USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Korean Costumes through the Ages

November 1, 2003 through February 1, 2004

Noblewoman?s Bridal Jacket
Noblewoman’s Bridal Jacket (hwalot), Joseon (Choson) dynasty.
Courtesy of the National Folk Museum of Korea.

The year 2003 marks the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States. To celebrate this important anniversary, Pacific Asia Museum is hosting a major exhibition of Korean costumes, from the National Folk Museum of Korea. Korean Costumes through the Ages will be the first exhibition of its kind in Southern California to trace the development of Korean dress, or hanbok, from the Three Kingdoms Period (1st century BC- AD 668) to the modern period.

Curated by Dr. Kim Young Jae, this exhibition will focus on Korean clothing as it has evolved over the centuries. It will include over 50 costumes and accessories that were worn primarily by members of the Korean aristocracy. Some of the costumes presented will be rare original pieces from the periods they represent. For the earlier periods, from which no examples remain, reproductions copied from costumes depicted in paintings and sculpture of those early periods will be presented. In addition, some examples of contemporary Korean clothing designs will also be featured.

Reproduction of a woman?s jacket
Reproduction of a woman’s jacket (jogori) and skirt (chima),
Goguryeo (Koguryo) period, 5th -6th century,
Courtesy of the National Folk Museum of Korea.

Korea has one of the world’s richest costume and textile traditions, one that is distinct from neighboring countries such as China and Japan. From excavations of early archaeological sites on the Korean peninsula, it is evident that the Koreans wore clothing of silk, hemp and wool over 2,000 years ago. Silk cultivation and production developed during the Three Kingdoms period and for a long time were controlled by the government, so that silk clothing was primarily worn by members of the nobility. It was only during the Joseon (Choson) period that silk clothing became widespread among the general populace. Clothing made from hemp fiber was worn more widely among the population, as was wool, which protected the wearer from the bitter cold of Korean winters. For summer clothing, ramie (similar to linen) was preferred as it dries quickly and air passes through the loose weave to cool the body. Cotton clothing was introduced in the Goryeo (Koryo) period (918-1392) and by the Joseon period was being used widely and even exported to Japan.

Official?s Robe
Official’s Robe (gwanbok), Joseon (Choson) dynasty,
Courtesy of the National Folk Museum of Korea.

Over the centuries, Korean traditional dress has featured forms, styles, color schemes and decorations that are uniquely Korean. From as early as the Goryeo period, vivid colors such as strong reds, blues, yellow, and greens were combined in bold striped patterns to create a colorful rainbow effect on the skirts or sleeves of a woman’s dress. From the Unified Silla period (668-918), complex patterns have been woven into the cloth of both men’s and women’s clothing. Dresses, jackets, and accessories are further embellished with exquisite embroidery of natural motifs such as flowers and butterflies or auspicious symbols, applied traditionally by the women of the household. Examples of implements used by women to create this fine embroidery will also be included.

The exhibition is being generously supported by the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles and Wells Fargo. Additional funding for this exhibition has been generously provided by County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovitch, Sookie and Michael Garrison, Kim Hillis, Bobbie and Don Koh, Robert Sheen, Jane Park Wells and Bill Wells, and Pacific Asia Museum Korean Arts Council.
To accompany this exhibition, a Korean American Timeline designed by Hesed Choi and lent by the artist and the Korean American Pioneer Council will be on view upstairs in the former contemporary gallery.

For more information about this exhibition, call 626.449.2642, ext. 19.

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