SINBAL 신발 (footwear)

So after the longer hiatus caused by my holiday in Crete my new post focuses on the traditional Korean footwear which is a piece of art in its own right and holds many meanings just as hanbok. In the Joseon Dynasty, shoes were not only used as foot coverings and decorations, but also as indicators of social class and status. The materials and shapes of shoes differed depending on gender, class, job, social background, income and attire. The traditional Korean sinbal can be divided on hwa (화), which originated from the north and are similar to contemporary boots (shoes that go past the ankles), and li (이) or hye (혜) from the south which include all types of shoes that don’t cover the ankles, meaning they are low cut and bearing resemblance to today’s loafers and flats. 

Hwahyejang (화혜장) are craftsmen who can produce traditional footwear in Korea. However, in the past both of the above mentioned types of sinbal were made by separate specialist craftsmen, the hyejang and the hwajang.

The only surviving traditional hwahyejang in Korea today is Hwang Hae Bong, who was recognized by the Korean Cultural Heritage Association as an intagible cultural asset in 2004.

The basic form of the Korean shoe was developed during the Three Kingdoms era, although earlier forms date back to prehistoric times. 

During the early Joseon Period as many as 30 professional shoemakers were employed at court. The shoemaking caste, however, was considered cheonmin (low born class), the lowest possible caste. 

At this time, shoes were an important indicator of a person’s profession or social status, with designs, colours and styles varying depending on social standing or occupation. However, after the Gabo Reform of 1894, traditional leather shoes became less popular, and in the twentieth century were largely replaced by gomusin (rubber shoes).

1) HWA (화) or MOKHWA (목화)

Hwa are a type of traditional Korean boots, which, along with yi (이) or hye (혜), are a subdivision of sinbal. These boots were made from leather or velvet and were usually black in color. They were worn by guards, government officers, court members, and people who had an active lifestyle. The craftsmen who make them are called hwajang (화장).  They used to be originally worn by ethnic minorities of northern China. It is assumed that hwa was introduced to Korea from Tang Dynasty during the Three Kingdoms period just like wonsam. Among the types of hwa which are also known as mokhwa are included hwaja, baekmokhwa and heukhwa.



HWAJA (long-necked shoes)

Hwaja were the most well-known and used variation of hwa, worn both by the civil and military officials alongside with their gwangbok (official garb) and uniforms on many occasions during the mid and late Joseon Dynasty. The male members of the royal household adopted them as their everyday footwear. 

During the mid and late Joseon Dynasty, mokhwa were worn by grooms as wedding shoes even if they were commoners. It was granted as a kind of privilege for the happy occasion just as the bride could wear the ceremonial wonsam. They used to be black and unadorned, with a leather or wooden sole, the upper part was made of thick cotton, overlaid with black velvet and lined with white or red (for the king) cotton flannel. The quarter was constructed in five pieces. 

HEUKHWA (black ceremonial boots made of leather)

Another type of hwa (boots), specifically worn by the king and his oficials called heukhwa . They were very expensive, boot-shaped, cold and water resistant footwear favored by the hightest ranked men of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, the king’s boots used to be higher and thicker than official’s mokhwa and decorated with red cloth edging along the scams, toecaps, and insteps and a wider one along the top edge. 


BAEKHWA or BAEKMOKHWA 백목화 (白木靴, white mourning boots)

Baekhwa were worn by Joseon scholars,military and court officials during periods of national mournings(death in the royal household). They were undecorated and made of white leather or white cloth with long necks.

2) HYE



They were expensive low-cut (flat) shoes with wide and high front tip. The upper part was made of sheep leather (sheepskin) or silk upper while durable cow leather and a single sole nale were used for the sole. 

Taesahye were worn by the yangban (aristocracy) because they were the only class who could afford the high price. They are best known as everyday shoes for noblemen, however, contrary to the popular belief taesahye were worn by women as well

They were identified by a pattern of white lines at the tip. The difference made the markings and stripes on the high wide toes and heels – the men’s taesahye have them much more prominent- and the shoes worn by women have a sharper toe-cap. 



Danghye were leather shoes often overlaid with patterned silk and adorned with scroll decorations. They used to be worn by women from upper-class families and were considered very precious. The term of danghye originated from the arabesque pattern of the applique on the toe and heel. They developed from the shoes brought to Korean peninsula from the Tang dynasty during the Shilla period. Their colouring varied, for example, a pink background with light green highlights at the front and back, etc. If it had blue markings over a red background, they were worn by women who were a bit older, whereas if it was the other way around, it was worn by younger women.



They were flat shoes made of silk and very similar to danghye except from the cloud pattern on the toe and on the heel from which the term of unhye originated, though the pattern was reduced in the last period of the Joseon dynasty (the Chinese charakter of „un“ means cloud). They were worn by women ranging from the middle class to royalty, depending on the material used. 


Also called ggotsin (꽃신), the famous Korean flower/floral shoes, these shoes were made from leather, then a layer of silk was put on the top and embroidered with trees and flowers such as pines, bamboo, Japanese apricots, peonies, lotus and chrysanthemums or flowers the future wearer wished. 

Soohye were worn by young aristocratic women. 


A general term used for shoes worn by the members of the royal household, often made with silk or leather. The categorie includes soohye, danghye and unhye among others.


Woekohye were designed for general use and worn by men. They had no distinctive patterns. The cover of the shoes was made from silk dyed white, jade, black or grey, or from deer skin dyed black or gray.


The female counterpart of woekohye, weren’t decorated at the tip of the shoe, made of black leather and silk. This footgear was mostly worn by ginsaeng.


Balmaksin were very expensive shoes worn by high ranking bureaucrats, they also had cleats at the bottom.


Balmakhye were worn by elderly who had to use a cane to walk or infirm. They were ether black or gray.

BAEKHYE 백혜 (white mourning shoes)

Baekhye were white shoes that the general populace wore during days of national mourning following the kings’s death.


Another type of mourning shoes made of white leather. They were worn by both men and women wore to funerals, although you can tell which ones were worn by which sex by the shape of the shoes.



Onhye had a quilted lining and were used as winter footwear.


The most superior shoes for men worn by kings during special rituals and offcial ceremonies.Jeokseok were red which is unsual since usualy the blue colour was more commonly associated with men in that time. The shoes also had ribbon-like laces tied around the ankle to keep the shoe from slipping, especially during ceremonies. A thread of twisted blue silk was also tied around the shoes for extra security during such important events.Jeokseok were worn with red ceremonial socks known as mal.


Cheongseok were the female counterpart of jeokseok with ribbons that were tied around the ankles except they were blue instead of red.

The shoes were worn by the queen during rituals and ceremonies. They used to be worn with blue ceremonial socks called mal. 

JAEHYE (Shoes for ancestral rites)

Jehye was shoes worn by the civil and military official for ancestral rites, rituals and ceremonies.The upper part was overlaid with deep blue wool and lined with white deerskin. Worn during rituals and ceremonies. They look like hye except the 3-centimeter long white ribbons which are used as shoelaces to secure the jaehye to the feet.


HEUKHYE 흑혜 (black shoes)  

Heukhye were a type of men’s hye made from leather and fleece worn during the Joseon Dynasty by scholars, military, governmental officials with their uniforms and by yangban men for daily wear and one of the most common footwear after jipsin (straw shoes).They were usually black in color and originally undecorated, however, late in the Joseon Dynasty strings started to be attached to them.



Hukhye were worn by men at daytime and had clout nails at the heels (the shoes on the right side of the picture, the first ones are heukhye).

NOKBIHYE 녹비혜 (deerskin shoes) 

Shoes made of deerskin, nokbihye were a type of unoiled shoes worn with one’s daily clothes adn had a shape similar to taesahye shoes but without any distinguishing decorations. The name nokbihye comes from the fact that they are made of deerskin. As low-cut shoes they were high-quality ones worn by people of high station. The white leather portions remain clean exactly as they were. Holes in the shoes from the nails go all the way up to the top, rust has appeared, and on the nails on the sole is the impression of a star.

YUHYE or JINSIN 진신 (Oiled shoes for wet weather)

Yuhye are shoes that both men and women wore in a rainy days instead of namaksin(wooden shoes).They are made waterproof using rawhide soaked in perilla oil. This oil comes from the same plant that produces kkaenip, a strongly flavored leaf used in Korean cousine. The sole of the shoe was hammered down using clout nails to ensure extra ptorection against puddles and rain.

NAMAKSIN 나막신 (wooden rain shoes, wooden clogs)

Also called keukja, moklee,mokgeuk, mokyeokji, mokyeok or mokhye, namaksin are a different kind of rain shoes. These traditional Korean clogs are made of wood for protection against mud and rain.The shoes are worn by Koreans of all ages and social positions, usually in the rainy seasons.First, namaksin was made only by a piece of wood tied with rope, but gradually modified according feet’s size. Unlike Japanese geta, namaksin has its heels carved out of one piece with the shoes.There were two kinds of namaksin; one with heels and one without. It was the one with heels which was worn on during wet wather.


 The refers to shoes made of rubber in a form of Korean traditional shoes. The shoes are wide, with low heels. Gomusin for men were modeled after gatsin (갖신), and the ones for women after danghye (당혜).

Gomusin first appeared in the early 20th century. They were much easier to keep clean than danghye and jipsin (straw shoes) and they could be worn when it rained. Therefore gomusin gained a popularity and replaced traditional shoes.


Jipsin are Korean traditional sandals made of straw. Koreans have worn straw sandals since ancient times. They are categorized as yi(이), shoes with a short height, and the specific name can vary according to the materials used, as with samsinwanggolsincheongol jisin, and budeulsin.

In the Joseon Era jipsin were worn mostly by commoners, servants, working farmers, and scholars while on outings. As they are pretty durable and affordable, they are widely used and chosen as daily footwear. Today’s Jipsin style is inherited from the Joseon period.


Mituri were a type of straw shoes made of paper, paper mulberry, bush clover, hemp, ramie, rice straws. It was born by both men and women through all social classes, however, the materials differed accordingly and the yangban class’s mituri were more elaborate and intricate. 

Mituri were often very beautiful and there were two types of them according their thickness: ddanjongbak and jechongbak. The former was made by plucking the hoegi (fine part) from rice straw and mixing and twisting the fibres, and the latter refers to those made by creating shoes through grabbing hold of one part, mixing and twisting the fibres. For example ddanchongbakis were beautiful shoes and were used by both men and women when going outside while Jechongbakis were used when climbing mountains or doing work, and were shoes worn by farmers the majority of the time. Straw shoes, hemp shoes, sedge shoes and others existed according to the material. The makeup of the straw shoes was four-ply or six-ply, and were made of a changbadi (sole), chong (horsehair), the back of the shoe, dogaengi (connecting cord), and danggamitjul (cord attached to the horsehair and shortened or lengthened accordingly).

DUNGGEUNISIN 둥구니신 (rounded snow shoes)

They were worn by people who lived in mountains to stop themselves from slipping on snowy days. They were made of hay, vines, etc.


Snow overshoes worn for additional traction in mountain areas.



  1. Awesome post! So much detail and information. I find it so amazing that even the smallest details, like shoes, indicated so much back then – the wearer’s status, occupation, gender, etc. I also love how you put all these pictures in here to illustrate. 😀

    1. Thanks, Hope 🙂 ! I appreciate all you wonderful and supportive comments!

      The Joseon society was far more openly discriminatory than in the 21th centrury. The main reason for this need of identifying features was the harsh caste system that was functioned in Korean peninsula until the WW2.

  2. I just found your blog today and I want to say thank you for taking the time to educate anyone interested in learning. I found this post because I was looking for a pattern for a Soohye or Gomusin pattern to make a pair of shoes for my doll. I am attempting to sew and entire traditional outfit (and then wardrobe) for her. I am currently working on the Jeogori pattern. So I still have a lot of planning, drawing, measuring and mockup to do. I cam for one thing and learned a great deal more. Now I have to solidify my ideas as to where in society she would be. Going to study your blog now like a master class. Thank you *bows*

  3. JannyMac · · Reply

    Wow, the Koreans invented the Ugg boot! I had no idea!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: