems…..Those were only reserved for the Emperor, which was the Emperor of China. Joseon being the vassal state meant China had a higher power, therefore even kings, not emperors, could not wear 5-toed dragons. The maximum amount of toes Joseon kings (and every single Korean dynasty, as a matter of fact) could wear were 4 toes only.

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