What is a Hanbok?
A hanbok is a traditional Korean dress. Throughout Korean history, commoners wore the hanbok and it became popularized during the celebrated Joseon Dynasty. Interestingly, the hanbok was adopted from nomadic cultures in northern Asia, so its style is drastically different from the formal wear adopted by agricultural cultures like China. Although the style of the hanbok evolved over time, Koreans still wear the hanbok for formal or semi-formal events like festivals, celebrations, special family events, weddings or first birthdays.
What is a Kimono?
The Japanese traditional formal wear is known as a kimono. There are some Japanese who dress in a kimono every day, but the kimono is usually reserved for special events like tea ceremonies or weddings. When I traveled to Kyoto and Nara, however, I saw far more kimonos being worn than I’ve seen hanboks while living in Seoul. Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon to see either being worn in their respective countries. The Kimono was heavily influenced by the hanfu (Chinese traditional dress) of the Han Dynasty of China. In time, the Kimono also underwent several changes.
The Battle of the Traditional Dress Styles
Koreans and the Japanese do not share a heartwarming history of friendship and tolerance. In fact, Koreans still resent Japan for subjecting Korea to brutal colonialism in the first half of the 20th century. The manifestations of this resentment are apparent in Korea’s zealous persistence for the territorial rights to three rocks with some fish (Dokdo Island) east of the Korean Peninsula.
Furthermore, while Americans are finally aware of some South Korean culture (regrettably through Gangnam Style), those of us in Asia know that the K-wave (Korean dramas and pop music or Hallyu Wave) has consistently dominated the airwaves in Asia for many years. One could argue that Japan is losing ground.
But for now, it’s time for the most important fight of all. Which country has the most beautiful traditional clothing? Kimonos and hanboks are both full of vibrant color and carry the significance of wonderful traditions. However, only one can be the winner.
The dresses in all of the photographs are within a similar price range. There are versions of the Kimono which cost over a thousand dollars, which I did not include in the pictures. I included pictures of the dresses you are most likely to see when visiting Japan or Korea.
The pictures of kimonos were taken during my visit to Japan. Since it was summertime, most of my Kimono pictures are actually pictures of Yukatas — a cheaper, casual version of the Kimono. On the other hand, my friend, Silvia Conedera, modeled for the photographs of the hanbok. She commissioned me to photograph her in her hanbok before she left Korea to study fashion in Colombia. Haley and I will miss her after she leaves, but we’re happy she’s pursuing her dreams.