Tell me more.
This style of robe was worn by Korean brides in the 19th century and for other special occasions. The style originated with upper class women but eventually became popular with all women in Korea.
Symbolism on the robe lotuses, for purity and spirituality; peonies, for wealth; and a pair of birds, for marital bliss, in addition to color symbolism representing harmony, the masculine and feminine, and the five directions.
Hi there, we are curious about the hwalot. What do the colors symbolize?
They each symbolize a different direction as well as a virtue or an element.
Red represents the south, the cardinal direction which receives energy from the sun; fire, invigoration, and prosperity.
Blue is considered more feminine in this belief system. It means the east, and life.
Yellow is the center and relates to earth and the creation of life.
Black is north and white is west, and they are paired as opposites. The harmony and balance of opposites is considered very important.
You're welcome! Some traditional brides still wear the hwalot in Korea.
Is a combination of different garments?
No. Garments like this would have been worn by different people over generations and generations, handed down. The white cuffs and paper lining were replaced for each wearing of the robe.
This is also only part of a full wedding ensemble for a bride. She would also wear a skirt known as a chima and a jacket known as a jeogori, and the garment would be fastened with a belt.
Why does the robe have openings on the sides?
Those openings are to accommodate the skirt that would be worn underneath the robe!
Is the fabric very specific to the time period and social class?
Yes! The robe is made out of silk with embroidery and paper lining. The most significant material elements are the use of a uniquely Korean patchworking technique (see the sleeves) called saekdong and the use of paper as clothing. Korean Hanji paper is incredibly durable and multi-purpose.
Are the birds and flowers about fertility?
Yes! Think of birds that mate for life, and, of course, give birth to young birds.
The flowers are lotus and peony which are both symbolic in Korean art. The lotus pertains to ideas of purity, rebirth, and longevity. The peony relates to good fortune in the form of wealth and honor.
What is the meaning of the characters on this cloak?
On the back, at least some of the characters read “Union of Two Families” and “Wishing for One Hundred Blessings.” The front reads “Longevity Like a Mountain” and “Wealth Like the Ocean.”
What are the different kinds of flowers and birds? What do they mean?
There are two types of flowers. First is the lotus, which is a symbol of purity, rebirth, and longevity. Then there's the peony, which stands for wealth, fortune, and honor. The pair of birds represent marital bliss, as the birds mate for life.
What do the phoenix or egret-like birds represent?
The pair of birds represent marital bliss, the birds mate for life.
What do the primary color stripes represent?
Each color represents a few different things so all together they represent harmony and balance. For example, black, red, blue, white, and yellow represent the five directions: north, south, east, west, and center, respectively.
Why was the hwalot repaired so much if it belonged to a rich person? And why was it passed from from generation to generation? Is that a kind of family pride?
This garment was associated with family and community pride. It would have been owned by an aristocratic woman, but she also would have passed it down to family members and, eventually, other community members. These robes are like heirlooms in a sense, with brides wanting to wear the same hwalot their mother or grandmother did. After the robes started looking shabby, they were passed down to a less wealthy family.
The white cuffs, especially, would be replaced every time it was worn to keep it looking like new. Even for a rich person, a garment like this would have been expensive with all the different elements and extensive embroidery.
I read that most Korean women could a buy a hwalot for their wedding by the 20th century. Does that mean that everyone was richer?
I'm not sure exactly what caused that change. I suspect that the hwalot became less expensive (possibly as a result of industrialization) rather than the people becoming that much richer.
Why was the lining made of paper if this robe belonged to a rich person?
The lining is made of relatively inexpensive paper because the cuffs were replaced frequently to always look fresh and new!
What are these shapes at the bottom?
Those are waves; they add to the natural imagery of the embroidery.
Waves are a common feature on hwalot, or bridal robes. They provide a ground for the natural imagery to be built on. Notice that the herons are standing on the water and reed-like plants also grow at the bottom.
So these symbols are mainly Joseon dynasty traditions?
Many of the symbols can be traced back even further. The elaborate decoration of women's clothing is what is really indicative of the Joseon Dynasty. Especially in contrast to the austerity of men's clothing and furnishings.
The garment is really sophisticated when compared to Joseon period porcelain and the men's items.
It is definitely more ornate, that's true! The men's items you see from the Joseon period are less decorative and more austere not because the individuals who made them were less skilled,
but because they were made with different aesthetic goals and social norms in mind.
Men of the Joseon period were influenced in their dress and in the things they surrounded themselves with by Confucianism. As a result, the clothes and items for men in the Joseon period were much simpler and more austere. Women, meanwhile, were still allowed to wear and own the bright, colorful objects that were associated with Buddhist aesthetics.
The moon jar is a great example of the simple and unadorned being desirable. Moon jars are made of two bowls joined together, and often have a visible seal where the two meet. The lopsided aspect of the jars is actually seen as more beautiful because it is subtle, simple, and natural, all desired attributes in a society a society with a Neo-Confucianist ideology.
Oh, I see.
Did they use special materials or techniques?
The color blocking or patchworking you see on the sleeves is a common Korean technique called saekdong.
Is saekdong only used on wedding dresses?
Saekdong is not only used on wedding clothing, no. You can see it on any number of colorful Korean garments.
The intricate embroidery and gold thread, in addition to the heavy symbolism on the robe, are what make it such a special piece for a special event.
What is the meaning of these Chinese characters? Why did they use Chinese instead of Korean?
The writing, like the flower and animal symbolism on the hwalot, communicates blessings for the marriage. The writing here in particular says, "union for the two families" and "wishing for one hundred blessings"
As for the use of Chinese characters, that's actually something you'll see a lot in our Korean gallery. Korea has a long history of cultural exchange and influence with China. As for how it relates to art, Chinese and hangul work very differently as writing systems, so they can also communicate things differently. For instance, in hangul, each character is an individual sound or syllable. In Chinese, each character can have an entire meaning unto itself, so it can be used differently in a composition.
In fact, until 1446 Koreans almost always used the classical Chinese writing system. Hangul, the Korean writing system, is incredibly young, and you can see the influence of centuries using Chinese writing in Korean artwork, alongside the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism.
So all of the Koreans could read Chinese or just some aristocrats?
As with literacy in general, aristocrats would have a better chance of learning the language system.
Did they only wear this kind of garment for their wedding and then they passed it to the next generation?
Yes, these robes are very much associated with weddings. They are based on an earlier type of garment that noblewomen probably wore on other special occasions, but those didn’t have as much embroidery.
Although the women's items are more ornate, they still had relatively lower position than their husbands?
Yes, the women were not held to the Confucianist standards that men were. Women's items were seen as frivolous and distracting. At the time, men and women led almost entirely separate lives. Wealthy Joseon period homes, for instance, allowed men and women to entertain guests of their respective gender without ever interacting with each other.
What are some of the symbols on the robe?
There are lots! The colors (red, yellow, blue, black, and white), for starters, symbolize the five directions (north, south, east, west, and center).
The flowers are auspicious symbols: the lotus pertains to ideas of purity, rebirth, and longevity; the peony relates to fortune in the form of wealth and honor.
A pair of birds embroidered on the robe represent a long happy marriage and the hope for children (think of birds who mate for life and have numerous young).
Are there robes for different occasions?
This is a type of robe that is worn in Korea by brides! This robe is a style that was originally worn by upper class women and then became a garment for special events among people of lower classes.
There are other robes and garments for other events and occasions in Korea. The features that set this apart as a bride's robe include the red silk outer portion, blue interior, and color blocked sleeves in blue, yellow, red, and white.
Is hwalot the same as kimono?
Hwalots are a type of robe from Korea. Kimonos are Japanese.
Is this for a man or a woman?
The robe, or hwalot, you photographed is for a woman. It is described as a Korean bride's robe from the 19th century, but it could also be worn for other special occasions
The symbols on the robe allude to unity, balance, and fertility all valuable traits in a marriage.