Since their settlement in prehistoric times on the land now known as the Korean Peninsula, the Korean people have developed a wealth of unique cultural traditions related to the way they dress, eat, and behave at home. These traditions reflect the natural environment of their homeland, a terrain predominately covered by hills and mountains, bound by the sea on three sides and marked by four distinct seasons.
Clothing and Fashion
The Korean people learned to use various fabrics, such as sambe (hemp), mosi (ramie), cotton and silk to make a range of clothing that was not only attractive but also provided them with effective protection even during the harshest winters and the hottest summers. They made warm winter clothes using the technique of filling soft cotton between two layers of material, silk or cotton fabric, and sewing them together with fine stitching, and produced cool summer clothes with hemp and ramie. These clothes typically feature graceful lines and forms that create the serene aura characteristic of the traditional Korean clothes we know as hanbok.
Korea’s indigenous clothing, hanbok, has maintained its basic components throughout Korea’s 5,000-year history, while its styles and forms have evolved in various ways based on the lifestyle, social conditions, and aesthetic taste of the times.
History reveals that Korean people in the past tended to prefer simple, white clothes to clothing decorated with different colors and designs. That is why they were often referred to as “the white-clad people” among their neighbors who admired them for being a peaceful people. Nonetheless, Korea has also had a long tradition of enjoying colorful clothes with complex designs depending on the period and the wearer’s social status.
Today, Korea is home to many talented fashion designers who have earned an international reputation with their creative designs which combine traditional Korean designs and patterns with a modern artistic sensibility. The beauty of traditional Korean clothes has been introduced to, and praised in, many parts of the world thanks to the remarkable success in recent years of many Korean films and TV dramas including Dae Jang Geum.
Korean people today seem to prefer clothes inspired by modern Western styles to their traditional clothes, although some people still insist on wearing the latter on traditional holidays or for special family occasions such as weddings. Their love of tradition and yearning for the new sometimes led to the creation of attractive “modernized hanbok.”
Now a household name across the world thanks to “Gangnam Style,” a K-Pop song that shook the world in 2012, Gangnam-gu in Seoul is a large district where wealthy residential areas sit alongside high-end art facilities and Korea’s busiest fashion streets. The district now attracts numerous fashion-minded tourists from across East Asia and beyond with annual fashion festivals comprising international fashion shows and contests participated in by many rising designers.
Another fashion district in Seoul that enjoys an international reputation is Dongdaemun-gu, which has grown into a hub of the regional fashion industry, providing creative, affordable fashion items for youth and the young at heart. With its fully developed distribution and sales network, highly efficient production facilities, and throng of talented, aspiring designers, the district is now one of Seoul’s most popular attractions among foreign tourists.