The Rise of Modern Hanbok

The Rise of Modern Hanbok

The K-Pop industry is not only solidifying South Korea as South Asia’s fashion capital through its streetwear fashion. Recently, modern hanboks, or hanboks that have been designed for casual daily wear, has become a fresh trend not only in Korea but has also grabbed an international audience. 


The Cultural Icon of Hanbok and Modern Hanbok

The hanbok is a cultural icon of South Korea traced back in historical records during the Goguryeo Dynasty. Although almost two thousand years had passed, the form and design of the traditional hanbok had been generally preserved. That is the basic aesthetic framework of softness and elegance is still intact. 

For one, unique lines of hanbok which are a mixture of straight lines, sharp angles, and curved lines of its billowy structure create an image of naturally flowing and undulating silhouette, a characteristic that identified hanbok back then and is present until now. This overall structure has also made the hanbok a versatile piece that can be worn by anybody’s shape without looking unflattering.  

Second, the vivid colors and patterns that make a statement for the hanbok with its symbolisms are still very much respected in the wider collection of hanboks that are now being rented to foreigners as they tour around South Korea.

The only difference now is that there are more designs to choose from and everyone can have access to these lovely dresses. In fact, the Korea Board of Tourism is actively promoting this and Koreans have also shared their pride when they see foreigners donning their traditional dress as part of the experience in appreciating their culture. Hanboks are even gifts to foreigners. 


The Growth of Modern Hanbok 

In a study by Yoo Jin Kwon and Yhe-Young Lee titled Traditional Aesthetic Characteristics Traced in South Korean Contemporary Fashion Practice, they noted the changes happening on the front of hanbok. They said that there is a “spontaneous but slow changes affected by limited external forces” until the nineteenth century although there were minor alterations in length, width, and decoration. The basic structure of jeogori (short jacket), chima (skirt), and baji (pants) remained the same. 

Though now, we’re seeing a bolder take on the modern hanbok recently exhibited by Blackpink in their How You Like That music video which was released last June. In their music video, they donned the modern hanbok by DANHA which were customized into shorter outfits. After the release, hanbok quickly trended and became a hot topic all over social media. 

Blackpink x DANHA collaboration: The Bolder Take on the Hanbok 

blackpink modern hanbok - the korean in me

Photo from

Although the outfit donned by Blackpink themselves (Jennie, Rose, Jisoo, and Lisa) garnered positive reactions from netizens, some conservative Koreans turned to question whether it should properly be called a hanbok. They called out, “Isn’t it too provocative? Isn’t the beauty of hanbok in its elegance?” 

In an interview with David, the designer of the hanbok in his youtube channel DKDKTV posted last July 13, the designer responded by saying, “Of course I think their opinions are valid. I respect them.” She noted that what people perceive to be the Hanbok is what they see in traditional weddings with the traditional jeogori and chima. 

She then added her personal take, “But what we call hanboks, it is actually the name of the daily attire our people wore throughout our history. But I think some people are stuck in the modern-day concept of the conventional hanbok because of the stereotypes, they seem to have a strict standard. So I think that kind of perspective, I think there will be further development in the hanbok sector of fashion when people consider hanbok as its own field in the unconfined fashion industry.” 

Reimagining hanbok not only as a traditional Korean dress worn only on certain occasions but “generalized made to fit the modern setting” as David put it would be something fresh and would be great to wear it on a daily basis just like how it was back then. David also added in agreement that it would be great to see that hanboks “can change and adapt to each era.”

K-Pop’s Influence on the Growing Trend on the Modern Hanbok

Blackpink was not the first idol group to wear hanboks on stage or in their music video through their immense local and international popularity has evidently created this “new wave” in fashion. DANHA noted that as soon as the music video was released, the number of visits to their site had significantly increased and the outfit was worn by Jennie also quickly sold out. 

Here are some of the idol groups who also created headlines for their modern take on the hanbok.

First on the list is VIXX who used the traditional hanbok outfit with a twist in their stunning oriental-themed title track, “Shangri-La”. The hanbok used in this comeback music video had more structure on top like a suit for the jeogori which is different from its original draping and clinging feature. It was accessorized with the norigae or the traditional ornamental pendant characterized by a knot and tassel which hung on their waists. 

vixx modern hanbok - the korean in me

Photo from 

They also incorporated a fan in their music video as well as stage performance which is called the buchae (a common hanbok accessory) used in the neoclassical dance popularly performed in many different events in South Korea. The group also incorporated the traditional Korean instrument gayageum. 

Photo from - VIXX performing Shangri-La on MBC

There is also BTS’ Suga or also known as AGUST-D (a name he adapted from his underground rapping days and used in his mixtapes) in his music video “Daechwita” where the whole setup looked straight out of a historical drama. Daechwita is a genre of traditional Korean music played using wind and percussion instruments consisting of military music performed while marching. He also donned the hanbok as an outfit with a modern twist by pairing it with black platform sneakers. 

Photo from - On the set of “Daechwita” music video

BTS, as a group, has also used the same concept in their “Idol” comeback donning the dopo which is an overcoat of hanbok worn by Confucian scholars (seonbi) during the Goryeo and Joseon period. The dopo is made of simple black fabric lined with gold without the traditional goreum or the ribbon attached to the jacket and paired with casual clothing underneath and sneakers. This clothing is a work of famous hanbok designer Baek Oak-Soo. 

Just like Blackpink, BTS is also one of the internationally-acclaimed Korean groups and their popularity knows no bounds which have attracted a bigger audience for the modern hanbok style. Not only that, but they also showcased the beauty of Korea’s long history and rich culture dubbing them as Korea’s “cultural ambassadors”. 

If you’re a K-Pop fan, you would surely remember their 20-minute long performance on the Melon Music Awards Stage last 2018 where BTS Jimin performed the Buchaechum (Korean fan dance) while wearing the hanbok designed by famous hanbok brand Cheon-ui-mu-bong. Jungkook also captured attention with his Nike Air Jordans paired with the hanbok. This culminating act of the MMA that year has grabbed both local and international headlines (though we can say that this isn’t really surprising because it’s BTS). 

Girl groups also dominate the modern hanbok scene. Besides Blackpink, we have OH MY GIRL who wore black hanboks layered above the inner lace garment with a noraegi tied to their waists during a performance in Queendom wherein they covered Lovelyz’s “Destiny”. 

Photo from

The idea of modern hanboks showed off by these K-Pop idols retains the traditional Hanbok aesthetic which exudes elegance. Reimagining the hanbok as a modern daily outfit or in these cases, as a music video and stage outfit, has not gone off to erase the rich culture of the hanbok but as David has said has only adapted to the new generation. One of the main points of changes observed here is the shifting trend of the dopo from a male-assigned clothing piece altered to female style just like Jennie’s outfit in HYLT music video. 

Additionally, the local and international exposure that K-idols have provided by donning these modern hanbok outfits has truly generated renewed interest in hanboks and to an extent, a bigger appreciation of Korean history and culture.  

Lee Young Hee: The Pioneer of the Modern Hanbok

Since the last nineteenth century, the Korean fashion culture “has gone through cultural acculturation and assimilation that brought radical changes” as Yoo Jin Kwon and Yhe-Young Lee stated in their study. During this time, the hanbok was consigned as a ceremonial costume. By the mid-20th century, the Korean fashion culture shifted to the Western-style which gradually became the standard. 

The late Lee Young Hee, a well-known Korean designer, introduced the hanbok-inspired styles in Paris and New York in the 1990s.  Her take on the hanbok designs modified and improved the traditional style by putting in more practicality and functionality infused with the Western tastes but retaining the layered, indeterminate, and loose characteristics of the hanbok. 

She followed after the philosophy of the late Hanbok researcher and scholar Seok Ju-seon which said, “Clothes must change according to the times.” She launched her first show at the Shilla Hotel in 1981. And after that, Lee became one of the staple names in the modernized hanbok “industry” and in the course of her career took part in 400 fashion shows set on the global stage. She focused on developing new designs of the hanbok fit for the modern era as well as new materials for it. 

One of the most popular and equally revolutionary signature design of Lee was the “Clothes of Wind" (바람의 옷) showcased at the prêt-à-porter show in Paris in 1993. The dress was without the jeogori or the shirt jacket used as a top garment of the hanbok. Instead, the dress was inspired by the hanbok skirt and was worn without a strap. 

Photo by - Lee Young Hee’s “Clothes of the Wind”

The collection received positive reviews from the audience in France and was described as a combination of elegance and freedom. Though back in Korea, the response was not well with people commenting that her work has stripped the hanbok of its nationalism and traditionalism. 

Though this was the case, Lee Young Hee still scooped many awards in the industry such as the '93 Korean Designer's Award, '93 Golden Needle Award, '94 Korea Fabrics Award, and '94 Korean Designer's Award.

Staple Names in the Modernized Hanbok “Industry”

Recently, the Hanbok Advancement Center is trying to put a name to this new trend. Now, it’s being called the “Shin-Hanbok” which translates as “New Hanbok” though this has not yet really been grasped as a term though it rolls off the tongue quite nicely. 

Besides Lee Young Hee, there are also other designers who are considered staple names in the Shin-Hanbok industry. One name that constantly is Park Miyeon who has modernized the hanbok by incorporating its pieces to match the daily casual OOTD while still preserving the fundamental design and the spirit of the traditional hanbok. Currently, her brand “Armi” can be purchased in 50 retail stores in South Korea. 

Lee Gi Yeon is also one of the staple names in the industry since the 1980s. Just like. The inspiration of most designers, Lee tries to draw out the inspiration of the traditional hanbok and infusing it into the modern style for increased mobility and function. She also owns her own brand named “Jil Kyung Yee”.


The Modern Hanbok Today 

Through the work of these modern hanbok designers and K-Pop stars, modern hanbok has risen greatly in popularity. Today, the modern hanbok is not something that you can only see on runways or on TV. It is becoming easier to find modern hanbok in a hanbok store that specializes in modern hanbok outfits, or in local boutiques. For the greatest range of styles and fashion to select from, an online boutique like the Korean In Me will carry the greatest selection of styles and sizes. You can shop online with any hassle of going to Korea or dealing with language and tax barriers.  

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