Evolution Of Korean Fashion

Written by Erica Tomy.

Present South Korean fashion is referred to as K-Fashion or K-Style. In recent years, K-Fashion has become tremendously popular both in and out of the country. With the expanding vogue of Korean pop music (K-Pop) and Korean dramas (K-dramas), young people around the globe consume Korean fashion and beauty. This would have not happened without the help of beauty bloggers and vloggers, K-Pop festivals and other social media platforms.

The Joseon Period ( 1392-1897 )

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Korean girl wearing traditional Hanbok, Image by Pexels

During the Joseon period, the Korean hanbok was the primary fashion trend. Hanboks incorporates a blouse and loose-fitting pants or skirt, with no pockets and buttons. There are five different colours of hanbok: red, blue, yellow, black and white. Females used to put on a Jeongi (blouse or jacket) and a Chima (skirt) and males used to wear Jeongi and Baji (pants).

Hanboks were worn every day by the lavish elite in Korea. Normally people wore it on traditional festivals, weddings, and family functions. During this phase, makeup was manufactured from natural materials and that too traditionally.

From the Late 1800s to Late 1900s

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 Girl with the ‘Gibson Girl’  hairstyle, Image by Pexels

Today’s South Korean fashion began in the late 1800s with coiling of western influences. During this phase, Korean fashion and makeup began to lose their track of the traditional style and elements, due to the approach of westerners and Japanese. In the beginning of the 20th century (1910-1945), Koreans started to embrace western fashion and trend fuelled by the Japanese occupation (where the colonial government of Japan encouraged modernisation).

As a part of the evolving style, traditional top-knots were cut (a knot of hair that married men had to wear as a symbol of marriage. Also called as Sangtu, was a popular tradition during the Joseon Era in Korea), men started wearing suits, and women put on new hairstyles, such as the ’Gibson Girl’ (a hairstyle in which hair is tied loosely with a huge bun at the top). The ‘flapper’ style of the West became the trend during the 1920s, which gave young women, the label ‘freedom for women to express themselves’.

The work lifestyle has also been modified in the form of new jobs for women such as phone operators and factory workers, and new priority on high literacy rates for the population. During the Second World War, fashion had shifted to militaristic-style, till the end of the war.

Poverty and scarcity of fabrics called for the clothing to be made plain and in dark colours. Hanboks were worn by this time, mainly by women and makeup had to look natural and light.

During the 1950s

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Image by Pexels

After the Korean War, modern fashion gained thrust in the 1950s with the introduction of the latest hairstyles like crimped hair, swimsuit, and dazzling make-up choices influenced by the United States. The modern fashion industry was born as well. In December 1954, South Korea was provided with the first fashion education by opening the International Western Clothing Company in Seoul.

Seoul’s Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market flourished and produced their own clothing. In November 1955, women’s magazine called Yeowon offered a new column named ‘Fashion Mode’. In 1957, Nora Noh, Korea’s first fashion designer exhibited a collection of outfits, during Korea’s first fashion show and this signalled fashion designing as a new career in Korea.

The 1960s

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Image by Pexels

Fashion had an upward momentum during the 1960s, where a new trend of fashion emerged such as miniskirts and latest makeup. Western musicians like the Beatles set out as major influencers on Korean fashion.

The Korean government encouraged the use of natural and economic fabric materials, like wool and banned the importation and sale of other countries’ goods. Hence, the Korean makeup industry was launched, followed by Korea’s first fashion magazine “Uisang”, and the first professional modelling school was set up in 1964.

The 1970s

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Image by Pexels

During this period, there was a huge transition in fashion trends as the normal consumer became the new trendsetter and stimulant for fashion rather than designers. Urban modernisation bumped the development of off-the-rack clothing brands, branded stores, and department stores offering diverse distribution channels.

At this time, Korea was led by President Park Chung Hee, who had set a harsh and prudent environment. Hence, fashion became a symbol of opposition and protest for the youth in the case of skinny pants, miniskirts, long hair, punk clothing and bold accessories such as big circle earrings and sunglasses. Hemlines for women also became shorter.

The 1980s

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Image by Pexels

The 1980s witnessed another stunning fashion shift ushered by the youth with casual wear. T-shirts, jumpers and blue jeans became the latest trend. Along with that western brands like Reebok became popular then. Meantime, there was a boost for women work-wear fashion due to their rising presence in the workforce. Trendy makeup styles rendered bright coloured eye shadows and blush.

The 1990s

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Image by Pexels

In the 1990s, the entry of Korean Pop (K-Pop) set its perpetual print on K-Fashion and K-Beauty. Other western music style and fashion mixes called as grunge was adopted by the youth named ‘resistance fashion’. Lee Cinu was the first Korean fashion designer to showcase collections in Paris and get international recognition.

The emergence of new beauty products such as BB creams, skin lightening creams, and skin tightening creams led to the growth of the makeup industry. The K-Beauty makeup trends remarkably diverged from western makeup trends. Foundations, simple eye makeup and pastel colours have become the makeup style lately. Korean men have also been conscious of their face and skin and hence use foundation or BB cream to keep their face neat and fresh.

Since 2000 to the Present

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Image by Pexels

K-Fashion and K-Beauty products have a tremendous impact on the global market at present. Domestic and international consumers have smartphones and internet accessibility, which can help them reach out to their favourite Korean fashion and beauty products at the tip of their fingers. Since the products are of great demand by people across the world, Korean fashion and beauty products show no signs of withdrawing from the competitive market.

Online clothing stores, importation of branded items and the emergence of many fashion designers, have pushed K-Fashion to the position that it is today. Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is now competing with western fashion cities like New York and Paris.

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Erica Tomy is a contributor at The Strong Traveller. Erica, apart from being a student of Bachelor of Commerce, she is also a model, an anchor and an artist, with the aim of becoming an entrepreneur someday. She is passionate about storytelling and making creative contents for various brands. She likes to do ‘smart work’ more than ‘hard work’!

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37 thoughts on “Evolution Of Korean Fashion

  1. I’m fascinated with Korean culture – everything from history, cinema, music, cuisine, pop culture. And now from this post, the fashion. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 7 people

  2. This is really interesting. The Asian culture was always something that I found very interesting. I also have traveling and fashion posts, so if you are interested you can also check out my blog:)

    Liked by 3 people

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