The Timeless Hanbok: Making Traditional Garb a Modern Fashion Statement

korean hanboks are the national dress of South Korea

These days, it’s all but impossible to pull up your social media accounts — or even wander around the streets of downtown Seoul — without seeing both men and women dressed head to toe in a brightly colored and beautiful hanbok. And while it’s totally understandable to admire this fashion ensemble from a safe distance, many people are admittedly curious about this fashion choice and whether or not they can pull one off. After all, they look absolutely gorgeous in your social media feed, but would you look just as awesome in one?

Before we can really dive deeper into whether or not you can wear a hanbok (and spoiler alert: you totally can) you probably need to first understand what exactly is the hanbok, and why it has taken the fashion world by storm. In short, a hanbok is the traditional garb of South Korea, and it has played a major role in defining South Korean fashion over the past 1600 years. The hanbok manages to recall both the historic traditions of South Korea and allows them to stand out in a modern era.

Of course, that doesn’t exactly answer the pressing question at hand: what’s the best way to style a hanbok, and can you yourself look as chic and fashionable as all the stunning young women and men you see wearing them? In a word, yes. You absolutely can. You just need a little bit of advice on how to get started!

Going the Traditional Route

If you’re feeling bold and you want to dive head-first into wearing your first hanbok, there’s nothing wrong with going the traditional route. There are many different styles that you can wear, and the hanbok is actually made for both men and women. You’ll want to start with the jeogori, which is the cropped jacket that goes with the outfit. Then, depending on if you’re feeling like wearing pants or a skirt today, you may find yourself reaching for either a chima (a flowy skirt) or a baji (the billowing pants). Traditionally, women wear chima and the men wear a baji. But if you are looking to incorporate parts of the hanbok into your modern style, why not try experimenting?

Don’t be shy asking for help in getting dressed in your hanbok. While there’s a little bit of a learning curve in putting one on for the first time, eventually it’ll get easier. (We promise!) Oh, and a little bit of a tip for those of you who aren’t sure what you can wear underneath one? You can absolutely wear a pair of leggings and a shirt beneath it if you don’t feel like going au naturale beneath your hanbok.

A Fresh Twist on the Hanbok

Many designers have recently found inspiration in the hanbok for their latest runway styles. Recalling the loose drape of the chima, baji and the jeogori, it’s easy to sneak in a little bit of South Korean culture into your everyday wear. While the traditional hanbok is undoubtedly stunning on its own, with its rich silks and ornate embroidered designs, it can be challenging to find a way to wear it in your day to day life. (Of course, if you’re going to wear it to the grocery store, you do you; that’s absolutely fine, too!)

With that in mind, some designers have taken the hanbok and turned it into something that’s both wearable and chic, allowing you to experience it without feeling like a child playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes. There are boutiques that now specialize in creating either customized hanbok according to your preferences or modern hanboks that are easy to wear. By mixing and matching pieces of a traditional hanbok, like pairing a jeogori with a simple miniskirt, or by wearing baji-style pants with a crisp button-down shirt tucked into it, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

There’s no reason to be daunted by the hanbok. While it can definitely seem a little bit intimidating at first, the more you wear it, the more comfortable you will be when getting dressed in this iconic garment. And over time, it’ll become second nature to you, and the only thing you’ll be wondering? Is why you didn’t start wearing one sooner!

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