The royal court of the Joseon Dynasty wore a variety of accessories to style their hair. Binyeo was one of them.
This traditional hairpin is used to keep a lower bun in place and was usually worn by married women; it was also an ornamental piece used to style hair. The accessory was matched based on outfit, season, occasion and the wearer’s age. The shape of the jamdu (pin head) signified auspicious symbols like longevity, health and wealth.
According to historical records, Binyeo has been used in Korea since the Three Kingdom Dynasty. At that time most Binyeos assumed a “U” form and were called Chae. As a popular hairstyle was to make one’s hair abundant by fixing a part-wig, the “U” form was more practical. The stick-shaped Binyeo, or Jam, became widespread only during the Joseon Dynasty, under King Youngjo’s rule (18th century). During this period, the abundant style, considered too extravagant, was banned and the chignon became the standard hairstyle. The long Binyeo was then used to maintain one’s hair in a tight bun. The only useful ornament left, it soon flourished in style.
The royals wore jamdu shaped like dragons and phoenixes, while widows wore a wooden binyeo. The material used to make these pins varied depending on the user and the upper class wore binyeo made of gold, silver and jade. Joseon-era Koreans believed that each hairpin carried a spell that captured the soul of the wearer. So the accessory was considered a mirror of the woman’s inner self, and taking it off meant losing one’s fidelity and dignity.
The types of Binyeos differ according to the material used, but also the shape of their ends. The body part of the hairpin is usually a simple stick, but the head part, called Jamdu, can be very diverse. The name given to a particular Binyeo is sometimes enough to guess its substance and its form. For example, Gumbongjam is a jam made of gold (gum) with phoenix (bong) patterns.
The pattern and material of Binyeos were a way to distinguish social classes. Royal women wore Binyeos made of gold or silver with dragon pattern at the Jamdu, while those in the upper class had pearl or jade Binyeos. Most common people simply used Binyeos made of wood or horn.
Binyeo was also worn by men. Men also gifted these pins to their brides as a symbol of love, and they offered a way for lovers to meet.
Not Just a Hair Accessory
- It is believed that Binyeo was more than just a hair accessory. Korean ancestors believed that binyeo carried a special incantation, which captured the wearer’s spirit. They viewed it as a reflection of the women’s inner self.
- Offering a Binyeo to a woman was asking for marriage and breaking the binyeo meant affiance.
- Only married women can wear binyeo & shouldn’t remove it. Even the groom would gift it to his bride as a symbol of love.
- Some beliefs say if the women were to lose or take off her Binyeo, it was believed that she would lose her fidelity & pride.
- It is also presumed that missing it meant bad luck while finding it meant prosperity.
- Men, wore Binyeo made of roots of sweet flag around their waist for longevity and happiness.
- Silver binyeo were frequently used to test on food freshness and the presence of toxic substances.