Today, we will go through the favorite accessories of Korean women in the Joseon Dynasty era. Hair ornaments, bracelets, rings and necklaces. They wore different ornaments by season, occasion and age. In addition, each accessory has its own story. For example, when family gets separated, they share each ring from a pair of rings, garakji. When husband died early, wife buried a ring of the pair with him and she kept the other to commemorate him. For that reason, garakji used to be made as a pair and actually bigger than present one.
Let’s take a look at the accessories of women in the Joseon Dynasty era.
Earring: The Symbol of Class
Rings were the first ornament in history. In certain countries of Asia, people considered it like a charm and kept it very carefully. They were also called eesik, eedang or eehwan. Many gold crowns and delicately made-ornaments were excavated from many graves of the Three Kingdoms period. We can guess the metalwork technique of the era was very sophisticated and detailed. There are three types of earrings; simple, dangling and showy. The earrings of old times were made of gold, silver and bronze, but unfortunately the number of the earrings from Goryeo dynasty are very few.
Did you know that men used to put on earrings in the past? The typical example is Hwarang in the Silla kingdom. They used to wear earrings as a symbol of youth and ability. According to the Annals of the Joseon dynasty, prince Yangpyeong put on big earrings when he was nine (in 1513) and it was common for prince to put on earrings back then. However, the earrings became unpopular since the Confucianism pervaded the whole country in the Joseon Dynasty era. Even the King Seonjo officially announced that it is the most undutiful thing to put on earrings because piercing is hurting the ancestrally inherited body. According to some recent studies on the era, scholars insist that the regulation was resulted from the economic crisis caused by importing too much gold and silver for earrings from China.
Eventually, the men’s earrings were disappeared after King Seonjo era and women only put on earrings in wedding ceremony. For this reasons, the design of the earrings in Joseon dynasty became very simple.
Garakji: A Pair of Rings of Engagement
Garakji means a pair of big rings. It was also called “Jihwan”. Garakji appeared from the Joseon Dynasty era. It was only for married women. If a woman put on only one ring in her finger, it means she was a single. Only married women could put on a pair of rings, which means harmony with her husband. The idea came from the Confucianism
The history of exchanging rings went back 4800 years ago. In 16th century, the Tudor dynasty believed that the blood vessel of the 4th finger of left hand is connected to heart, and they put on wedding ring on 4th finger. Since then, it became customary in most countries.
Garakji was mainly made of gold and silver but other materials were also used, such as lacquer, jade, quartz, green jadeite, amber, pearl, and copper.
In Joseon dynasty, noblewomen and royal family put on different materials of rings by season and occasion. Gold rings from Oct. to Jan., silver lacquer rings from Feb. to Apr., jade or quartz rings were for Dano festival and regular lacquer rings were from dog days, boknal, to Sep. All of them were for having a natural and harmonious look, which are influenced by the formality of clothing and four seasons.
Garakji was not only a love token but loyalty to the country as well. During Japanese invasion of 1592, a gisaeng, cultured women entertainers in the Joseon Dynasty era, called Nongae, hugged Japanese general and jumped down to the river, wearing 10 rings. Jinjoo local government designated Aug. 8th as the “Nongae Day” and has hosted many special events and donated hundreds of silver rings engraved "euiam", which is the name of the rock she stepped on before jumping into the river, to supporting center.
Norigae: Accessory for Every Class
Norigae is a perfect accessory for women’s Hanbok. It is widely loved by all classes, from royal family to common people. Norigae was the most popular ornament during the Joseon Dynasty era, while the other accessories like necklaces and earrings became unpopular.
There is no historical record on norigae. For your information, the Hanbok during the Silla kingdom and the Goryeo dynasty era doesn’t look like the one in these days. Instead of norigae, it was customary to hang pocket filled with gold bell or scent in the belt. Later in Joseon, they were replaced into the new born accessory, norigae. During the era, norigae was hung in the breast-tie of Hanbok. People wore more gorgeous norigae for royal functions and big festivities. Noblewomen used to inherit it to generation after generation.
Norigae is consisted of ttidon, string, but also paemul(jewel), knot and sool(tassel). Ttidon is a tie to connect jewels and it is supposed to be hung in the breast-tie. Gold, silver, white jade, green jadeite and coral were used to make norigae. There are square, rectangular, round, flower and butterfly shaped ttidon. According to the number of jewels of it, it was called oijul-norigae or danjak-norigae(single jewel) and samjak-norigae(three jewel).
Red, blue, yellow, pink, green, light purple and deep purple colors were used to make sool(tassels). Besides, some of norigaes were embroidered with a rhino horn, lotus flower, and herb that was belived to bring an eternal youth. Norigae represented not only the social status but also the wishes of women and ideologies for abundance, longevity and good luck.
Binyeo: A Traditional Hairpin for fixing ladies’ chignons
Binyeo is an ornamental hairpin used to hold a hair bun in place. We can still see old ladies wearing binyeo in countryside. Binyeo is classified into two kinds; a Jam and a Chae. Jam is a normal stick-shaped binyeo and Chae is a tong-shaped binyeo with decorations. Binyeo was allowed only for married women. The jewels, woods, animal horns and bones were used to make binyeos.
According to the historical record, Binyeo was firstly used in the Three Kingdoms era. But it also became very detailed since King Yeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty era.
The question is why he forced women to put on binyeo. In fact, in mid-Joseon Dynasty era, married women used to put on gachae (a wig) around hair. The higher the wig is, the higher their social status is. The most expensive wig cost almost same as a fine house. It caused a social problem. In addition, because of heavy wig, some women were suffering from neck sickness. Besides, they even decorated the wig with various accessories. For the reason, the wig was replaced into binyeo.
There are also different types of binyeo for different seasons, occasions, and ages. Binyeo made of a plum tree and a bamboo or jade binyeo with a peony-shaped decoration was used in April, August, and September. Okbong binyeo, Wonang binyeo,Isaryeon binyeo were used to giled dangui, a type of upper garment for women in hanbok. In spring and autumn, women used to wear Moran or Maejuk binyeo with delicately decorated small hairpins called isaddeoljam on it., According to the character of occasions, they choose different materials of binyeo.
The Ornaments have been with us throughout the history and represented women's life. From now on, even small earrings will remind you the history.