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Evolution of Korean Fashion Trends: Tradition to Modernity

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

Nowadays, many of Korea's distinguished cultural specifics have become known worldwide. Be it Korean food, entertainment, or language; they're becoming increasingly attractive to the foreign audience. Especially with the growing fame of Korean pop culture, namely dramas and music, K-fashion ceased to be unnoticed on the global scene.

Speaking of the latter part, how exactly did Korea's fashion scene evolve?

From a conservative traditional society to one of the most fashion-forward countries today; let's find out!

Traditional Looks
Hanbok wearing experience in Korea
Hanbok try-on experience in Korea - ©Isadora Thomazini - World Reporters

For fans of Korean culture, it is no secret that classical fashion in the region emphasized modesty and manners. A great example of that is hanbok – a traditional Korean costume that has been the most commonly-worn attire on the Peninsula for centuries. As you have probably noticed, this type of clothing is quite loose and does not outline the body shape of the person wearing it.

Although this aspect has been well

preserved, the hanbok that we see today around palaces and during wedding ceremonies is vastly different than the original one. In fact, hanbok worn by commoners in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was rather simple with little to no decoration as it consisted of white top and black bottoms for both man and women alike. Colorful patterns and splendid decorations were worn exclusively by the noble strata of the population, also known as yangban.

Hanbok wearing experience in Korea
Hanbok try-on experience in Korea - ©Isadora Thomazini - World Reporters

Actually, patterns depicted on the hanbok fabric had symbolic meaning in the past and people back then were rarely allowed to express their personal style as formal etiquette was strictly observed in the royal court. For example, embroidery patches with the images of cranes and tigers were designed especially for the civil and military officials, respectively. Also, a hanbok with a dragon decoration which is preferred by many tourists who enjoy wearing such traditional clothes as a cultural experience nowadays, was only worn by the king and no one else.

Fashion and the Elite

In fact, class division in the Joseon Dynasty was quite extreme and this stratification is believed to be one of the reasons for the fall of the last Korean kingdom. Yangbans would proudly demonstrate their wealth and class belonging, with one of the means to do so being fashion. As mentioned above, the difference between the way commoners and noble dressed was undeniable. However, clothing had a deeper meaning than only style.

In particular, the bodies of the nobles

were considered precious and they were not to be seen by anyone, that is why clothes were of especial importance for the chastity of their owner. Noble men went as far as to wash with their clothes on, even though in the Joseon Dynasty men and women lived in different parts of the house due to the strict Confucian rules for separation of the sexes. Due to the same ideology, noblewomen were rarely allowed to leave the house and when they did so, wearing many layers of clothes became an important part of their cover. In general, rich people were involved with intellectual activities and as such, they worked mostly indoors, unlike the farmers who provided food and other supplies for the wellbeing of the nation. That is why in Korea pale skin has been traditionally connected to nobility while tanned skin, on the other hand, has been associated with hard labor and lack of privilege. Even today, numerous white tanning salons can be seen in Seoul as opposed to the West where fake tanning is still a trend.

Economic Growth

With a GDP of $1.65 trillion in 2019, South Korea ranks 12th among the world economies. Financial stability is one of the key factors which allows locals to invest in and prioritize their looks. However, that wasn't always the case on the Peninsula. After the Korean War (1950-1953), the two newly-formed countries on either side of the 38th parallel were left devastated and practically in ruins. At the time, Koreans didn't even have access to basic commodities, not to mention anything more lavish. Nevertheless, the country progressed and its rapid economic growth became known as the “Miracle on the Hangang River”. In fact, for several decades Korea functioned as a cheap labor hub for textile and wigs manufacturing, so the people in the factories could only dream of having the financial freedom to enjoy the fashion items they were making. In the 1980s, the country become economically stable and that was marked by it hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics. As Koreans gain financial confidence, they increased spending on fashion and it comes as no surprise that today the country is the fourth fastest-growing luxury goods market in the world behind only India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.


Published by:


South Korea


Author: Margarita Kichukova

Editor: Yousra Feriel Drioua

Proofreading: Yousra Feriel Drioua


© World Reporters - 2021.22

All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the permission of The Create Your Korea team.

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