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South Korea's traditional hanbok dress becomes newly fashionable

Traditional dress is trending on the streets of Seoul where it’s hip to be seen in hanbok — South Korea’s formal wear, once reserved for special occasions.

What was once formal wear for special occasions finds favour among the young and hip

Young Koreans like these, out in the Samcheongdong neighbourhood of Seoul on March 27, have taken to wearing traditional hanbok dress while walking around downtown on weekends.

(Jean Chung/Getty)
(Jean Chung/Getty)

Hanbok style picks up some modern touches.

A woman's hanbok is typically two-piece (a high skirt and petticoat) with a long-sleeved top. The ensemble was traditionally paired with a headpiece and special footwear, but now a smartphone and running shoes are more common accessories. 

(Jean Chung/Getty)

Traditional formal wear you can still throw in the wash. 

Hanbok designs are still largely bespoke and picking one out typically begins at a fabric store. Companies like Leesle, however, which brands itself "Korea's everyday hanbok company," have replaced traditional tie-ups with zippers and made their skirts machine washable and less bulky for everyday wear.

​ 
(Jean Chung/Getty)

A search for #hanbok on Instagram speaks to the style's rise in popularity.


Hanbok got a high fashion boost last year.

The French fashion giant Chanel looked to traditional South Korean dress for its 2015 cruise collection, which designer Karl Lagerfeld unveiled in Seoul last May. 

Drawing inspiration from the clothes of the Chosun dynasty, which ran from 1392 to 1910, Lagerfeld told reporters after the show that he "loved traditional Korean clothes, materials and patterns" and that the timing of the show, Chanel's first in South Korea, was just "the right moment to do it."

(Thomas Peter/Reuters)

From K-pop to K-beauty: South Korea is a trend-setter.

Many will be familiar with Korean pop music, or at least the term K-pop, with Psy's Gangnam Style (still the most-viewed video on YouTube ever) representing Korea's latest musical mass export. Makeup is another.

South Korea's skin-care market, collectively known as "K-beauty" in North America, is already well-established and highly profitable.

Last year K-beauty-related exports amounted to a record $2.6 billion US, according to a BBC business report. The bulk of those exports were to the U.S. (That's another shot from the Chanel show below.)

(Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Hanbok is still the dress for formal occasions.

Prior to the rise of hanbok as street wear, the traditional costume was most commonly seen at special occasions like coming-of-age day (the third Monday of May) and ceremonies held every March 1 commemorating resistance to the Japanese occupation. 

(Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
(Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Hanbok style is spreading beyond Korea.

Driving the rise of Seoul as a fashion capital are visitors like this woman, browsing hanbok-inspired dresses at the Lotte department store in February.

Tourists from neighbouring countries are reportedly buying less from global luxury mainstays like Louis Vuitton and Chanel in favour of homegrown brands, as young, independent and fashion conscious travellers make up more of the country's tourism.

(Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Despite its rise in popularity, hanbok remains rooted in tradition. 

A couple wearing traditionally cut hanbok take a sunset stroll in Seoul on Feb. 9 to mark the the Lunar New Year. 

(Ed Jones/AFP/Getty)

With files from Reuters and Getty Images

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