One of the most popular things for visitors to Korea to take part in is the renting of Korea’s national dress: the hanbok. It’s unmistakeable with its short jacket, tulip-like skirt, and simple blocked colors, but in recent years, a new form of hanbok has been gaining popularity – the modern hanbok. It’s a more casual, more stylish version of its traditional ancestor, and it’s becoming a popular option for young people and tourists alike for its comfort and variety.
All About Traditional Hanbok
The name hanbok literally translates to ‘Korean (han) clothing (bok)’ and is used to refer to both the traditonally male and female versions of the outfit. Both types include, as the basics, a jeogori – the upper garment, which is long for the male style and short for the female – and bottoms, however the female option is to wear a wide, full-length chima (skirt), while the male option is to wear loose-fitting baji (pants) that come in at the ankles. The male hanbok has remained largely unchanged throughout the times, however the female jeogori saw huge transformations throughout the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, with the length of the jeogori shrinking dramatically from the same as that of the male version to a short, underbust-length blouse. In fact, at one point in Joseon times it was common for women in the lower castes to wear a jeogori so short that it completely bared their breasts – a practice usually done to show others that they had borne a healthy son. However, the modern female jeogori that we see nowadays stops just above the waist.
What is Modern Hanbok?
Modern hanbok, sometimes called daily hanbok (in Korean – 생활한복, literally ‘daily life hanbok’, or 개량한복, literally ‘reformed/improved/modernised hanbok’), is the newest iteration of Korea’s national costume. As with the versions that have come before it, modern hanbok has been born out of physical necessity, but also from changes to fashion and changing society.
While traditional hanbok is just that – traditional, in that it follows certain rules and customs that have been maintained throughout the years – modern hanbok is equally accurately named. A plethora of different styles of modern hanbok with something to suit every gender, fashion and occasion exist these days. There are beautiful lace dress options, or linen shorts-and-shirt casual styles. There are matching sets for couples, and there are wedding designs available too.
Some people argue that modern hanbok is an appropriation or bastardisation of traditional Korean culture, but there is no denying its beauty and popularity. With it being especially favoured by the young people of Korea, and from seeing a rise in idols being styled in modern hanbok, I personally think it’s safe to say that this is far less appropriation than it is appreciation. And as for it sullying the name of hanbok, well, styles all across the world change with time, and it’s incredibly refreshing, in these times when we hear ‘hell Joseon’ being cried more and more often, to see young people loving their culture and molding it to fit them.
Where Can I Buy a Modern Hanbok?
If you’re in Seoul there are lots of different bricks-and-mortar stores around where you can buy your own modern hanbok. Some of the best or most popular I’ve seen have been at the entrance to Ssamziegil in Insadong, Suseolhwa at Hapjeong station exit 8, and (my personal favourite) Teterot Salon in Ikseondong. However, sometimes shopping in-person just isn’t possible, and we all know it’s so much nicer to have clothes tailored to your exact size! So I’ve put together a list of some of the best people I know who make modern hanbok exactly to your measurements.
Heo Sarang is a big favourite here at Moon Bear Travel. While neither of us own any of their pieces (yet!), we’ve spent hours admiring the huge range of styles and items they create. Heo Sarang is well-known for their different take on hanbok and its modern iteration, and has even worked with K-pop groups for stage costumes. Heo Sarang makes hanbok in both masculine and feminine styles and shapes, and also has non-gendered styles available.
Contact Heo Sarang on Instagram at @heo_sarang or visit their website.
Kkot Gureum is big in the English-speaking Instagram world here in Seoul. She is well-known amongst Korea-bloggers for her beautiful skirt and dress modern hanboks that she makes to measure after a brief fitting session (she can also work remotely with your measurements sent directly to her). Her pricing is also incredibly reasonable for fully-tailored, handmade clothing. If you want a feminine, formal or everyday hanbok, Kkot Gureum is the place to shop.
Susuhan is a personal recommendation from friends of Moon Bear Travel. Found on Idus (Korea’s answer to Etsy), their modern hanbok skirts and dresses are made to order using your personal measurements, and for a very good price, too. Customise your hanbok with Susuhan, choosing the fabric, length, fit, or if you want only a skirt or blouse, and receive it (in Korea) in under two weeks.
Check Susuhan out on Idus.
How Do I Wear Modern Hanbok?
There are so many variations of modern hanbok that you might not know where to start. Skirts and dresses come in all lengths, and the sleeves on the jeogori blouses vary, too. You can tuck the blouse in, or leave it out. Some people like to wear a sheer skirt over a hanbok dress, and some people like the less structured, slighty more modern hanbok-inspired two-piece outfits. But the important thing to know is that there is no wrong way to wear modern hanbok – it’s a comfortable, fun way to honour traditional Korean clothing, and there are so many different ways to wear it that there is bound to be a style you will like.
Check out some of my favourite styles below for inspiration, and tag us on Instagram @moonbeartravel in your modern hanbok photos!
Looking for information on how to rent hanbok in Seoul and other popular spots in Korea? Check out our Size-Inclusive Guide to Renting Hanbok in Korea!