Jebok: Ritual Vestments

Jebok (제복, 祭服) refers to the highest form of ceremonial clothing worn for Confucian rituals by the scholar-gentry of dynastic times. The king and his officials vested in jebok when carrying out the most solemn rites of the court, such as sacrifices to ancestors and civic deities. This post will focus on the jebok worn by the scholar-gentry, and not the royal jebok which is called myeonbok (면복, 冕服).

Celebrants in a Confucian ritual wearing jebok in modern times

Like most of the hanbok related to Confucianism and the aristocracy, the jebok is derived from the clothing of ancient China. Ancient Chinese court clothing was made up of many detailed elaborate layers of robes, skirts, and ornaments. Eventually, even in the court, these ornate garments were relegated to the highest ceremonial and religious occasions. This ceremonial use of jebok was adopted by Korea.

Below is a comparison of the Joseon dynasty jebok and the equivalent garment from Ming China, which was the contemporaneous Chinese dynasty prior to the Manchu conquest:

Ming in blue, Joseon in black

Parts of the Jebok

The jebok is elaborately made up of several pieces: (1) the inner robe; (2)  the skirt; (3) the upper robe; (4) the ornamental collar; (5) the apron; (6) the cloth belt; (7) the rear ornamental cloth; (8) the ornamental belt; (9) the ornamental jade; (10) the crown; (11) the ritual baton. In detail:

1) The inner robe (백초중단, 白錞中單)

This white robe is worn under everything else:

2) The skirt (상, 裳)

Originally, the red “skirt” was an actual skirt which was tied around the waist, the length of which hid the bottom part of the white inner robe from showing (see the depiction of the Ming jebok above):

Inner robe and skirt, which was tied around waist of inner robe

In Korea, the amount of material that made up the skirt was minimized to the point of becoming an apron-like piece (not to be confused with the actual “apron” 폐슬 蔽膝):

The “skirt”

Another identical piece of fabric hung in the back as well, allowing the “skirt” to cover the front and back of the body.

3) The upper robe (상의, 上衣)

The dark upper robe was worn over the inner robe and skirt:

In Ming China, it looked like this:

The upper robe and skirt

4) The ornamental collar (방심곡령, 方心曲領)

The original purpose of the white square-centered round collar in ancient China was to keep the lapels on the upper robe straight. It eventually became ornamental and was worn until the early part of the Ming dynasty, when it was discarded. It continued to be worn in Korea.

5) The apron (폐슬, 蔽膝)

The apron also underwent a metamorphosis in Korea. As the name suggests, in China, this was an actual red apron tied around the waist over the upper robe:

Early Ming

In Korea, with the shortening of the upper robe, the “apron” was reduced to a red rectangular piece of fabric attached to the chest:

6) The cloth belt (대대, 大帶)

The Chinese version was long enough to be tied into a bow in the front:

For the Korean version, see below, attached to the rear ornamental cloth.

7) The rear ornamental cloth (후수, 後綬)

A special ornately designed piece of fabric hung in the back.

Chinese in blue, Korean in black

Here it is attached to the cloth belt:

8) The ornamental belt ( 각대, 角帶)

Worn on the waist over everything else:

9) The ornamental jade (패옥, 佩玉)

The jade ornaments freely hung on the right and left of the body.

10) The crown (양관, 梁冠)

Called the “bridge crown” for the distinctive curved portion with gold piping. The number of pipes designated rank and function.

11) The ritual baton (홀, 笏)

Originally, the baton had ritual notes written on paper and attached to it, but the object eventually became wholly ceremonial. Similar batons were used throughout East Asia by civic and religious officials.

I hope this post was interesting!

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2 comments

  1. Hi! I hope you can help me with a question. How was the ornamental belt attached to the outfit? Every time I see a formal, square belt displayed (either in museums, or images online), it’s either loose on a table, or the sides are covered by the mannequin’s sleeves. It’s obviously too loose to just sit on a man’s body, and I doubt that they clutched them with their elbows all day; but I haven’t been able to find belt loops on the other layers. I greatly appreciate your help and insight. Cheers!

  2. I never actually thought about that. Good question. It took me forever to find images, but it looks like there are just loops on each side.

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