Clothes in Korea have traditionally been made from hemp, cotton and silk. Like many of its Asian neighbors Korea had its own silkworm raising industry. Cotton has traditionally been associated with everyday clothes, hemp with working clothes and silk with garments worn on special occasions. Color is important. Each of the five main regions of Korea are represented by a different color: north by black; south by red; west by white; east by blue; and the middle by the yellow sun.

The Koreans have traditionally favored white clothing and sometimes they are called "people in white." Men especially like to wear white traditional outfits and white clothes, as well as horse-hair hats, were a symbol of national pride and rebellion during the Japanese occupation. Some anthropologists speculate that white was popular because ancient Koreans lacked the proper dying technology to make their clothes other colors. Others theorize white was viewed as a sign of respect to the sun god. Yet other say its related to mourning. White has traditionally been worn mostly by old people. In Korea, white is a color of mourning and the mourning period is three years. Some just decided to wear white all the time.

In the old days, most Koreans inhabited in mountain villages, where the most available raw material to make clothes was flax and the hand-loomed cloth woven from flax was usually white. With the introduction of modern culture, outside materials such as machine-loomed cloth, silks and satins have become widely used, and colors used in clothes and personal adornments have became more diversified. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, ~]

Traditional Korean clothes include upper outer garments for males and females, trousers, skirts, coats, robes, waistcoats, large bamboo hats and shoes resembling boats. In addition to everyday clothes, there are clothes for special occasions such first birthdays and weddings. The men's upper outer garment has a slanting front and baggy sleeves. At each side of the front of the garment, there is a ribbon, which is tied in the upper middle part of the right front of the garment. Traditionally-dressed Korean men like wearing "waistcoats" (weskits). In winter, they often wear short overcoats or overcoats made of cotton or fur, as well as pants with wide waists and loose crotches and trouser legs. These are convenient for crossing one's legs while sitting on ondols (kangs. heated brick beds or floors). These kinds of paints have traditionally been worn with a sash-like belt and bindings on the lower parts of the trouser legs. ~

Koreans in the 1990s and not as fashionably dressed as they are today. Many Korean men often wore white socks with dark business suits. Some Koreans went to the beach fully clothed and even entered the water with long pants and shoes on. Conservatives frowned up women who wore shorts when they went jogging. Some women went running with shoes and a skirt. Clothes and socks with holes, and shorts were looked down on..

Mosi (Fine Ramie): on UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity List

Weaving of Mosi (fine ramie) in the Hansan region was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity List in 2011. Masi from Hansan region of Chungcheongnam-do is named after its origin of production. The practice of weaving mosi is considered an invaluable community asset in part because the high-quality technique has been passed down over generations. The masters of the technique and the cultural transmission are middle-aged women in the township area where its produced. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

According to UNESCO: “Weaving of Mosi in Hansan is transmitted by middle-aged women in the township located in South Chungcheong Province, Republic of Korea. The region boasts fertile land and sea winds that allow ramie plants to thrive. Weaving ramie cloth involves a number of processes, including harvesting, boiling and bleaching ramie plants, spinning yarn out of ramie fibre, and weaving it on a traditional loom. Ramie cloth is comfortable in hot summer weather and is used to produce a variety of clothing from dress suits and military uniforms to mourning garments.

“The whiteness of the bleached ramie fabric, as well as its refined quality and neatness, makes it suitable for high-end clothing as well as for clothing for ordinary people. Weaving of Mosi traditionally takes place in the form of women-led family operations in which mothers transmit techniques and experience to their daughters or daughters-in-law. The tradition also binds the community together with neighbours gathered and working in a designated section of the town. At present, around 500 people in the province are engaged in the diverse activities of weaving fine ramie. “

Hanbok, Korea's Traditional Attire

The traditional Korean costume is a loose-fitting ensemble called hanbok ("Korean clothes"). There are men's and women's hanboks and they come in a variety in colors and varieties that depend on weather, season, and the wealth of the owner. In the old days different designs and colors signified an individual's social position. These days hanboks are worn mostly during festive occasions such as holidays, special anniversaries and weddings.

For modern Koreans, hanbok are formal clothing worn during Korean holidays or on special occasions. Children wear hanbok on their first birthday and adults wear it for their wedding ceremony and their 60th birthday. Hanbok is also worn for funerals, and is still used as casual wear in villages or districts where the traditional ways of life are being maintained, such as Cheonghak-dong on Jirisan Mountain. The popularity of Korean historical dramas has led to some foreigners taking a keener interest in traditional Korean attire.

Hanbok were worn daily up until around 100 years ago.It is a formal dress and most Koreans keep a hanbok for special times in their life. While the traditional hanbok was beautiful in its own right, the design has changed slowly but surely over the generations. The core of hanbok is its graceful shape and vibrant colors, which have had a major impact on the modern fashion industry. It is hard to think of hanbok as everyday wear but it is slowly being revolutionized through the changing of fabrics, colors and features, reflecting the public's desires. Many aspiring hanbok designers have altered hanbok for everyday wear with traditional elements at the basis of the garment but having a distinct modern feel. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Village newlyweds, the bride in her traditional hanbok. or children, own hanbok for family occasions such as the New Year's Day bowing before grandparents. And on national holidays in parks and recreation areas families prefer to appear in hanbok as an affirmation of the tradition being remembered on the occasion. The design of the women's hanbok especially appears to have been influenced by Chinese court costumes of the Tang period (A.D. 618-907) and earlier. Paintings of Chinese palace women and dancers at the imperial court in Changan (today's Xi'an) indicate the same willowy ideal for the style of women's clothing. Koreans, however, have adapted the components of the design over the intervening centuries and the hanbok is now instantly recognizable as authentically Korean. Variations on the design include the bright colors that are typical of children's hanbok, the elegant red and blue brocades that are often seen in evening wear, and the calf-length short hanbok skirt that was stylish in South Korea in the 1950s and remains the style in North Korea. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Traditional Men’s Clothes

Traditional summer cloths for men are white and sometimes have strange wooden frames that lift the clothes off the body and allow air to circulate and keep the body cool. In the old days, men had Fu-Manchu beards and top knots. During festivals men often decorate their clothes bands of colored material and wear headbands or hats with streamers.

The men's hanbok consists of loose-fitting, pajama-like paji pants, with cuffs that fasten to the ankle; a white shirt with loose sleeves; a vest or a jacket called a magoja that buttons up the front. A pocket hangs from the trousers. For formal occasions a long white torumagi coat. Paji are loose and roomy and belted with lengths of wide cloth tape. The pockets of the magoja reaches below the waist and is fastened with buttons or small ribbon ties.

Men wear their hanbok and traditional clothes less, both in the countryside and during festive occasions, than women. Both men and women fasten their garments from right to left. Traditionally, black slippers are worn with white socks.

Taxi drivers and workers in other jobs wear white gloves. Taxi drivers wear white driving gloves for several reasons: 1) so their hands don't get sunburn; 2) to indicate the cleanliness of their vehicle; 3) to keep sweat off the steering wheel.

Traditional Korean Men’s Hats and Headgear

Men have traditionally worn straw hats or black horsehair stovepipe hats. Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Males braided their hair when they were children but put it up in a topknot when married, enclosing the topknot in a cap that served as the lining for an elegant tall hat of woven horsehair, called a kat (gat). The kat was a proud badge of adult manhood, connoting nobility though it was increasingly worn by all men by the turn of the twentieth century. Today, the kat is seen only in festivals where the intention is to re-create life in the olden style. Even then, the topknot that used to be visible through the open weave of the hat is never to be seen, since virtually all Korean men wear their hair short in modern fashion. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Samo was a hat worn together with dalleyong (a robe) by officials as everyday clothes. Kat was a hat worn by men in the Chosun Dynasty. It was worn with po (a gown) by officials outside their homes. Nambawi (Also called pungdaengi) was a winter cap worn by both men and women to cover the forehead, upper neck, and ears. Bokgeon was a type of hat worn by men in the Chosun Dynasty. It was worn with po by officials outside their homes. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

Hogeon was headgear worn by boys in the late Chosun Dynasty and the period of modernization. It is similar to bokgeon, but the crown of the head is open and patterns of ears, eyes, and beards are embroidered to show a tiger design. It was usually worn with obangjang durumagi, jeonbok, or sagyusam.

Traditional Korean Footwear and Accessories

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “A hundred years ago, most Koreans wore shoes made of elemental materials, mainly straw, by-products of the rice harvest. The twentieth century brought leather shoes and sandals for city wear and rubber komushin shoes in the country villages. Because Koreans remove their shoes whenever they are indoors at home and in many other places as well (e.g., temples, restaurants), it is best if the shoes can easily be slipped on and off. Komushin were slip-ons with wide mouths, the women's style being gondola-shaped with an upturned toe as a decorative touch and the men's version being wider and simply foot-shaped. Komushin are still worn by women when they dress up in hanbok. Their socks, called poson, also have an upturned toe and are made like little boots, tight around the foot with a wide ankle. Koreans have never practiced the foot-binding that was common in China at the end of the nineteenth century. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Decorations and accessories for both men and women include small coin purses tied with cords that have beads, amber drops, or miniature wood or ivory carvings on the end. Dwikkoji was an accessory pinned on knotted hair by women in the Chosun Dynasty. It also had a practical use as it was used as an earpick and a stick to part hair.

Binyeo is a rod-like hairpin used to fasten a crown or a wig and hold braided hair up. In addition to the practical use, binyeo had a decorative purpose and indicated the status of the wearer. They were referred to as yongjam, bongjam, jukjam, mokryeokjam, maejukjam, or jukjeoljam depending on the decoration on the top of binyeo. The materials, shapes, sizes, and patterns of binyeo vary greatly.

Cheopji was an ornament placed on the top of knotted hair when women wore ceremonial dresses. It was often made with silver in the shape of a frog. Long tails were attached on both sides and knotted together with the hair. Royal court ladies used it everyday, but commoners wore it only with ceremonial dress. It also functioned as a fastening for jokduri or hwagwan.

Daenggi is ribbon used to tie and decorate long hair. There are a great variety, including jebiburi daenggi, apdaenggi, doturak daenggi and goidaenggi.

Norigae was the major accessory for women. The norigae pendant was widely used by royal court ladies as well as commoners. It is tied to the outer goreum (a coat string) or the waist of a skirt and gives a luxurious look to the entire outfit. The two major types of pendants are samjak norigae (a pendant with three ornaments) and danjak norigae (a pendant with one ornament). Samjak norigae is again divided into daesamjak and sosamjak. There are many types of norigae, including jangdo, su, hyangnang, horibyeong, samcheonju, baneuljip, and soknorigae.

Traditional Women’s Clothes

Traditionally-dressed middle-aged and young women usually wear vest-like pail-shaped skirts with pleats. The length of the skirt is below the knees and is convenient for laboring. The colors of their garments and skirts often depend on the age of the wearer. In the old days, middle-aged women favored plain and white garments and skirts, while young ladies preferred yellow garments and pink skirts. The colors worn by women nowadays are brighter and more varied.

The traditional woman’s costume consist of a high-waisted dress and includes a chima, the dress; cut trousers; sokchima, petticoats worn underneath; and the chogari, a high-waisted, over-blouse jackets tied on the right side with a colorful ribbon. Wedding chimas are made brightly-colored silk. Mothers traditionally carries their babies on their back in a quilt that tied around their waist.

The upper outer women’s garment resembles that of the men's, but is shorter and smaller. The sleeves are long and narrow with long ribbons that are made from silks and satins in red, purple or other colors. The cuffs and front of young women's garment are often have colored silk and satin edges. In winter, some young women wear overcoats, and some older women wear waistcoats with fur inside and silks and satins outside. Long skirts are classified into two types: tied skirts and pail-shaped skirts. Middle-aged and elderly women usually wear the former. The tied skirt is an un-sewed skirt that is narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and reaches the feet. The wrinkle of the skirt is fairly wide with many small pleat. The band of the skirt is sewed at the two sides of the waist of the skirt, and is tied around the waist before being tied at the right side of the waist. The skirt of this sort should be worn with plain and white underskirt inside. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, ~]

Traditional Korean Women’s Hats and Headgear

Jokduri was a type of crown worn by women to complete a ceremonial dress. It was usually worn together with wonsam (a bride's long overcoat). Hard paper and cotton filling are covered with silk, and a cloisonne ornament is placed on the top.

Hwagwan was a crown worn by women to complete a ceremonial dress. Adorned with butterfly ornaments, five-colored beads, and gold thread, it is more lavish than jokduri and was mostly worn with hwarot or dangui.

Jobawi was a winter cap for women. It is open on the top, and its sides are rounded to fully cover the ears. It was generally made in black silk with tassels hanging on the front and back. Gems sometimes decorate the tassels. Gold gilt or beads were also used for decoration.

Gulle was decorative headgear to keep children warm. Mostly worn by both boys and girls aged one year to five years old. For winter use, it was made of black silk. For use in spring/fall, five-colored thin silk was used. Doturak daenggi (a hair ribbon) hangs on the back.

Ayam was a winter cap mostly worn by women. It does not cover the ears, and some are lined with fur. A long daenggi hangs on the back, which is called ayamdeurim, and is sometimes decorated with jade or amber.

Hanbok for Women

The woman's hanbok is a loose umbrella-like garment that looks like a one piece dress but is actually two pieces. The blouse has sleeves, underarms, a collar, a breast panel and a ribbon that is tied in a half bow. The puffy skirt has a non-visible waistband that is tied around the back. Making the skirt poof up like a 19th-century ballroom dress are six layers of undergarments: a slip, panty bloomers, underwear, long drawers, wide pants, and underskirt.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “ The woman's hanbok consists of a short jacket called a chogori that covers the bodice that serves as the top part of a long flowing skirt called a chima. The chogori jacket has sleeves and is fastened together in the front by a wide flowing ribbon that is tied with an elegant bow, creating the effect of a willowy figure with long graceful lines. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

The simplest and commonest hanbok are white cotton ensembles worn by farm women in their daily work. City women invariably wear Western clothes for daily use but resort to hanbok when they want to dress up. The unique lines of hanbok appear at their greatest when the wearer is in motion. Hanbok is creative and expressive in its design. Another special feature about hanbok is the shape, having a slim top and wide bottom, similar to a bell. The jacket should be tighten and fitted while the skirt is relaxed. The tightly fitting jacket attractively reflects the shape of the upper body. The wide sleeves and flexible skirt flatter the wearer’s gracefulness by hiding the movements of the lower body, so the wearer appears to be floating on air. Hanbok fabric is colored using natural dyes. The colors of nature are imbued in the cloth, giving hanbok a depth and richness not found from artificial dyes. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

Hanbok Dyes, Materials and Designs

The hanbok is colored using natural dyes. The colors of nature are imbued in the cloth. For example, red dye is obtained from the petals of red flowers. The color pigment is extracted by grounding the petals in a mortar, putting them in a jar and rinsing them with hot caustic soda. It is a very slow, complicated, precise process. The colors obtained in this way differ greatly from artificial dyes in their color and depth. The Hanbok is creative and emotional in its design. One Korean phrase regarding the shape of the outfit is the 'upper is narrow, lower is wide'. The jacket must be tightened and the skirt relaxed, as was the silhouette of the women’s hanbok in Chosun times. The tightly fitting jacket attractively reflects the shape of the upper body. The wide sleeves and flexible skirts enhance the wearer’s gracefulness by hiding the physical features of the lower body. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

The principles behind the creation of the hanbok can be explained by the movement from two dimensions to three dimensions. The flat cloth is patterned, cut, and sewn in two dimensions but the subject wearing the hanbok is a three dimensional being. The hanbok is frilled or fastened with string to enhance the 3D affect. The unique line of the hanbok is created from this process. The lines of the hanbok costume are as smooth as the curves of the eaves of tiled roof house and as sharp. An old adage says that you can tell the man by his clothes.

Koreans have traditionally lived as one with nature, and obtained all material from natural sources for making cloth and coloring it. Koreans favor smooth curves rather than straight lines and that has added a gracious line to the hanbok. A common comment that every hanbok designer gets is that the outfit is more beautiful when it is worn than when it is on the hanger, and more beautiful when moving than when standing. Indeed, the unique lines of the hanbok appear at their greatest when the wearer is in motion.

Hanboks in Modern Korea

Jean Oh wrote in the Korea Herald: “Where then, does the future of hanbok lie? Does it have one? Professor Kim Soh-hyeon, dean of the Traditional Korean Costume Department at Baehwa Women’s University, thinks so. In her opinion, children these days are receiving a lot of exposure to traditional Korean culture. That kind of exposure, she predicts, will shape their interests, making how they perceive hanbok different from those of earlier generations. By different, she means positive. [Source: Jean Oh, Korea Herald, March 29, 2010]

“In addition, according to Kim, other traditional aspects of Korean culture are already experiencing a renaissance of their own, casting a ray of hope on hanbok. "In the past, everyone dreamed of living in a Western-style house," she explained. "But now if you do not have money it is hard to live in a hanok.... So, now, living in a hanok has become something of an ideal. The same goes for hansik. But this does not hold true for hanbok." "You know how they say the sky is its darkest right before dawn breaks," Kim expressed hope for the future of hanbok. "I think that this might be (hanbok’s) darkest hour."

“By dark, Kim is referring to the current state of hanbok, an outcome of a somewhat stagnant market and of beliefs that hanbok are difficult to wear. "Those who craft hanbok, they only know how to make chima and jeogori," she explained the situation from a general point-of-view. "If there is a slight change in design, then because it is different from how it was made in the past, they do not know how to make it. This is because those who make hanbok are usually elderly." "As a result, even if one wants to add new designs, since they are difficult to produce, there are a lot of instances where such attempts are not fully carried out."

“The past custom of relying on an apprentice system, where one builds up one’s credibility by working under an established hanbok designer, might inadvertently contribute to certain barriers in the industry. According to Kim, when Baehwa Women’s University first established the Traditional Korean Costume Department in 1989, there was a great deal of concern about where students could work after graduation because hanbok establishments back then used an apprentice system.”

Modern Hanbok Makers

Jean Oh wrote in the Korea Herald: “In a room lined with racks of hanbok and punctuated by a long table in the center, hanbok designer Kim Young-jin smooths her hands over a huge, folded swath of cloth. She drapes it over herself, envisioning it as a chima — the skirt of a hanbok — as she explains how she creates her fanciful designs. At age 38, Kim is young by industry standards, especially considering her role as director of the hanbok brand Tchai. Most established hanbok artisans and designers range well above their 30s. Her hanbok — especially the delicious pastel confections from her May 2009 show — showcase a unique and inventive spirit, one that brings out the beauty of traditional hanbok, but also moves forward by incorporating European fabrics. In a society where hanbok is primarily reserved for weddings, holidays and ceremonial rites, Kim hopes to see a wider niche carved for the traditional garb, one that includes parties and fosters what she calls "creative consumption." [Source: Jean Oh, Korea Herald, March 29, 2010] “A new crop of artisans, designers and stylists are entering the field. Some seek to preserve tradition and pass it along, keeping it alive in its "pure" form. Others seek to develop it and find ways to widen its role in modern-day society. The reality is, however, that in the world of fashion, they represent a minority. Since Western clothing entered Korea in the late 1800s, hanbok’s role in society has steadily declined...Now it is only on rare occasions that one might glimpse someone sporting a hanbok. "Even though various aspects of the structure have changed now, those who run hanbok businesses still think a great deal about the past," Kim added.”

The main place you will see hanboks today is on television. Hanbok designer Lee Seo-youn is the “designer behind the hanbok featured in the hit SBS drama "IL JI-MAE: The Phantom thief" — the one where hallyu star Lee Jun-ki donned a mask and played a Chosun Dynasty hero. She “revealed that he had a hard time breaking into the drama market. “The 34-year-old designer said it took him three years of cold-calling someone at SBS to nab his first big break — designing traditional accessories for a period piece — because the market already had established hanbok professionals.

“Not only a newbie but young to boot, Lee did accessories for three dramas before he landed his gig doing both costumes and accessories for "IL JI-MAE: The Phantom thief." "Most people who make hanbok are much older," Lee explained. "And those who are young, around my age, are still in the learning stages." Yet, Lee and Tchai’s Kim Young-jin represent a change in the industry that Lee just described. They are both relatively young and have received a lot of press for their designs.

Hanbok-Making Training

Jean Oh wrote in the Korea Herald: “Professor Kim and the Department of the Traditional Korean Costume at Baehwa Women’s University have been educating aspiring hanbok designers and industry insiders for over two decades. According to Kim, it is the first and only undergraduate department to specialize in teaching traditional dress. "Most (of our) students go on to work in the wedding dress, formal dress or hanbok fields," she said.” [Source: Jean Oh, Korea Herald, March 29, 2010]

“Without a traditional foundation, hanbok — even its contemporary form — would not have a future. One of a group of artisans who have dedicated themselves to the preservation of traditional dress, Kim Kee-sang is next in line to become Intangible Cultural Properties Chimsun Craftsman No. 11, a revered title that his mother, the prominent Park Kwang-hoon, currently holds. The 53-year-old artisan started training under his mother in the early 1990s. For eight years he was only allowed to sew by hand. In other words, Kim did not touch a sewing machine until the 21st century.

“The winner of two special prizes for the 26th and 27th Korea Traditional Handcraft Contests, Kim lectures at Sungshin Women’s University and teaches classes at Park Sun Young Traditional Korean Clothing. His pieces are elegant and intricately sewn, showcasing the beauty of faithfully recreated hanbok in its deep colors and delicately sewn wrapped seams, serving as testimony to the fact that as long as Kim can thread a needle, the foundations of a long-standing tradition will continue on, well into the future.

New Hanbok Designs

Jean Oh wrote in the Korea Herald: “Tchai’s Kim Young-jin uses 18th century hanbok as the foundation for the line and form of her designs, layering them with Italian lace, taffeta and Korean hanbok fabrics to create what she calls "contemporary hanbok." For Kim, the slim sleeves of that period’s hanbok are "delicious," and the way that the chima billows out at the hips and narrows down at the ankles showcases a "voluptuous beauty." To achieve that classic hangari silhouette, Kim carried on the traditional 18th century custom of using a mujigi chima. [Source: Jean Oh, Korea Herald, March 29, 2010]

“The mujigi chima, according to Lee Kyung-ja, Hong Na-young and Chang Sook-hwan’s "Korean Traditional Costume Aesthetics and Truth of Their Original Form" (Youlhwadang Publisher, 2003, p. 24), is a "tiered underskirt with various colors" that was worn by "women of the upper class," and "when worn under the finely woven skirt, the colors showed through." Kim took the beauty of this style one step further. "We always do three layers for our hanbok," said Kim, pointing to a peachy-pink jeogori made from of a layer of lace laid over two more layers of fabric. "We used three layers to have the colors subtly seep through." The effect is transcendent, especially when she employs unconventional fabrics like lace, tulle or chiffon as the final outer layer. The various colors underneath emerge, adding depth and an opalescent quality to each piece. “Inspired by Sofia Coppola’s "Marie Antoinette," Kim drew from the film’s contemporary aesthetic and colors to create the show’s ethereal collection. One of her standout pieces, a blush, silken, high-waisted chima over a sheer lace jeogori was sold to a Korean client in New York.

“Like Kim, designer Lee Seo-youn uses a variety of fabrics for his hanbok, including brocades and other fabric he has purchased from Europe, China, Thailand and Japan. A bit of a globetrotter, Lee fishes for raw materials for his accessories from China’s countryside, Thailand, Japan, and flea markets in Europe and America. When he unearths antique fabrics, he draws inspiration from their patterns to create his fusion and traditional hanbok. “One of his pieces, slated to show this fall, highlights his ability to fuse both Western and Eastern sensibilities into his hanbok. He paired a blue and gold brocade Italian silk chima with a black and chocolate brown jeogori. The jeogori had a sort of splattered Jackson Pollock-esque pattern to it. When asked what inspired him to use that pattern, Lee answered: "I wanted to express the feel of hanji (traditional Korean paper)."

Korean Women Fight for Their Right to Wear Glasses and Miniskirts and Go Braless

The Park Chung Hee government of the 1960s and 70s banned miniskirts. Kang Hyun-kyung wrote in the Korea Times: In 1973, the Park government introduced the Minor Offenses Act that mandated limits on men's hair length and women's miniskirt length. Police who caught men with long hair took them to a police station to have their hair cut against their will. While there was no specific definition of long hair, the Minor Offenses Act stipulated that men who have hair "long enough to make it harder for others to distinguish whether they were men or women" were subject to the measure. In 1973 alone, some 12,000 men were taken to police stations for violations of the act. The same law also banned women from wearing skirts that ended 17 centimeters or higher above their knees. If found, the women were taken to a police station and required to change into a "modest" costume. [Source: Kang Hyun-kyung, Korea Times, February 22, 2019]

In 2006, hot pants and miniskirts were legalized in South Korea. Reuters reported: “The country is in the final stages of revising an indecency law that prohibits people from wearing revealing outfits and was once enforced by ruler-wielding police during authoritarian governments in the 1970s, officials said. "The law for excessive exposure does not match our current society," said Kim Jae-kwang, an official with the Korea Legislation Research Institute. Under authoritarian rule, police could arrest or fine women for their fashion choices. They also took scissors to men whose hair they felt was too long and tossed people in jail for unauthorized dancing. The rules stayed on the books as South Korea moved to an open democracy in the late 1980s, but were no longer enforced...and police have long given up on measuring the distance from knees to hemlines. [Source: Reuters, November 3, 2006]

But then a new law was passed in 2013 banning miniskirts in Seoul. CNN reported: “Under the decree, approved by the new government during President Park Geun-hye's first Cabinet meeting people deemed to be "overexposed" in public will be subject to a fine of 50,000 KRW (US$45). When the new legislation was announced, many residents assumed it meant restrictions on revealing outfits that are prevalent on the streets of Seoul and other South Korean cities. The so-called "no pants" look has become a fashion staple, with women ditching pants and skirts for leggings, stocking or barely-there microshorts. [Source: Frances Cha, CNN, March 21, 2013]

Opposition political figures have criticized the amendment, branding the law an infringement on freedom of expression. "Why does the state interfere with how citizens dress?" tweeted Democratic United Party member Ki Sik Kim, according to the Donga Ilbo newspaper. "This amendment is for cases like public nudity and public indecency," Inspector Ko Jun-ho of the National Police Agency told CNN. "Any reports that we will be regulating what people are wearing are completely false."

In 2020, Beh Lih Yi of Reuters wrote: “South Korean women have called for their freedom to dress as they choose after a newsreader caused an uproar for appearing on air without a bra. “Yim Hyun-ju came under criticism after she appeared on air on a TV programme braless this month and took to social media to share her experience with a hashtag #nobra. It came as a small but growing number of women in South Korea choose not to wear a bra in public in a bid to reject traditional social norms and to push for gender equality. "It's all about breaking out of the box," said Yim, who has worked for one of South Korea's biggest broadcasters, the MBC, since 2013. "Many things that we considered as natural in the past was a repression of women's rights," the 35-year-old told Reuters. [Source: Beh Lih Yi, Reuters, February 25, 2020]

“Yim made headlines in 2018 after she broke taboos on local TV by going on air wearing glasses - an issue that also sparked outcry in Japan in 2019 after some firms were found imposing similar bans on female staff wearing glasses. "Wearing glasses and not wearing a bra are all about choice," said Yim, who was on a show about new challenges that featured three men wearing bras and three women - including Yim - who went braless for a day. “One of South Korea's best-known K-pop stars, Sulli, was vocal about not wearing a bra in public, sparking headlines. She took her own life in October 2019 after cyber bullying. Police said she had being suffering from severe depression.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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