Hanbok: A Korean costume recreated as everyday fashion
Korea’s traditional Hanbok dress and suit were once garments worn strictly during festivals or family rituals, but no longer. Wearing a Hanbok has become a new fad among young urbanites, and today, one can easily run into young people in colorful traditional attire in Bukchon Village in the heart of Seoul. The Hanbok was the daily attire for Koreans until about a century ago, when it was cast aside in favor of the ready-made suits that emerged as part of the period of modernization. With this time-honored style today enjoying something of a renaissance, now is a good time to look back upon the past century of Korean fashion, examining how the Hanbok faded from Korean daily life with the introduction of ready-to-wear apparel, and determining how it has regained its past popularity.
It was during the early 1900s when Korea was forcibly opened by Japan that ready-made clothes and Western-style suits found their way into Korean wardrobes for the first time. In the 1920s when Korea was occupied by Japan, ready-to-wear clothes became more popular with the adoption of uniforms for military personnel, policemen, and students. In the 1950s and 1960s, huge quantities of Western-style clothing were brought to Korea in the form of foreign aid. Particularly noteworthy was the miniskirt, which became seen as a symbol of women’s liberation.
In the 1970s, the baby boomers who were born after the Korean War heralded in liberal fashion trends by wearing whatever they chose as a means of expressing their personality, without any care for the established style. It was an era of free choices as far as fashion was concerned, with jeans, wide-legged trousers, and even platform shoes all proving popular. The advent of color television and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul added color to the Korean fashion palette, accelerating changes in people’s forms of dress. In the 1990s, the debut of influential musician Seo Taiji and the dissemination of information technology greatly affected the clothing choices of young people. It brought forth avant-garde fashion, cyberpunk designs, and other radical changes to the nation’s attire.
Today, in 2017, Korea is a fashion republic where countless brands and styles coexist with individualism at its foundation. New trends come and go here faster than in any other country in the world. Recently, the success of the television drama Reply 1988, together with the global trend of revivalism, rekindled fresh interest in the clothes that were widely worn in the past. It is in this atmosphere that a modern interpretation of traditional Korean attire has been encouraged. As we welcome the return of the Hanbok as Korean daily attire for the first time in over one hundred years, I hope in time it will reclaim its central role in the daily lives of Koreans.
Written by Park Shin-won