K-Beauty in Goryeo era

In drama “Scarlet Heart Ryeo”, fourth prince So (actor Lee Jun Ki) wears a mask to cover a “hideous” knife scar on his face. He’s feared and shunned not only because of his ruthless killings but also because of the scar.

달의 연인-보보경심 려' 이준기, 가면에 손댄 채 심각한 얼굴…'무슨 일?' - 박혜미 기자 - 톱스타뉴스
Photo Credits
달의 연인-보보경심 려] 이준기의 눈빛은 언제나 옳다 - 연예투데이뉴스
Photo Credits

While the story about the fourth prince’s scar is a fiction created by the writer of Scarlet Heart Ryeo, it is no fiction that beauty was highly valued in the Goryeo era (Year 918~1392). K-beauty’s global popularity may be recent, but its history surely isn’t! Let’s take a look at how Korean women and men made themselves more beautiful hundreds of years ago.

육룡이 나르샤' 공승연, 단아한 '한복 자태' 선보여… '여심(女心) 강탈' - 신미래 기자 - 톱스타뉴스
Photo Credits. From the drama “Six flying dragons”. The attire of an unmarried, high-class woman in the Goryeo era
육룡이 나르샤' 공승연의 시대가 온다
Photo Credits. The same woman as above, but with her hair up. Women in the Goryeo era wore their hair down when unmarried, and up when they were married.
드라마 '육룡이 나르샤' 6회 이방원 유아인 캡쳐 : 네이버 블로그
Photo Credits. From the drama “Six flying dragons”. The attire of an unmarried, high-class man in the Goryeo era. An unmarried man in the Goryeo era usually had his hair down like this
이방원 유아인 성장사 다본다··· '육룡이 나르샤', 설민석 강의 축약본 방영 - 모바일
Photo Credits and hair up when he got married.

The “barely there” make-up style Korean make-up is characterized by existed even in the Goryeo era.

High status women lightly powdered their faces but did not use pink color on their cheeks, preferring a natural style of make-up. They drew their eyebrows long and thin, and bathed 3-4 times a day, prioritizing hygiene and cleanliness.

Real Bath] 『달의 연인-보보경심 려』를 통해 본 고려시대 목욕문화 : 네이버 블로그
Photo Credits. The Goryeo era was an equal and free society compared to the Joseon era. Marriage and re-marriage were common and both sons and daughters equally received inheritance. In a large bathing pool in the capital of Goryeo, both men and women freely gathered to bathe, 3-4 times a day.
드라마에 나왔던 고려시대 한복 복식 vs 조선시대 한복 복식 - 스퀘어 카테고리
Photo Credits

To make their skin smooth and white, they bathed in hot water filled with petals, or washed their faces with rice water. Calamus, a plant often used to make medicine, was boiled, the water used to wash their hair to keep it smooth and lustrous. Those who could afford to do so carried about silk scented pouches (which served as perfume).

Courtesans (considered to be low status women), on the other hand, wore heavy, strong make-up.

While men may not have used as much make-up, men also made sure to take care of their skin and even wore accessories like long drop earrings.

드라마 '달의 연인' 고대 주얼리 이야기 - 男주인공들의 귀걸이 디자인 ⑧
Photo Credits
조선시대 귀걸이 | 연예인, 배우, 하늘
Photo Credits

Various beauty tools were used as well. Mirrors made of mercury were widely popular among women, and tweezers to trim fingernails.

While beauty standards and trends may have changed slightly throughout the Goryeo period, one prevailing emphasis was on the importance of bringing out one’s natural beauty, instead of drastically changing one’s appearance. Both men and women also worked hard to not only work on their physical appearances, but present themselves as well put-together, elegant and sophisticated people.

It’s interesting learning about about beauty methods and standards of the Goryeo era, a period in Korean history in which beauty was a highly prized and sought after. The standards of this era seem to have influenced that of present day Korea as well. “투명 메이크업” (literal translation: “transparent make-up”), one that emphasizes skin care and minimal make-up that will bring out one’s best features, is still popular in Korea even today.

전지현, 노메이크업의 23살 때 리즈 시절 모습 눈길…'청초해' - 이예지 기자 - 톱스타뉴스
Photo Credits. “Transparent make-up”. Korean actress Jun Ji Jyun
Soul » 수지 고화질 - 2020 | 투명 메이크업, 청순 메이크업, 자연스러운 메이크업
Photo Credits. “Transparent make-up”. Korean actress Bae Suzy

If you liked this post about K-beauty in the Goryeo era, please give this post a “like” and check out my other blog posts on “Hanstyle”!

Cheers, Han Seol 🙂

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