Art/Style/Travel Diaries

The day I wore the hanbok and learned more about the terno

Channeling the Joseon era and the Spanish rule through the national garb: a celebration of PH-Korea culture ties

The traditional hanbok and the Korean hand gesture of love go together.

Imagine the jeepney navigating the streets of Manila at rush hour. Just boarding it would be difficult for a woman in a terno with its tapered silhouette, unless she’s in a balintawak with its slightly billowy skirt. The Korean hanbok skirt would definitely make boarding and alighting from the jeep much easier, voluminous it may be.

Obviously, national dresses as everyday wear are anachronistic, but these attires have further strengthened a people’s ties–forged in recent years by the Hallyu (Korean wave)—between Korea and the Philippines.

The two came together at a culture event, Threads of Tradition: A Celebration of Korean & Philippine Traditional Attires, organized by the Korean Cultural Center (KCC) in the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). It was held at the Leandro Locsin Auditorium at the NCCA in Intramuros, Manila, on Nov. 8, 2023.

According to the organizers, Threads of Tradition was intended to celebrate the beauty and historical significance of Korea and the Philippines’ traditional clothes, and to raise awareness of the importance of their preservation and appreciation, since they are vital links to a nation’s cultural heritage.

Guests of ‘Threads of Traditions’ try on the hanbok and terno after the lectures.

The speakers, Dr. Sun Jung Woo and Dr. Marilyn R. Canta, discussed the hanbok and terno, respectively, and how these shaped the culture of their nations. After the lectures, the guests enjoyed the experience of trying either the hanbok or terno, and posing for the obligatory selfie.

Dr. Sun Jung Woo discusses the hanbok.

Timeline: hanbok

A nation’s story can be narrated in various ways—beauty pageants, food, heroes, and more. Woo and Canta told their stories through the hanbok and terno.

Woo, an assistant professor in Korean studies at Ateneo de Manila University, said the hanbok was a critical component in how social order in Korea was kept through successive dynasties over two millennia.

The term hanbok—”Han” refers to Korean; “bok” means clothing—was introduced in Korea in 1876 when it opened its ports to the world. The garment originated from the Three Kingdoms (57 BC-AD 668) where Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje ruled the northern, southeastern, and southwestern parts of the Korean Peninsula, respectively. But the world’s familiarity with the hanbok begins with Joseon-ui —another term for hanbok—of the Joseon era (1392-1897), popularized in such historical K-dramas as Rookie Historian Goo Hae Byung, Love in the Moonlight, Under the Queen’s Umbrella, etc.

Jung Haeju (topmost) of the Korean Cultural Center selects the hanbok for the author to try on.

The basic components of a hanbok are the jeogori (upper garment for men and women), chima (skirt) for women, and baji (pants) for men. However, said Woo, the essential features of good fabric and voluminous silhouette, and the basic design of the modern hanbok emerged during the Joseon period, alongside values of simplicity and austerity that permeated the society.

Author Liana Garcellano feeling comfy in traditional hanbok

All three kingdoms had the basic jeogori, chima, and baji (also worn by women), and an additional po (men’s outer robe). The attire of the Baekje and Silla kingdoms was similar to Gorguygo, which was influenced by the Tang Dynasty, but differed in color scheme and head accessories. Gold embroidery was common in the Silla kingdom because its needlepoint skills were masterful. Political stability and international exchanges in the Silla kingdom led to an influx of Chinese-style dress styles and fashion, making wearing luxurious dresses a trend until restriction on the type of material used was imposed by King Heungdeok.

“The hanbok has preserved its original form throughout much of Korea’s long history. It’s the Koreans’ quintessential cultural heritage, the most visible in confirming (our) national identity and roots,” explained Woo, who wore a hanbok to her lecture.

A simplified hanbok evolved in the 20th century, a result of women’s activities advanced by, according to Woo, public enlightenment and education. Instead of wearing what she called the “belt-waist hanbok,” the women wore “shoulder-waist hanbok” to avoid arrest and harassment by the Japanese police during the independence movement.

Other changes included the parasol or umbrella supplanting the customary jangot (head cover) and sseugae chima (a skirt covering the face used by noblewomen) in 1910; forgoing the traditional hanbok socks for shoes and socks between the 1930s and 1940s; and exchanging the traditional fortune pouches for clutch bags in the 1960s.

The hanbok through the centuries (from Dr. Woo’s PowerPoint)

But by the 1970s, said Woo, the hanbok was worn only during special occasions, having become more decorative and ceremonial than practical.

Stamps commemorating the hanbok were issued in 2019. (from Dr. Woo’s PowerPoint)

Timeline: terno

The dress code of precolonial Filipinos was “less,” compared to the Koreans. Canta said they wore loincloths and sported tattoos before the Spaniards came, directing her audience’s gaze to the evidence she pulled up on the screen, the Boxer Codex.

Dr. Marilyn Canta talks about the terno

My cursory Internet research showed that women wore a short, almost skimpy, piece of cloth called tapispatadyong in the Visayas region—and a simple jacket.

The loincloth was still worn in Cebu circa 1815, but the influence of the Spanish colonizers on the way Filipinos dressed held sway. Some wore loose silk, embroidered pants with loose shirts, and salakot (native head wear), according to Canta, a retired professor of the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines.

Pre-colonial Filipino dressing, I read, was deemed immodest by the Spanish authorities and, thus, outlawed, necessitating every woman to be “properly” covered from head to toe in the baro’t saya (blouse and long skirt). But not all baro’t saya was created equal. Canta said the differences were seen in the material used, its variations covering the plaided or checkered patterns of the patadyong. The men wore a barong Tagalog, a light dress shirt. Like the baro’t saya, the material of the barong Tagalog distinguished the affluent from the hoi polloi.

“The structure of the barong Tagalog was the same, but the elite [had] refined fabric, unlike the commoners. Also, it was a tradition for the elite to have embroidery on the baro’t saya and barong Tagalog,” Canta said.

The butterfly sleeves make the terno stand out. (from Dr. Canta’s PowerPoint)

National dress aesthetics

The looseness of the hanbok—why it doesn’t accentuate the body—reflects its aesthetics of silhouette, space, and lines that express its richness and softness. Tellingly, the type of hanbok one wore was strictly based on the Confucian ideology of hierarchical social order, particularly in the Joseon dynasty. One wore a hanbok according to one’s social class.

The author feeling the Joseon vibe in a traditional hanbok

Women in Spanish-ruled Philippines, I read, remained covered, their bodies (including the heels) hidden under layers of clothing. Canta explained that from the baro’t saya came the still-voluminous “Maria Clara” with bulkier, looser sleeves.

During the succeeding American colonial period (1902-1946), the “Maria Clara” was reconstructed into the traje de mestiza (dress of the mestiza), per The outfit drew inspiration from Hollywood, which the Americans introduced to the Philippines.

The ‘Maria Clara’ – the outfit before the terno (from Dr. Canta’s PowerPoint)

Canta said the female figure was accentuated in the traje de mestiza. The full saya became “slimmer that burst out at the hem into a flare and acquired a train,” a.k.a. saya de cola (skirt with a tail), and the camisa, the embroidered blouse with loose sleeves changed into “a clinging bodice with delicate oversized lace, bell-shaped sleeves” (

In time, the separate pieces of the traje de mestiza fused into a full-length dress called the terno, which was popularized by Imelda Marcos. The terno did away with the tapis and panuelo (scarf), but retained the characteristic butterfly sleeves. The play on the form of the terno continued with the layers, embroidery, and appliqués, said Canta.

The “sexier” traje de mestiza was the Americans’ take on the ‘Maria Clara.’ (from Dr. Canta’s PowerPoint)

A less voguish terno—“more rural” as Canta put it—called the balintawak evolved from the traje de mestiza, bringing back the tapis and panuelo.

The hanbok was retrieved from the back of the closet due to the patriotism that swept Korea when it hosted the 1986 Seoul Asian Games and 1988 Summer Olympics

Modish traditional clothes

Comparatively, the hanbok became more fashionable in terms of everyday wearability than the terno. The former was retrieved from the back of the closet due to the patriotism that swept Korea when it hosted the 1986 Seoul Asian Games and 1988 Summer Olympics. Woo said the fervor was further fueled by the “Wear Hanbok” campaign launched in the universities, where students wore it on a daily basis, finding it comfortable and, thus, generating a renewed interest in it.

The 1990s vibe was different; the view of what Korean was took on a global perspective, leading to many improved hanbok brands and the term itself changing to “daily hanbok.” (Significantly, Korean cultural products becoming state policies began in the late 1990s when then president Kim Dae-jung capitalized on the popularity of the K-drama in Japan and China. His government aimed to invest in cultural products, a policy passed down to subsequent administrations. (

More diverse forms of hanbok emerged that were no different from modern daily wear from the 2000s to the present. Woo pointed out that the diverse daily hanbok has attracted the attention of the 20s and 30s generation, while the hanbok introduced by BTS and Blackpink, and in K-movies and K-dramas are very popular overseas.

Canta can only hope that a strong interest in the terno, similar to that of the hanbok, would emerge in the country. For now, the terno is generally worn in special occasions and social events. Case in point: Ace, the event’s emcee and main vocalist of P-pop boy band, was in a barong Tagalog. Before closing the event, he echoed Canta’s wish: “Hopefully more people can wear Filipino clothes and represent the country.”

The modern barong Tagalog in various colors (from Dr. Canta’s PowerPoint)

Design-wise, Canta acknowledged that the terno and barong Tagalog are in sync with modern fashion. For example, the barong Tagalog isn’t always in off-white or ecru hues, and a less expensive short-sleeved barong is worn in some offices in the country.

National dresses aren’t simple items of clothing. They express a nation’s identity and reflect its socio-ideological structures and values. They’re journals of the past, guidelines for the present, and blueprints for a country’s future.

As Canta said, “Clothes reflect what’s happening in society. Clothing is not neutral; they’re accompanied by signification.”

About author


She has clocked years of overseas work and living. On the second year of the pandemic she returned and settled back in the Philippines after 20 years.

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