EDITORIAL FEATURE

What is a Wonsam?

The Mid-19th century Korean robe, explained

For more than 500 years, royal family members of Korea's Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), wore special ceremonial gowns. In the dynasty's last century, royal brides continued to wear the traditional long, and wide-sleeved gowns made of the finest silk.

This gown, called a Wonsam, was worn by the royal Princess Deok-on (1822-1844) on her wedding day.

WONSOM of PRINCESS DEOKON 덕온공주, 1822-1844, Korea, Late Joeson Dynasty (From the collection of Seok Juseon Memorial Museum, Dankook University)

Despite the quantity of material used in its construction, the garment is extremely light and airy thanks to the fabric's loose weave. This type of silk gauze was typically worn in the warmer spring and summer seasons. Zoom in to appreciate its almost lace-like quality and the motifs hidden within.

Detail of flower and butterfly pattern, WONSOM of PRINCESS DEOKON 덕온공주, 1822-1844, Korea, Late Joeson Dynasty (From the collection of Seok Juseon Memorial Museum, Dankook University). 

The large peony blossoms symbolized nobility, wealth, and feminine beauty. The butterfly motifs held auspicious meanings including harmony in marriage, long life, and eternal trust and love.

Beside the gown's bright green color, its most striking elements are the bright gold Chinese characters 壽 (shou) and 福 (fu) running across the gown.

Detail of Chinese characters, WONSOM of PRINCESS DEOKON 덕온공주 1822-1844, Korea, Late Joeson Dynasty (From the collection of Seok Juseon Memorial Museum, Dankook University)

Fu, meaning good fortune, and shou, meaning longevity would have conveyed positive meanings for the bride and groom, and their families on the wedding day.

Princess Deok-on's Ceremonial Attire Reproduction,1822~1844, (From the collection of Seok Juseon Memorial Museum, Dankook University)
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