Oct 31, 2013 - Nov 20, 2013

Po, the Seonbi Spirit in Clothing

Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation

Exhibition about Hanbok(Korean Traditional Clothes)
Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation / 2013

Clothes of Seonbi(Literati scholars),

Wearing the Spirit of Integrity, Purity and Wisdom

The seonbi spirit originated from the Three Kingdoms and persisted into the Joseon period. Literati scholars aspired to practice the seonbi spirit in their life, and it constituted an important part of Korean culture. The seonbi spirit very much represents the identity of the Korean people.

Po is a manifestation of the aesthetics of the spirit of the literati scholars and literati culture. Produced in many different variations, po reflects the clean and upright style of the seonbi, symbolically speaking the image of the seonbi, the class who appreciated scholarship and art. The simple lines, understated shlhouettes, and beautiful colors in harmony with nature of po give us some idea of the refined taste and elegance of Korean men studying and seeking communion with nature.

In arranging this exhibition with experts in the field, Arumjigi intends to breathe new life into the spirit and everyday culture of the seonbi and make them a part of modern society by introducing men’s clothing of Korea's past and shedding light on the elegance and beauty of po.

<Quilted Jungchimak> Yu Seon Hee, W51cm x L135cm
Contemporary Designer's Space

Po, the Seonbi Spirit in Clothing

Literati scholars of Joseon had led lives basically in pursuit of intellectual convergence of the kind that is required by society today.  They sought to become mature human beings in every way.  For that reason, the seonbi underwent interdisciplinary training, studying liberal arts including literature, history, and philosophy as basics in addition to their special fields.  They also received education and training selectively in poetry, painting, and calligraphy.  The seonbi were, therefore, a well-rounded and complex group of intellectuals who considered classical literature and art as the same thing.  The literati scholars studied every field of art intensely because they believed that a perfect personality required a balance between rationalism and emotion.

Casual clothes worn by seonbi can be said to be products of aesthetics shaped by their inner spiritual world, unlike typical official attire worn during office hours.  Among many kinds of men’s casual clothes of Joseon, po especially represents the casual clothes of the seonbi.  Po were produced in diverse styles during the Joseon period and reflect the clean and pure dignity of the seonbi and symbolically project the image of seonbi with refined artistic taste.  Simple lines, understated silhouettes, and beautiful colors in harmony with nature all allow us to find natural beauty, understated beauty, and elegant classy beauty.

The objectives of the Arumjigi exhibition this year are twofold. One is to find the seonbi spirit and artistic aspects inherent to clothes worn by literati scholars, the most representative cultural archetype of Korea, by reproducing men’s clothes of the Joseon period as well as by applying the tailoring techniques of traditional clothing.  The other is to propose a new design for men’s clothing of the 21st century imbued with seonbi spirit produced by contemporary fashion designers in close consultation with each other on the findings of our research on traditional clothing.

The exhibit are grouped in two sections. The first part features diverse styles of traditional outer robes called po which were reproduced for this exhibition. Techniques of exquisite tailoring from dexterous workmanship of hanbok artisans, who have made hanbok for so many years, not to mention beautiful materials and colors, invite us to find new beauty of traditional hanbok.

The second part features works by Jin Tae Ok, an iconic fashion designer of Korea, and two designers representing men's fashion in Korea: Kim Seo Ryong and Juun.J Inspired by po of Joseon, these three designers representing Korean fashion today show the essence of the seonbi spirit through men's clothes recreated as contemporary fashion with their sensuous analysis and sharp eyes.

- Section 1 -

Po of Seonbi 


Traditional Clothes

Reproduced by 

Hanbok Artisans

< Simui >

Simui was first worn by Neo-Confucian scholars during the late Goryeo period, when the rules of Chu His were introduced to Korea. Simui has been very representative of the seonbi spirit since the Joseon period. Renowned literati scholars of Joseon loved to wear simui, and simui was also used as a shroud for the dead and ritual attire, as well as ceremonial attire for coming of age.

<Simui>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 48cm x L 135cm

<dopo> - Simbol of Seonbi

Dopo is a representative form of po. Dopo was worn by seonbi as casual and formal clothing.  Mostly made of blue and white fabric, dopo was forbidden to be worn by members of the lower class. Dopo has a straight lined collar, wide sleeves, and a back slit. Two pieces of fabric sewn along the sidelines cover the center line of the back of the bodice to make a back slit, which is covered with a piece of fabric, thus hiding the pants even when the slit is open.

<King Yeongjo's Dopo>   Park Sung Sil · Lee Myoung Eun, W 51cm x L 135 cm
<Single-Layered Dopo>   Jang Jung Youn, W 60cm x L 137cm
<Double-Layered Dopo>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 55cm x L 135cm

<changui> - Dopo with Slit

Changui refers to clothing with slits. A slit is made in the middle of the back or along the sides.  Depending on where a slit was made, changui was called by a different term. Changui with a straight collar developed over time with changes being made to the widths and lengths of sleeves and lengths of slits.  During the Joseon period, scholars wore changui as clothing for going out, or as an outer robe at home.  Changui was also worn inside a loosely fitting po with wider sleeves.

<Changui>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 55cm x L 127cm
<Quilted So-changui>   Yu Seon Hee, W 52cm x L 111cm
<Quilted Jungchimak>   Yu Seon Hee, W 51cm x L 135cm


Durumagi is the most basic form of po that the Koreans enjoy wearing.  Durumagi in Korean means there is no slits. In the late Joseon period, the government prohibited wearing of po with wide sleeves. Since then, durumagi became common and established as a basic piece of men’s clothing together with baji (pants) and jeogori (upper garment). Durumagi was made of different fabrics depending on season. In summer, single-layered durumagi made of thin fabric was worn. In spring and autumn, double-layered durumagi was worn, and in winter, cotton or quilted durumagi was worn.

<Cotton padded Durumagi>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 54cm x L 127cm
<Ramie Durumagi>  Jang Jung Youn, W 56cm x L 130cm
<Gat-Durumagi>   Lee Hong Soon, L 128cm

<dapho> - Dapho with Changes Made to Sleeves

Dapho refers to a half-sleeved robe worn by scholars from the late Goryeo to late Joseon periods. Dapho was worn over an outer garment or worn under the official attire at a government office. 

The shape of dapho changed through the centuries.  The type with a straight collar with short sleeves gave way to a sleeveless style, and the collar also changed.  Some have side slits, and others have neckbands with ends overlapping in the front like baeja (short sleeveless vest).  By the late Joseon period, a robe without collars and sleeves called jeonbok was commonly worn.  Jeonbok was usually worn over dongdari, which wasdurumagi with sleeves of a different color from the body. Dapho eventually became a part of military attire called jeonbok.

<Dapho>   Jang Jung Youn, W 60cm x L 123cm
Blended Satin Damask with Lotus Pattern
<Jeonbok>   Jang Jung Youn, W 42cm x L 121cm
<Jeonbok>   Jang Jung Youn, W 42cm x L 125cm
<Bansuui>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 56cm x L 100cm
<Dapho>   Jang Jung Youn, W 47cm x L 110cm

<cheollic> <aekjureum> <guui> - For Activities

Cheollic was popular in both the Goryeo and Joseon periods. The upper part and the lower part (skirt) were cut separately, and pleats were made at the waist of the skirt. Both parts were then sewn together. The skirt part was made wide because cheollic was used for physical activity. Dapho was worn over cheollic. With the passage of time, the styles of the collar, sleeve, and pleats of cheollic changed. Those with leaner decoration along the waist were called yoseoncheollic. Yoseon was made with fabric or twisted yarns.

Aekjureum-po refers to the robes with pleated underarms. It has a straight collar and was made of many different fabrics. It was popular during the mid-Joseon period.

<Yoseon-cheollic>   Kim Jeong Ah, W 45cm x L 130cm
<Aekjureum>   Jang Jung Youn, W 60cm x L 100cm
<Yoseon-cheollic> Jang Jung Youn, W 57cm x L 125cm
<Guui>   An In Sil, W 56cm x L 143cm

- Section 2 -

Po of Seonbi 


Modern Clothes




<jin tae ok>

Ms. JIN Tae Ok is nationally recognized in the Korean fashion industry. She is the founder and first president of Korea's first collection SFFA (Seoul Fashion Artist Association). In the 1990s, she promoted Korean fashion to the world by participating in the Paris Collection. Ms. JIN show new collections annually, and her fresh sense of fashion is an inspiration for junior designers. Ms. JIN participated in various special exhibitions such as the first and second Art to Wear(invitational exhibition at the National Modern Museum, 1987-1988), held private shows, and published collection books such as “ JIN TAEOK 40th Year(Beyond nature)” in 2005. From 1993 to 1997 Ms. JIN presented women's and men's wear twice each year at PARIS CHAMBRE SYNDICALE COLLECTION. She was also interested in public design, and created uniforms for many private companies and national organizations, such as the 88 Seoul Olympic uniform(1998), Kookmin Bank uniform(2007), and Korean Air Force and Pilot uniform(2008), Ms. JIN received the 1987 Designer Award by Donga Daily(1988), Best Designer Award by the Ministry of Commerce, lndustry and Energy(1994), and President's Award on National Trade Day(1996). Ms. JIN is the only internationally recognized Korean designer of the 20th century in “THE FASHION BOOK”(1998) published by PHAIDON, U.K.

<Coat> Silk

Modern po by Jin Tae Ok have the most understated beauty. The Voluminousness and loose fitting could easily by excessive but are never left uncontrolled in Jin's po. The designer always pressures herself entirely due to her need for self-control, and this gives the sense of volume in her po a great sense of stability with clean finish. Jin has been making clothes for fifty years. It has always been a challenge, and the proportion of beauty she has attained is in every one of her po. She could have only borrowed the comfortable shoulder from Joseon po to design her po for modern times, but she went much further and instead altered the original silhouette to create a more refined shoulder of a leather coat, making her clothes more presentable.

“Designers should not reproduce classical attire as it is. During this project, I was most careful not to simply reproduce the Joseon po(as it was). I studied the cutting and lines of Joseon po, but I should not simply imitate the Joseon po.”

“Wind is coming up from po.” Jin said, “ Somewhere, lines meet with each other, and the wind is blowing, and the fluttering edges of po on the wind create a poetic mood.” For Jin, po made of two-dimensional lines become three-demensional only after it is blown by the wind.

“In Joseon po, I see relaxation, which is rather difficult to find in a modern coat.” After finding a sense of relaxation in po, Jin shattered the widespread perception that things old are impractical and uncomfortable. “I used to believe that tradition was something complex, difficult to deal with, and impractical, so I was not

for a long time able to delve deeply into how I could embrace traditional elements in my designs. I didn't understand true Korean tradition, and as a result, I couldn't confidently embrace tradition in my work. It was through this project that I finally managed to grasp tradition. I have finally found out what tradition truly is." Jin said.

<Coat> Wool, Leather
<Manteau> Leather

Po made of ivory leather and belt-like silver ornamnetation around the waist testifies to what Jin is talking about. She has incorporated Korean tradition, as she understands it, into her clothes. The silver ornamentation was created after a great deal of experimentation and is elegantly seated on ivory leather po designed by Jin. It is so elegant that we can sense the noble presence of the Joseon literati scholars called seonbi, which the designer intended.

“Clothing can never be completely separated from tradition. Clothing reflects the everyday lives of those who share time and space, after all. But we Koreans wear Western clothes everyday: we have broken away from our history and tradition. Is it because Korean fashion designers aren't diligent enough? Whatever the reason, there have been few opportunities for contemporary Korean designers to look at how Korean clothes have been made and the Korean spirit has been embodied in traditional Korean clothing throughout Korean history. This project was really meaningful to me for this reason.

”Seonbi was a whole man, a well-rounded, rational scholar with sensitivity. Seonbi was neither a gentleman holding onto formality nor a warrior clinging to strictness. Seonbi wearing po was a man who knew about life and enjoyed it. The kind of person who behaved himself, looked back on himself deliberately, and took responsibility for his actions. I look forward to the recreation of po anew today, not only in appearance but with the spirit of the Joseon seonbi."

<Coat> Double wearing of leather & wool, Silver
<Coat, Mink Cap, Hand Warmers> Wool, Leather

<kim seo ryong>

Graduated from Keimyung University with a major in Western painting, he self studied fashion and started to work as designer from 1992. Since launching his own brand “KimSeoRyongHomme” in 1996. He collaborated with several brands such as 'CIVAS REGAL' in 2011,2013 and GS ESHOP in 2013. He created costumes of PSY for a number of occasions, including his performance at the Rockefeller Center and shooting a variety of commercials. He also was in charge of creating the whole costumes for the 30th anniversary performance of singer Lee Moon-sae. Participating in styling class for Seoul mayor Park Won Soon during the fashion week of 2013, he is passionately devoting himself to fashion and he train fashion designer of his studio 'KimSeoRyongHomme'.

When confronted with po, the first impression Kim remembers was splendor. He says, “I saw splendor from the harmony of diverse color senses and romantic richness of the thin silk when I first saw po. It was a totally different feeling from what I vaguely thought of po before then. I had prejudice about the seonbi as being stodgy, straightforward, classical men of Joseon. Contrary to what I had thought, po looks gorgeous, then I pictured seonbi who had refined tastes and who enjoyed wearing smart clothing.”

Kim designed his po reflecting what he felt about Joseon po, that is gorgeous, shining brightly, and beautiful. Beautiful. His po becomes a painting in ink imbued with subdued light and shade.  Made of Korean silk, Kim’s po looks like a Western coat at first sight. But looking closely, we can see how attractive his design is.  He used organza, plain-woven, sheer silk fabric, for his clothes. If used as it is, Kim’s clothes should have the typical look of traditional po. But he added something new. “As a designer of men’s clothes of contemporary Western style, I always focus most on developing material. To give clothes the individuality and spirit of the designer, style must be unique and the materials should embrace the feeling of the designer. Only then can the designer commune with the wearer of his clothes and the wearer can discover the difference in material and enjoy what he is wearing.

<Coat> Silk
<Coat> Silk

I, therefore, consider it essential for me to develop material in modernizing po,” Kim explains. Silk organza used for Kim’s po are overlapped in several layers to create a pattern. It looks as if dozens of very thin silk organza are creating the grain of soft silk shoes.  And it is more than just being sleek.  Small patterns meticulously calculated and balanced are repeatedly embroidered on the outside of Kim’s coat, which otherwise would be uninteresting.  His coat is far from showy and dressy.  Instead, the more we look at it, the more we become attracted to the luxurious new material, that is, the grain of new po.  His po comes in two colors, black and white.  When placed under light, the material makes different waves depending on the grain of organza overlapped.

Kim’s po feature variations of light and shape that can hardly be found in Western clothing.  Each layer of organza seems the same and yet somehow different, and all are sewn together to show off the beauty of all.  And so, they cannot help but dance like seonbi in love with art.  Kim’s po is extremely fancy and yet simple and understated.  His works show what he feels about the elegance and refined tastes of the seonbi.

<Vest, Shirts> Silk
<Jacket, Shirts> Silk

<junn. j>

Juun. J graduated from ESMOD Seoul in 1992 and worked at many prestigious fashion houses such as CHIFFONS in 1992~1995, CLUB MONACO in 1996~1997, and NIX in 1997~1998, before founding his own label “LONE COSTUME” in 1999. Not long after showing his collection at Seoul Fashion Week. his design won wide acclaim and Asia Times selected Juun. J as the top 4 notable designers to watch. In 2007, he made a successful debut at the world stage by attending Paris Men’s Collection with his namesake label “Juun. J”. Le Figaro, the globally accredited French newspaper, named Jung as one of the six spotlighted designers among 150 participating designers. He also collaborated with a number of popular brands including Reebok in 2007, Speedo in 2009, and BeanPole in 2010. Establishing himself as one of the most sought-after designers at home and abroad, he now serves as a creative director of “Juun. J” and an executive director of Samsung Cheil Industries.

<笑 So> Denim, Leather

Juun. J is interested in modernity. He explores, learns about, and researches modernity, and he depicts modernity in his clothes.  He has been working in Paris for seven years, and his work has been applauded in the fashion shows of Paris. Junn. J always puts modernity onestep ahead on the fashion show stage in Paris. The mission of a commercial fashion designer is to keep just one step ahead of the tastes of the public. If he goes too fast he will be one of those designers whom others will later say was “ahead of his time” and will be nothing but an artist working with fabric. Juun. J's commercial success in Korea was due to his sensual design ability to read tastes of the masses and make a popular appeal. Of course, the modernity of his design was a major factor as well.

For Juun. J, po was read by modernity.  He describes his first encounter with po as ‘amazing.’  He interpreted po as clothing that was already part of modernity.

He says, “The quest for extreme simplicity, expressed by fashion designers, is ‘minimal.’  The original appearance of po is beauty of refined lines and streamlined cutting lines.  Modernity has always been in po, but we could only realize that truth today.”

<樂 Lak> Denim, Leather
<堅 Gyeon> Denim, Leather

How has Junn. J depicted the modernity of po? He uses deep blue denim and leather. The color of thick cotton commonly called ‘denim’ in deep blue was the first impression that Juun. J got from po. A collar resembling dongjeong (thin white cloth-covered paper collar for traditional Korean clothes) made of black leather is melted into his po Juun. J's sense of modernity is intuitively connected with denim, which is regarded as a symbol of Western culture. Black leather stimulated his interest in that it is ‘the first ever material to be used for clothes.’ The closure at the chest rather than the waist, and details of the long flowing end of a leather belt were inspired by traditional clothes, but is perfect for modernity in po by Junn. J.

A long side slit is also an element of modernity. He says, “This is where the refined taste and elegance of the seonbi is revealed intact. Po, in other words, is attire that gives power to the wearer, regardless of whether an Easterner or Westerner, or man or woman. It gives the wearer a sense of grandiosity as it wraps most of the body snuggly. A Western coat serves such purpose faithfully, but po also has grandiosity and generosity. Perhaps, the side slit reveals yet another aspect of modernity that is overlooked by modernity dominated by Western clothes.”

The side slit is another expression of sensuality. He learned it from po. It is all the more new modernity, which he has not yet recognized. Joseon men also had sensuality, of course, and he learned something new from the sensuality in old things.

Modernity interpreted by sensuality and generosity is expressed by the trend for clothes seemingly slightly larger, or ‘over-sized.’ “Clothes and fashion cannot be separated from each other. It is very timely in that the fashion of over-sized coats should appeal so well to the masses these days. Po was originally a kind of over-sized, rather larger piece of clothing. Over-sized po makes the power of an overcoat even more distinctive. Isn’t that interesting?”

“Seonbi culture deeply rooted in Korean culture is revealed intact in po,” Juun. J confessed when he summarized what he had learned from working with po. “One feels refined tastes in art and elegance of life in po. Po is so tightly closed when fastened, and po can be seen only as authentic and stifling. However, po also embraces richness and generosity. It is comfortable enough to embrace others. Such generous mind of a seonbi wearing po can be felt naturally by others looking at him, because po is a kind of clothing that shows everything already - generosity embracing everything, modern simplicity and honesty. I hope po continues to embody all of these things today and into the future.

<言 Eon> Denim, Leather
<詩 Si> Denim, Leather
Credits: Story

한복 장인 Hanbok Artisan — 김정아 Kim Jeong Ah, 장정윤 Jang Jung Youn, 안인실 An In Sil, 이홍순 Lee Hong Soon, 유선희 Yu Seon Hee
현대 디자이너 Contemporary Designer —  진태옥 Jin Tae Ok, 김서룡 Kim Seo Ryong, 정욱준 Juun. J
전시자문 Adviser — 조효숙 Cho Hyo Sook, 진태옥 Jin Tae Ok, 박경미 Park Kyung Mee, 박성실 Park Sung Sil, 정민자 Chung Min Ja
전시코디네이션 Coordination — 고정아 Ko Jeong Ah, 남지현 Nam Ji Hyun, 김운경 Kim Un Kyung

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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