Sight Unseen: What to Wear Under a Traditional Hanbok

The cultural significance of a hanbok — the traditional attire of South Korea — simply can’t be overstated. Not only is this iconic garment seen on both men and women, it can come in a variety of shapes and colors, as well. However, when it comes to the hanbok, there’s so much more to this article of clothing than meets the eye. In fact, while the hanbok itself gets much of the credit toward the appearance of the wearer, what you don’t see when you observe a person wearing one is also very important. What goes on underneath it is arguably just as essential as the hanbok itself.

Historical Hanbok Undergarments


Believe it or not, but back in the olden days, what you wore beneath your hanbok spoke volumes about your social status and ranking. Oftentimes, the undergarments were made of equally fancy (if not better!) materials than the hanbok itself. Known as sokgot, the undergarments were often worn in layers. If you had more layers of sokgot, it indicated that you were wealthier and could afford all of these luxurious layers of undergarments.

The traditional undershirt for a hanbok is called a sokchima (worn beneath the chima, or the flowy skirt of a hanbok), and the pants worn beneath a hanbok is known as a sokbaji (which were worn beneath the voluminous pants, the baji). The cropped coat of a hanbok, called a jeogori, had a sokjeogori or a sokjeoksam worn beneath it. A dari sokgot acted like how modern underwear works for women today. And, if a woman was particularly wealthy or came from nobility, she would wear a noreunbaji beneath her hanbok to round out the ensemble. Men had simpler undergarments, such as the sokgoui (the male equivalent of underwear) and the jeoksam, worn beneath the jeogori.


Modern Hanbok Undergarments


These days, what you wear beneath the hanbok can be much more casual and less structured. While it’s not uncommon to wear a sokchima beneath your chima, you may find yourself reaching for the clothes you already have in your closet. During the summer, a simple tank top and a pair of leggings can work just fine beneath your hanbok. Because the hanbok is worn in layers already, it can get quite warm during the summer months, so you do want to keep your base layers as light as possible. In the wintertime, adding thermal undergarments can help keep you warm and toasty if you decide to wear your hanbok out and about in South Korea.

Whether you decide to go the traditional route or you instead want to take a more modern approach to hanbok undergarments is entirely up to you. There’s no wrong way or right way to do it, and it really just boils down to a matter of personal preference. Regardless of what you wear beneath it, it’s important to remember that your goal is to both look and feel good in your hanbok. After all, your undergarments are very important, but what really matters is honoring the culture by showing off your pride toward South Korea in your very own beautiful hanbok!