The fashion world of Korea has always been changing with the waves of history. Whether it be due to the political circumstances or the influence of cultures abroad, Korean trends heavily relied on the environment at the time. Korea’s timeline of trends perfectly shows how fashion and history are connected. From the traditional hanbok to current Korean fashion wear, one can see how the changes in trends reflect Korea’s growth both politically and economically.
Going back over a century in Korean history, the Korean people mainly wore the traditional Korean hanbok. Compared to earlier times, however, the hanbok worn during 1845-1910 was more simple. Many wore simple colours and didn’t wear many accessories due to poverty. At the same time men and women still wore their hair in the traditional format. Men wore hair buns while women kept their hair back in a low sleek bun.
During the year of 1910, Japan gained control of South Korea. Due to this, the hanbok was banned. Japanese forces claimed it encouraged the existence of Korean culture, which they wanted to subdue, hence prohibiting people from wearing it. The South Korean people then came under the influence of Japanese fashion which was inspired by western trends. Korean men started to wear suits and women wore pants. In addition to this, accessories were introduced to Korean fashion. It was common to see people wear western hats and women even began to use handbags. Makeup trends also changed along with fashion. Korean women began sporting red lipstick just as American women used mascara to the same end.
After the Korean War, South Korea was in extreme poverty. The war resulted in vast swathes of land being destroyed and with little resources. Almost all of the people were struggling to survive. Furthermore, due to the circumstances, KJP or 구제품 (ku-je-pum) fashion was on the rise. 구제품 can be translated as “relief supply” which is what the Korean people got after the war. The populace started wearing these clothes and adapted them to their liking. Many also used military wear as part of their fashion, as many men had fought in the war and military supplies were available. At the same time, the hanbok was making a comeback. Although it was banned during the Japanese Occupation, the Korean people now had the freedom to wear their traditional clothes once again.
In the 50’s Korea was still struggling with poverty, however, fashion designers were on the rise. The first fashion show in South Korea was held in 1956 at the Bando Hotel. The designer of the show was Nora Noh who is now considered to be one of the founders of fashion in Korea. However, due to there not being any professional models in South Korea at the time, Nora had to use famous actresses and Miss Korea to present her outfits.
The rise of designers also influenced one of South Korea’s most well-known areas: Myeongdong. During this time, Myeongdong began to fill with designers and soon became a mecca for fashion. People in this area wore whatever was the trend at the time which were miniskirts, high heels, and nylon stockings.
The fashion world of Korea in the 60’s became a kaleidoscopic wave and a new trend began to take shape. Designers began to create with a more pragmatic vision that leaned towards comfort and mobility as people began working more and thus needed comfortable clothes to work in. Miniskirts also started to become greatly popular due to South Korean singer Yoon Bok Hee. Moreover, this also marked the rise of cosmetics as women started to wear more makeup than before.
The 70’s marked the trend of hippie fashion in Korea. Bell-bottomed pants were on the rise along with hooped earrings and big sunglasses. People in this era used fashion as a way to rebel against the conservative government that was in power then. Therefore, one could see more bold fashion pieces during this time. Through fashion, the people of Korea were expressing their desire for freedom.
After the 70’s, Korean fashion turned towards punk and hip-hop. People wore chains and baggy pants. There was also an influence derived from disco across the country creating a rise in the use of vibrant colors on clothes. Women also started to incorporate brighter colors in their makeup. The youth also started to wear more casual clothes like jeans and t-shirts.
Starting from the 90’s, Korean fashion started to fall under the radar of people around the world. Due to the Korean Wave, many international brands and designers started to pick up on Korean trends and fashion as well. Korean designers like Andre Kim also grew widely popular, becoming a recognized name in the wider world of fashion.
Korea also made its own renowned fashion week in Seoul, which is held twice a year and involves some of Korea’s top designers. The spread of Korean entertainment internationally also greatly popularized Korean fashion making Seoul a fashionable city. K-pop idols especially have helped spread Korean trends overseas making certain pieces of clothing sell out online.
Despite all the modern designs and trends in Korean fashion, however, Korea’s beloved traditional clothing has taken its place in the fashion world as well and is slowly evolving under the hands of modern designers. The Hanbok has proven to be a great piece to recreate for the modern times. Brands like Leesle and Kim Mi Hee have put their own twists on it showing that the hanbok can be both fashionable and trendy. Most commonly one can see that modern hanboks have shorter skirts and tighter jeogori’s, which are the upper jacket of the hanbok. Today, many tourists and even younger Koreans wear these modern hanbok around different historical sites in Seoul proving it to be popular.
Looking back on the fashion trends of Korea throughout history, one can see how they were influenced by the circumstances that were proliferated by the times. And yet, while the traditional Korean hanbok remains to be Korea’s most treasured symbol of cultural fashion, Seoul, along with wider Korea, has since come to adopt many different styles as it becomes increasingly recognized as one of the most fashionable cities in the world. Many involved in the fashion world abroad are also slowly recognizing South Korea’s influence in the world of fashion, especially due to the popularization of K-pop. With Korea’s currently booming economy, its ever-increasing interest in global trends, along with the unstoppable ebb and flow of its Hallyu Wave, one can only look to Korea’s future in fashion and wonder what trends will emerge and influence the wider world in the next couple of years.
Featured Image Source: © 06.01.2019, inspiremekorea.com
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