Young Women Drag Hanbok into the Present

      September 28, 2015 08:46

      Hanbok or Korean traditional dress has long suffered an image problem as being only for conservative elderly women and solemn or patriotic occasions.

      But now a group of young people are active in wearing and appreciating hanbok. Members of the group, called Hanboknoledan, wear the costume on the subway, at parties, and traveling abroad.

      There are also a lot more comfortable modern hanbok designs adapted to modern lifestyles.

      They first gathered in 2011, and members are mostly university students or office workers. "We believe there is a limit to how far you can revive hanbok culture just by emphasizing moral responsibility to tradition," said leader Kwon Mi-ru.

      "We were drawn to hanbok not because we have to wear it but because we want to. You feel more attached to it if you have a lot of fun memories wearing it."

      Hanboknoledan started as a small hobby group under the motto, "Let's have fun wearing hanbok." They defy the stereotype that people should behave solemnly while wearing hanbok. Instead they gather in public places, dance passionately, and make fun-filled music videos, all to bring hanbok closer to young people.

      Most events are organized by volunteers recruited through Facebook. About a dozen members are selected among applicants to organize various events, but it is an informal, loosely structured organization with 3,000-4,000 interested people showing up to some events.

      Kwon is also famous for traveling abroad in hanbok. She went to Italy, Spain and Nepal last year wearing hanbok. More recently she went to Mongolia and Nepal and even climbed to the Annapurna base camp 4,130 m above sea level.

      She shares her travel stories on her blog and the reception has been explosive. "It made me feel really good that I broke the stereotype that hanbok is uncomfortable and inconvenient," she said.

      Since then, more people have followed her example, partly because it is a great way of breaking the ice when meeting strangers abroad and looking photogenic for selfies.

      "I liked hanbok even as a kid, but I never thought about wearing it on a daily basis. But a hanbok fashion show at Gyeongbok Palace in 2013 changed my perception because I found that there are infinitely many ways to enjoy it," she said.

      She has around 50 outfits, some ready-made but mostly her own designs sewn by a hanbok maker. "Conservative people say what I wear isn't hanbok," she said. "But if it remains such self-imposed straitjacket, it will continue to remain inaccessible to many people. Like everything else in history, hanbok too has constantly evolved over the years, and varied a lot depending on who wore it and when."

      "I don't think we should be obsessed with tradition and actually think about how to adapt it to modern needs. After all, hanbok will only survive if it looks good and more people start liking it and wearing it."

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