Five Centuries of Shrinking Korean Fashions

A fashion show will provide the first comprehensive overview of Korean fashions from the last 500 years, using original pieces and clothes reconstructed based on painstaking research.

The Suk Joo-sun Memorial Museum of Dankook University picked some 40 items of menswear and 60 of women's clothing from its 10,000-piece collection of Chosun-era clothes excavated from burial sites since the 1960s. After thorough analysis of each specimen and review of the historical record, they recreated the garments that will be shown at the Hyatt Hotel on June 2 under the title "The Beauty and Fashions of the Chosun Era." It is the first time in Korea that systematic archaeological research has been used to replicate the changing fashions of the last five centuries, ranging across classes and occupations.

In the case of women's fashions, the exhibition shows the trajectory from the "free-size" abundance that was popular in the16th century to an early 20th-century top coat that leaves little to the imagination. In the 16th century, garments were generously oversized rather than tailored to individuals, apparently because an abundance of fabric was a way of displaying one's wealth and status.

The 16th century: People displayed their status with an abundant use of fabric. The 16th century: People displayed their status with an abundant use of fabric.

It was in the 17th century that clothes became tailored to their wearers. Upper garments shrank, and clothes took on a more practical aspect using only the necessary amount of fabric. Some scholars say this was brought about by the economic squeeze the country suffered during the successive invasions by Japanese forces under Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the 1590s and the Manchu Qing Empire in 1637.

The 17th century: Clothes fit snugly and the sleeves became shorter. The 17th century: Clothes fit snugly and the sleeves became shorter.

In the mid- to late 18th century, the tops of women's skirts were visible, while the Jeogori - or upper garment -- fit snugly and showed the body contours. A group of reformist young scholars or Shilhakja, who were searching for practical applications of academic knowledge to modernize the country -- lamented, "It is deplorable that clothes such as prostitutes wear to try and entice a client have become the fashion among all levels of the people."

The 18th century: Joegori or upper garments grew shorter. The 18th century: Joegori or upper garments grew shorter.

In the 19th century, however, the Jeogori shrank even more. The turn of the 20th century saw the shortest Jeogori yet, and an inch or so of skin was often exposed between the top of women's skirts and what remained of the Jeogori's body.

The 19th - early 20th century: Women wore their skirts up to their breasts. The 19th - early 20th century: Women wore their skirts up to their breasts.
englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 19, 2009 14:37 KST