Wisemen, dapper dudes, cowboys of the far east– I’m not really sure what to call them, I just know I’ve been charmed by these old world photographs of Korean style captured by visiting foreigners before the country was torn in half.
It all started with this photograph from the Cornell University Library, of a Korean boatman circa 1904. The caption reads:
Korean sailor takes a break from transporting cargo and people, sitting under the shadow from the sail, smoking from his long bamboo pipe. He wears cool hemp clothes.
Mysterious, suave and cool as a cucumber, it wasn’t long before the boatman had me looking all over the internet for preserved moments of historical Korean suaveness…
Ox Farmer, Korea, circa 1895
It’s hard to tell among the photographs I found in various archives, which were taken in what we know as modern-day North Korea or South Korea, but some are dated as far back as the mid 1800s, long before the division in 1945, captioned simply as “Korea”.
One thing is certain, their style is a far cry from North Korea’s 28 state-approved haircuts.
This photograph ↑ is one of the earliest photographs depicting yangban Koreans, taken in 1863. The yangban were part of the traditional gentry who oversaw the agrarian bureaucracy in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, the last dynasty in Korean history.
Three Korean gentlemen posed on deck of ship from the collection of William Henry Jackson, 1843-1942
The traditional Korean hats, somewhere between a Zorro hat and a pilgrim hat, were popular during the Joseon Dynasty, primarily to protect against the sun, but also to symbolise the wearer’s place in the hierarchy system.
The bigger the size of the hat, the higher the rank of that individual was. Men would also customise their hats, known as gaat, accessorizing with materials such as horse hair.
Korea, 1903 (c) William Wisner Chapin
Let’s just say, during the Joseon Dynasty, you level of “cool” definitely depended on how well you wore a hat.
And you got extra cool points for looking particularly at ease with a bamboo smoking pipe…
A Korean man in a traditional hanbok robe and boots, wearing a horse hair and bamboo hat (found via Pinterest)
(c) Bill Smothers
Korea 1920s. Posts along road which were carved to prevent devils from passing
Source: Postcard from Korea
Right: The Carolina Herrera fashion show back in 2011.
Just a little reminder that history really is the coolest.