History of Makeup: from Goryeo to Joseon

Makeup is derived from the instinctual human desire to make oneself more beautiful. Makeup has been used to fulfill various purposes from about 4000 years ago. Cosmetics were used to protect oneself from the environment, to practice religious rituals, and to express one’s social status. In today's society, makeup has become indispensable to display one’s own personality and image. The history of makeup during Goryeo and Joseon dynasties can be traced back to understand the historical background and meaning of makeup.

Flourishing of makeup, Goryeo

In Korea,appearance of makeup started to emerge during the years of the three kingdoms Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje (BC37~668). It is said that the introduction of Buddhism greatly influenced the culture of makeup in Silla, After the unification of the three kingdoms, there came Goryeo (918~1392), where the culture of makeup reached its peak. A lot of the makeup skills and its products were passed over from silla and started to develop from it.
What is special about Goryeo is that it is the first county in Korea history tohave promote and teach about makeup. it is said that the first king of Goryeo, Tae Jo Wang geon, ordered that Gisaengs (who served the king inside the palace ) be taught how to properly wear makeup and teh etiquette that followed it.

                                                     An example of Goryeo's gisaeng makeup.
                                                      (Photo courtesy of blog.naver/ahn640301)

People have differentated their makeup looks based on their social status at particular time. Gisaengs  who always have to wear makeup due to their job wore comparatively heavier makeup than the average. it was called bundae makeup. They wore hair oils to make their hair appear shiny, and white dace powder to make their complexion pale with  contrasting vivid red rouge on the lip and cheeks. Eyebrows were thin and drawn in semicircular shape. On the other hand, average women preferred less makeup without the use of color their cheeks and lips. 

Celadon cosmetics containers in Goryeo
(Photo courtesy of Coreana Cosmetics Museum) 

In addition to the social influence that encouraged using makeup, the development of celadon and the mirror also greatly contributed to its popularity. At the time, the technology of manufacturing celadon in Goryeo was eclipsing to the point of having it exported to different countries such as China. It soon led to production of different commodities used in people’s daily lives. A lot of the makeup containers were made with celadon. Skillful Goryeo people also made themselves a mirror based on the skills learned from China. Soon enough, the technology developed so that mass production was possible. It was soon dispersed to people and allowed the makeup culture in Goryeo to flourishment .

Simple and natural beauty, Joseon

On the other hand, the makeup culture of Joseon was more simple and plain compared to that of Goryeo. Compared to the social tendency to promote a luxurious appearance, Joseon (1392~1910) emphasized inner beauty rather than outer beauty, a ruling ideloogy rooted in Confucianism. It was even banned to wear extravagant garments or heavy makeup. Bundae makeup, popularized among gisaengs in Goryeo was also thought of as “too much” or inappropriate. Thus, the makeup looks in Joseon were very confined to its natural appearance. The brows, skin, cheeks and lips all had to look “natural”. If the before and after makeup the on a person looked vastly different, it was considered despicable.

An 18th century beauty in Joseon by Kim Hong-do.
(Photo courtesy of Seoul National Museum)

While the makeup trend in Joseon was simpler than that of Goryeo, that didn’t necessarily mean women at the time didn’t wear makeup at all. In fact, while the overall look is still natural, women in Joseon focused on keeping their skin clear and their look natural yet put together. They made themselves a lotion to keep their skin moisturized and applied honey mixed with its residue as a facial mask. According to the book Gyuhap Chongseo (1809), there were a number of ways to style one’s hair, ten ways to draw one’s brows, and several ways to apply lip makeup. It is noticeable that the book was read mostly by average Joseon women, not gisaeng or yangban (people in higher social class).
While most of the makeup products were hand-made in homes, makeup industries and its market started to emerge in the later period of Joseon. According to the records, there were separate makeup stores in markets and merchants who visited homes to sell makeup or hair products. In the painting called Taepyung sung sido which depicts scenes of people’s daily life during the Joseon era, it is interesting to spot stores selling accessories, combs, and mirrors. Compared to the mirrors made in Goryeo, mirrors made in glass were imported from countries like Russia or China and became more popular as it was much lighter and clearer. A lot of people, usually men, would buy their wives a mirror as a gift if they have a chance to travel to China.

Makeup accessories and portraits from Goryeo to Joseon.
(Photo courtesy of Tistory/dreamlives)

Sources by Hanyang University
Yun Ji-hyun        uni27@hanyang.ac.kr


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