Nowadays, traditional Korean attire hanbok is only worn on special occasions such as Lunar New Year or Chuseok in Korea. Even so, it is worn by those who are relatively young, and the older people get, the less they wear it. It is difficult to find hanbok in daily life.
Even if people know that hanbok is Korea’s attire, it is easy to forget its value if they do not see it often. Aiming to spread the culture of wearing hanbok in daily life, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) and Korean Craft and Design Foundation (KCDF) Hanbok Advance Center began the hanbok uniform project in 2021.
Culture and arts institutions with many opportunities to meet the general public or tourists were first to have hanbok as uniforms. However, people do not seem to welcome these efforts at the national level. They understand the necessity of wearing hanbok in everyday life, but most of them insist they do not want to be forced.
Nam Jennie, a rising junior from the Division of International Studies, viewed the movement as a positive way to blend in and represent Korean culture and tradition with modern lives. She shared how she does not find it strange to see people wearing traditional attires, especially because she has lived in Myanmar for a long period of time where citizens wear their traditional clothing longyi on a daily basis. However, she emphasized that it is critical that people are given the freedom to decide what to wear.
“I would be willing to wear modernized hanbok if other people wore it, such as on special occasions,” Nam said. “However, I would not want people to be forced to wear it. Otherwise, I would find it amusing to see people become creative with new designs that reflect each person’s likes and interests.”
Kwon Hea-jin, CEO of fashion brand Studio Hyeon and a hanbok designer participating in the hanbok uniform project, says not everyone has to wear hanbok on a daily basis.
“It would have been nice if hanbok had gone through a natural evolvement as our lifestyles changed, but we had no such process because we went through the war and experienced the pain of our history being cut off,” Kwon said. “We forgot a lot about our traditional culture. It is natural that hanbok is not popular yet because people who have forgotten hanbok are at the stage where they are interested in it again.”
Even though Kwon is participating in the hanbok uniform project, she explained not everyone has to wear it. However, some occupations can show the identity of Korea through hanbok. For example, employees of the Korean Culture Center abroad or at the museum information desk wearing hanbok will have a symbolic effect of conveying that hanbok is a traditional Korean attire without having to say anything – which is the purpose of the project.
“If we do not keep ours, we will be robbed,” Kwon said. “Even if we wore hanbok in the past, it is useless if we do not wear it now. I do not insist on wearing hanbok every day, but I think we should wear it on special occasions at least. We have to wear hanbok more often and get to know more about it to project our culture.”
According to Kim Ye-ji, CEO of fashion brand RIU&VIU that is inspired by Korean traditional clothing, there are currently wide-ranging groups of consumers on the lookout for traditional Korean-inspired attires. Recently, many adolescents and young adults purchase them in order to stand out and explore new styles.
Kim explained a successful introduction of hanbok as a daily outfit will become an indicator of how traditional culture is deeply entrenched into modern lives. She stressed that it is critical to establish a positive perception of not only hanbok but also Korean traditional culture itself.
“Clothes are a direct reflection of our lives,” Kim said. “The clothes we decide to wear heavily depends on the various forms of culture we have been exposed to. Changing clothes is essentially changing our lifestyle and life itself. That is what makes it so difficult to persuade people to change the type of clothing they wear.”
Although it would be idealistic if hanbok as a lifestyle carried over to workplaces and schools, Kim believed that the plan should be implemented in the future. In order to make more individuals recognize the authenticity of Korean culture and the importance of preserving traditions, people must first familiarize themselves and experience the beauty of Korean culture.
“I await the day when people wear clothes that reflect Korean culture not out of a sense of mission for preserving tradition, but simply because they were looking for beautiful, high-quality clothes that happened to contain Korean colors,” Kim said.