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Why Is Korean Fashion So Popular?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Published on:

Korean fashion has exploded within the last decade. This is due to things like K-pop culture and dramas making waves throughout the world. It is a growing trend with a huge cult following worldwide.

But it has a lot of influence form the West along with its relationship to wealth, social media and a long history of having a high fashion sense. 

South Koreans are notorious for being expressive and exuding a sense of individuality with clothing and accessories.

In short: Korean fashion has become so popular because of K-pop and K-drama. These are the two main reasons why the Korean wave has become so big.

What Is It about Korean Fashion that Makes It Popular?

Aside from any other influences, Korean fashion is popular because of its casual appearance with a stylish appeal. Stemming from Korean social and cultural values, designers understand they wouldn’t be able to sell the haute couture in the same way as places like Paris or Milan.

So, they take the elements of Western fashion and put it in a Korean context. Therefore, these designers keep comfort in mind combined with pragmatism and affordability. Combine this with Korea’s robust textile industry and it’s a natural union resulting in a strong fashion sense.

How Does K-Pop Influence Korean Fashion Popularity?

Fashion is and has always been an integral part of Korean culture and so this naturally connects to the world of music, entertainment and art. Many K-pop artists today advertise or collaborate with popular brands and you always see them wearing designer threads off stage as well as on it.

There’s been a teeter totter effect with its influence on the West and vice versa. For instance, 2NE1 introduced Givenchy and Balmain to Korean fans, with an intentional mix of luxury and street wear. Blackpink displays Mulberry and Winner sports Burberry, both of which are major British fashion houses. Likewise, BTS wears FILA, Suzie Bae models Guess Korea and Acme de la Vie supplies clothing for Twice.

Exchanges with the West

All these have hugely influenced the West, where you can see a similar blend in hip-hop and pop genres. To illustrate, it’s common to see American stars wear lots of glitter and jewels amid casual clothes like jeans and hoodies. All of this has morphed in a back-and-forth manner with subtle influences from Korean culture.

Do K-Dramas Influence the Popularity of Korean Fashion?

K-dramas, or Korean Dramas, coincide with K-pop, which means it also has a stronghold on how popular Korean fashion is. This is particularly true in China, where they consume K-dramas en masse. While there isn’t any one actor or famous personality that you could match, it’s the style and how it looks on them.

Audiences perceive these clothing articles and attempt to emulate it with what they can find. They then attempt to exude the same grace, beauty and elegance they saw in a drama.

How Does Korean Culture Support Fashion that Makes It So Popular?

Because of Korea’s history with textiles and clothing, it’s a concept well-ingrained into the culture. This translates to its appeal toward the young and old alike. In Korea, there’s a huge network and program where there are many avenues for young, burgeoning designers to flourish.

Several organizations and universities offer solid fashion design programs, which foster a pool of Korean talent. Seoul National, Ewha Womans and Hongik Universities all offer competitive programs. Plus, there’s contests every year along with small and large fashion shows specifically for new artists. [1]

What Is the History of Fashion in Korea?

Prior to the Korean War, it was common for Koreans to have winter clothes and summer clothes. Winter clothes comprised of soft cotton between more cotton or silk. The ones worn in summertime were from ramie or hemp. All this formed the classic traditional dress called, “hanbok.”

Hanbok were usually white, which many scholars believe comes from the period of the Three Kingdoms (37 BC to 668 AD). White, for Koreans, is a symbol of integrity, innocence, simplicity and nobility. But, after the Korean War, they experienced Western fashion and the Koreans took it from there.

Traveling to the West for Study

What’s more, not only did the West influence K-fashion’s foundations, but designers traveled all over the world to places like Paris and New York City to study it. They then brought it back home to produce what we see now alongside Korea’s own college fashion programs. [2]

Booming since the 1970s

Since the 1970s, Korean style, especially for women, became a growing trend. It’s been a staple in the fashion world since this time since they were the initial suppliers for H&M.

In fact, it’s so important to the Korean way of life today that even the government sees its value. They have programs for designers and apparel ateliers to help promote Korean culture with their products via taxpayer subsidies.

How Important Are Fashion Shows in Korea?

Another aspect that plays into how popular Korean fashion is are their fashion shows. These are a big deal and have been since 1955. Even though Koreans have adopted many aspects of Western fads and trends, they still hold firm to the hanbok. As such, fashion shows abound geared to this traditional dress.

There’s Seoul Fashion Week, which happens biannually for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. This is one of the major destinations for fashion aficionados along with other places like Paris, Munich, NYC, Milan and London.

Also, since 1983, Korean Fashion Design Contest actively finds and locates rising talent in the industry. There are other events too, all of which aim to promote new designers and connect rising stars. The 2013 Korea Style Week and K-Collection in Seoul Fashion Concert during the 2012 Olympics are some of these.

Who Are Some of the Most Famous Korean Fashion Designers & Brands?

Some of the most famous designers and clothing brands from South Korea are:

Moon Young Hee: founded the Moon Boutique in 1974

Andre Kim: famous for evening and bridal wear

Lie Sang-Bong: currently the most influential designer in Korea and fostering K-fashion popularity worldwide

Yoni & Steve Pare: married couple famous for their characteristic, witty clothing that fuses Western style with Korean flair

Lee Suk Tae: one of the top 10 Soul Designers, he studied for years in Paris and worked for places like Christian Dior

Andersson Bell: a very popular brand in Korea that marries Korean panache with Scandinavian traditions

Modern Creation Munich (MCM): a high-end supplier of luxury apparel, footwear and goods; founded in 1975 by Michael Cromer in Munich

Bean Pole: part of the Samsug Group, Bean Pole is a fashion brand hailed alongside ones like Ralph Lauren.

Who.A.U. (Who Are You): an inexpensive clothier owned by E-Land that mimics the exotic California look

Hazzys and Darks: a fashion subsidy of the LG Corporation.

Teenie Weenie: another branch of the E-Land group, this is a brand for adults only.

BangBang: catering to young adults and teens, they have a wide selection of casual styles

Beyond Closet: funky street style fashion for younger folks

Romantic Crown: European-inspired fashion that’s very popular in China

AQO Studiospace: a newer brand gaining recognition for their street wear and worn by K-pop artists such as Blackpink.

Acme de la Vie: a very popular K-fashion brand worldwide, they have oversized graphic t-shirts with baby faces on them.

Final Thoughts

After all, Korean fashion will continue to grow as K-pop gets bigger and bigger. In the future you’ll probably see Korean fashion stores everywhere.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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