What is Modern Hanbok? A Guide

You may have seen hanbok in your social media feed, in photographs of your favorite Korean (BTS in hanbok, anyone?), and non-Korean celebrities (Jessica Alba, Nicolas Cage, Venus Williams to name a few) in Korean dramas and TV shows, and in haute couture fashion runway shows. 

If you’ve seen hanbok there, you most likely saw a version of “modern hanbok”. 

What is Modern Hanbok?

Modern hanbok is a style term that refers to hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) mixed with Western and other cultural fashion influences. Modern hanbok can vary from traditional hanbok in terms of silhouette, skirt or pants length, the fabrics and materials used, embellishments, patterns, and traditional colors. Modern hanbok wearers also have more freedom to wear the hanbok in a mix-and-match style, and don’t necessarily stick to the conventional ways of dressing in hanbok. 

While traditional Korean hanbok is mainly worn during holidays and celebrations such as weddings, milestone birthdays, and festivals, modern hanbok is being worn as “daily wear” and can be defined as street fashion. Fashion designers, such as Caroline Herrera, have been inspired by the Korean hanbok and have made their own versions of modern hanbok — as seen in Herrera’s 2011 Spring collection

What are some examples of Modern Hanbok? 

Let’s explore the different ways that hanbok has been modernized and styled today.

1. New Hanbok Patterns 

Hanbok patterns have generally represented elements of nature, such as peonies, dragons, and phoenixes, but they were primarily reserved for royal or noble clothing. If you have ever watched a historical Korean drama, you will notice that the kings, princes, and princesses all wear elaborate hanbok of rich jewel tones that have silver or gold gilt-patterns. But the commoners wear plain, light-colored dresses and hanbok outfits. 

Today, modern hanbok flips that dynamic on its head and introduces bright, Western-styled patterns that still invoke elements of nature but in a different way. We are now introduced to bold, repeating prints on the hanbok that have been printed on rather than embroidered or gilded. 

2. New Hanbok Colors

With modern technology, colors and dyes of various kinds (pretty much anything that you can imagine can convert into a fabric color nowadays) have been introduced to the hanbok. Previously, hanbok was made through an intricate process by artisans who hand-dyed the fabric. Now, designers have much more freedom to infuse any variation of color. From the bold and eclectic, to the subdued and modern, modern hanbok is not shy about being colorful. 

3. Mix & Match Pieces: Traditional with Contemporary

The original hanbok outfit consists of three main elements: the undergarments, the jeogori (top), and the baji (pants) for men and the chima (skirt) for women. Modern hanbok, on the other hand, can be worn as separate pieces and you can mix-and-match pieces with contemporary outfits. 

To learn more about the jeogori, baji, or chima, refer to our guide on Women’s Hanbok and guide on Men’s Hanbok

For example, a hanbok jeogori with jeans. Or wearing a hanbok-inspired floral dress with a formal Western-style blazer. With modern hanbok, men often wear just the outside coat or vests, with a regular contemporary outfit inside, as pictured above.

4. New Hanbok Accessories

Traditionally, hanbok is worn with kkotseon (flower shoes) and boseon (hanbok white socks) as the classic shoes. It didn’t matter whether men, women, or children, the hanbok had its own signature shoe. 

Today, modern hanbok does away with the hanbok shoe, and allows the fashionable wearer to mix and match any type of shoes and socks that they like! From boots to sneakers, modern hanbok has no limits to style. 

5. Switch in Gender Roles 

Being a conservative society based on Confucian ideals, Korea has clear definitions in their traditional fashion about what women wear versus what men wear. However, modern hanbok has flipped the gender roles on their heads and have designs for women that feature baji (pants) and long overcoats. Men’s modern hanbok can also have feminine, soft elements and feature pastel-toned fabrics that were traditionally reserved for women. 

Some thoughts on Modern Hanbok… 

Modern hanbok is ultimately two things:

1) an evolution of style and fashion based in Korean history, and
2) a conscious effort to honor tradition and heritage by bringing hanbok back into current pop culture. 

Modern hanbok designers want everyone to enjoy hanbok, regardless of its shape or form, while retaining the classic elements of the hanbok style that is unique to Korean culture. 

What do you think about modern hanbok? Do you like the traditional style or the contemporary styles better? What are your ideas on how hanbok can be designed? Let us know in the comments below!