Renting Hanbok was a huge must on my list of things to do while in Korea. You can see so many people wearing Hanbok walking around the Gyeongbokgung Palace out of your bus window while traveling around Seoul. Watching so many of the natives and foreigners wearing the beautiful Hanbok made the desire to experience wearing Hanbok even more enticing. I really want to wear it because I knew it would be an excellent way to engage more with Korean culture.
To be honest, I wasn't sure how I felt at first about the idea of me, a foreigner, wearing Hanbok especially since it's such a traditional piece of Korean clothing. There have been mixed opinions of people wearing the traditional clothing of a culture that they don't belong or resonate with. In the U.S there is the notion of cultural appropriation and what is cultural appropriation to one person isn't to another. It was a thought that I had to contemplate about especially worrying about how some people back home would react to me potentially wearing Hanbok. The friend I went with, Daisy, we both had conversations to make sure that our intentions of wearing Hanbok were meaningful, open-minded, and with respect towards this traditional item. After learning that wearing Hanbok in Korea isn't seen as cultural appropriation by natives (and also by my Korean friends back in the U.S) but as cultural appreciation, I felt more comfortable participating in the experience! Koreans want you to experience their culture in various ways and this one of the ways that they can share their culture.
When the day finally came for renting Hanbok it was super hot outside. We got alerts on our phones to not go outside due to extreme heat and to make sure we stayed cooled off and hydrated. My friend, Daisy, and I with our electronic fans and water bottles in our eco-bags we headed out into the scorching Seoul sun to rent our Hanbok. We weren't going to let the heat prevent us from renting Hanbok. It took us about 30 minutes via bus to arrive in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The next step is to find a place to rent Hanbok. This is where it can get overwhelming. There are so many places to rent Hanbok all around the Gyeongbokgung Palace! It was so hard to make a decision on which one to go to. We chose our Hanbok rental store based on the fact that I made eye contact with one of the workers there and he waved us in! I'm glad we went there because the selection was plentiful and the workers were so very nice! The workers there were bilingual so they were able to help us figure it all out due to their English abilities.
Picking out Hanbok for women is fairly simple*. You pick out a skirt first and then your shirt. There are so many options of colors to choose from for both the skirt and the shirt. You first pick a skirt color that you like and then they will help you find a shirt that will match it the best! They will also ask if you would like a crinoline to wear to make the skirt of the Hanbok appear more full. Once you have everything picked out they lead you to a dressing room where they help you put on the Hanbok. After getting dressed they lead to a vanity where they do your hair in a traditional braid and put beautiful hairclips in too. Due to my hair being curly and how common it is for my type of hair in Korea they were not able to braid it due to not knowing how to work with it. That is an important thing to keep in mind if you do not have straight/wavy hair if you are wanting a braid. However, they still were able to put these beautiful flower clips in my hair. The staff there were so nice and so easy to talk to. One girl saw my BTS tattoo and we talked about that for at least 10 minutes. That staff even took a photo of it which I thought was cute. Then they started playing BTS over their intercom for us! I really enjoyed their service and their energy towards us! Lastly, before we headed out to the palace we were given a locker to store our belongings, given a traditional purse to carrying to finish the look, and only paid about 20,000 KRW for a 3-hour rental.
Walking around the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Hanbok is such a fun experience. It gives an idea of what it was like to wear this type of beautiful attire daily hundreds of years ago. Especially with how hot it was and knowing that the attire can be very warm even though it was light gave more perspective on traditional daily life. The palace is really beautiful and walking around and seeing all the different rooms and thrones while wearing Hanbok gives a sense of sentiment. This area of Seoul seems so out of place and so preserved with the city and tall buildings in the front and the tall long-lasting mountains peak in the back. It's a place that can teach you so much about Korean history while feeling like you are royalty yourself. Since we were wearing Hanbok we couldn't miss the opportunity to go into the National Palace Museum of Korea. (Fun fact: while you have Hanbok on you can get into the museums for free!). The National Palace Museum of Korea has lots of relics from the Joseon Dynasty! Such as clothing, building structures, jewelry, and the first accurately mapped out astronomy map!
3 hours can go by so fast at Gyeongbokgung Palace and before we knew it we had to head back and return our Hanbok. It was an experience that is worth taking the time out of your day to do. We didn't even get to see all of the Palace and all of the other locations that were near by. That gives an opportunity for future additional exploration in Hanbok. Though you can feel like a princess it does comes with a value and a story that you can share with others to help more people become aware of Korean culture.
(*NOTE: you do not have to choose the traditional women Hanbok! You can also pick the "Queen" Hanbok or can even switch it up and wear the men's traditional Hanbok. I saw both of those done while I was in Seoul! Specifically, I saw a couple who switched roles with the Hanbok they wore.)