Famous painting by Shin Yun Bok, as we can see a gisaeng entertainer is undoing her norigae accessory as she gets undressed (Source: Dramasrok)

SOUTH KOREA – DRAMASROK mention that perfume pouches were used across East Asia. In China, Xiangbao aroma pouch fragrant pouches were worn around the neck when the weather got hot and humid. And they were filled with herbs such as cinnabar, calamus, wormwood, and chrysanthemum said to prevent heat stroke and repel mosquitoes. There’s more interesting info on Chinese incense culture here.

In Japan, kakegou hanging scented sachets could be attached to kimonos. (Japan in particular has continued the traditional Art of Incense and one of the oldest shops Shoyeido has been in business for over 300 years.)

Portrait of a Beauty by Hyewon, Sin Yun Bok (1758–1813)

Highly ornate norigae were worn by the upper classes on special occasions and made with precious stones, gold and silver. Lower class ladies made their own accessories with knotting and embroidered material. Although gisaeng were technically classed as slaves, they were really in a class of their own and had their own style of dress.

Norigae had a decorative main part held together with maedup knotting techniques and finished off with tassels at the bottom. They came in different sizes and styles from the very simple to the very elaborate depending on the rank of the wearer, the occasion, and the season.

The interesting little book Norigae: splendour of the Korean costume by Lee Kyung Ja (Ewha Womans University Press) introduces us to a variety of norigae. My favourite one is this three-part norigae (see below) which includes a knife (to protect the lady’s chastity), an openwork pendant to hold incense, and an ornate container in the shape of a long-head locust to hold ear picks!

A norigae could also include a needle case (needlework was a symbol of the virtuous Joseon lady), a case with acupuncture needles, (impressive if the wearer knew how to use the needles!) or the less impressive, but still useful, case of toothpicks.

Four Kinds Of Perfume Norigae

Perfume Cases (Hyang-Gap)

These were containers made of gold or silver openwork and lined with a thin material. The herbs (such as spikenard, white birth, clove, musk, and camphor, mixed with honey) were made into cakes and put into the pendant of the norigae. The fragrances could be released slowly through the open metalwork. Here’s an example from the National museum of Korea.

Perfume Pouches (Hyang-Nang)

Perhaps good for the those on a lower budget, embroidered perfume pouches were made in auspicious shapes – such as bats, butterflies, or cicadas – and they had a drawstring closing. And the most popular colours were green, pink, and red.

Perfume Bars (Gak-Hyang)

Herbs could also be crushed and pressed into bars which were then stamped with a symbolic pattern. There was no container or pouch, the bar was the main decorative feature of the accessory with knotting and tassels.

Perfume Beads (Bal-Hyang)

At the palace only high ranking women could wear norigae – court ladies were not allowed. But it’s said that they wore strings of perfume beads under their skirts as an inner-norigae. (inner-norigae were not meant to be seen and were worn under the hanbok!)

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