Saturday, October 22, 2011

Traditional Korean Hairdos

Ancient Asian cultures seemed to have quite a bit of a fetish for hair, often requiring women to wear wigs, or spend hours arranging their locks into a combination of coils and chignons.

The Koreans, however, were unique in their obsession with the use of braids for hairstyling. At the height of 18th century fashion, they were probably the Asian counterpart of the French in Europe, with their demand for white powdered wigs and increasingly towering coiffures:

Now this is a hairstyle I just don't get. It's called keun meori, and was worn only by royals. To achieve this look, a huge bundle of braided hair was first wrapped around the head, before a wooden attachment (carved to resemble hair) was affixed to it. There is an excellent video here (in Korean) for those who are interested to know how to make it, click on the button below the picture.

Also, a pretty good description of the various other Korean hairstyles can be found at Ask a Korean!

You will see, that the staple of every hairstyle is the braid. The most basic daeng'gi meori is a simple braid tied with a ribbon at the end. This is twisted and wrapped into a bun at base of the head to create a jokjin meori. To create the royal hairdos or the gisaeng's eon'jeun meori, you then wrap another huge, long, fat braid around the braided bun, fold it at the top, and pin it at the bottom. The bigger you want your hair to be, the more braids you can add.

See Culture Content here for how to make the eon'jeun meori and here for the queen's eo'yeo meori. Again, click on the small button below the image. One thing that the video doesn't show is how the braids are fastened and held together; I guess they use some pins or hair ornaments/sticks to keep it in place.
Modern takes on the gache have made it a lot more sophisticated: if anyone watched the various productions of Hwang Jin Yi, the detail and variety of the wigs were incredible:
These braids seem to be fastened around a metal/plastic? stand, which is then placed on the head for support. If you watch this video of a lady getting dressed up for a photo package in Korea, you will see how the wig comes on a stand and is positioned around the head. This ridiculous getup that resembles a funeral wreath illustrates it more clearly. Braid around a braid around a braid.
Because I have no idea how to make such a stand, or how to keep the hair in position on it, I decided to do things the traditional way and braid some bundles of Kanekalon hair fibre before wrapping them around each other. I got 48 inches worth of jumbo braid fibre from ebay for making dreadlocks, but it has yet to arrive, so more updates after experimenting with the material later on.

In the meantime, some weirdly interesting pictures of gache that I found online:
Lady Gaga looking bizarre as usual in a gisaeng wig. I'm surprised that she didn't go for the more outlandish keun meori...
Or a more hair-raising design.

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