In this article, we’ll be talking about a very interesting aspect of culture: Clothing in South Korea.
One of the most important things to consider whenever you travel to a place is not just how to put together the most fun and productive itinerary but also what to wear whilst there. How do you plan your outfits for the season place during your trip? And even more importantly: what not to wear when in South Korea, so you do not offend anyone?
In this article, we hope to answer some of your questions regarding Korean clothing, from traditional clothes to modern styles, and where to purchase them. We hope this will answer your wonders about what type of clothes you should avoid wearing and which of your outfits best correspond with each season South Korea has.
Here’s a PDF version of this article that you can take with you on the go:
- 1 Why Learn About South Korean Clothing?
- 2 Modern-day Clothing Style in South Korea
- 3 Korean Traditional Clothing
- 4 Dressing for Korea’s weather per season
- 5 Popular Korean Brands of Clothing
- 6 Summary
Why Learn About South Korean Clothing?
There are different reasons why you should learn about Korean clothing. You may have been wondering what traditional clothes in South Korea are like, especially upon seeing a photo of a gorgeous hanbok online. Or you may drool after the pretty clothes or that Korean traditional hat that you see worn in Korean dramas.
You may have seen your favorite Korean idols wearing a fabulous outfit and wonder whether you can fill your suitcase with similar clothes before you head back home from Korea.
You might find yourself watching a historical drama with traditional Korean aesthetics and you might even imagine yourself wearing traditional Korean clothes, running around in villages with traditional Korean houses. In fact, Korean fashion has been taking up the world like a storm, just like Korean popular culture has.
Know the South Korean clothing styles for every season
Although you see a lot of western clothing and influences in South Korea. There are notable differences in Korean fashion. You might have seen this unique style in music videos or your favorite Korean drama. There are a lot of expected similarities with the fashion styles of the west, specifically those that also have four seasons.
During winter, for example, it is obviously common to wear warm winter clothes. Summer is where clothing with high-grade lightweight materials becomes popular.
Weather patterns have influenced differences in what the regional fashion industry can produce.
Not only does South Korea has four distinct seasons, but each of their seasons also may not be directly comparable with your own country’s equivalent seasons. For example, for a Northern European, South Korea’s spring and fall seasons may already feel similar to summer up north.
Alternatively, for someone from a tropical country, where seasons primarily alternate between dry and wet, South Korea’s diverse seasons may offer a lot of adapting to get used to.
Koreans are quite fond of having four seasons that all come with their own distinct flair – and you’ll want to be prepared for them so that you can fall in love with them, too! Or, at the very least, manage them through.
Modern-day Clothing Style in South Korea
Korea has developed distinctive clothing styles that set it apart from the rest of the world. Although many younger Koreans do still prefer clothes inspired by their western counterparts, there are a lot of elements in Korean fashion, both in formal and casual wear, that are quite unique.
We also have a separate article on Korean fashion that will introduce you to the specific clothing styles in South Korea.
What is the popular clothing style in general?
Essentially, there isn’t one specific clothing style, such as goth or preppy, that majority of Koreans would fall under. However, unless you are visiting a university’s engineering department during the finals season, or something equivalent, you likely won’t see many people dressed super casually, in sweats or the like.
In general, Korean society is focused on taking care of their appearance from head to toe, and it shows clearly on the streets. For both formal clothing and casual wear, the clothing style is usually planned further than simply throwing on the first clothes they find in the closet.
Korean people are fond of enjoying colorful clothes. They’re not afraid to use various clothing materials to express themselves and their modern artistic sensibility. If you check out K-pop music videos or have watched a Korean drama, you see that there’s really a burst of colorful clothes.
One thing to note is that traditional South Korean aesthetics are actually still trendy especially when younger designers reinterpret traditional Korean designs. Although a lot of today’s youth prefer clothes inspired by mostly modern western styles, some elements of Korea’s traditional clothing do still pop up in modern-day designs.
You see special fashion events where designers reinterpret traditional South Korean clothing designs and make them more modern. They add a uniquely Korean artistic significance to fashion while still keeping up with the times.
How conservative are Koreans in what they choose to wear?
While Koreans are not overly conservative, expecting you to cover yourself from head to toe, they are a lot more modest than, for example, many Western countries that adopt modern western styles.
The rules are a bit different between men’s fashion and women’s fashion. For men, this mainly means keeping your shirt on at all times. For women, it’s a little bit more complex. It’s typically best to avoid wearing a low-cut top or one that exposes your shoulders and/or stomach.
Cold shoulder and off-shoulder tops, as well as even crop tops, are getting more popular among young Korean women today, but try to limit especially tops like tank tops in your wardrobe when in Korea. However, short skirts and shorts are OK.
There are also formal occasions and special family occasions that require distinct clothing styles. Korean people are usually mindful of the guests whatever occasion they might be going to know what to wear on that specific occasion.
Are clothes cheap in South Korea?
It largely depends on where you shop for the clothes. If you are in South Korea, you will have access to all their street shops, where clothes are typically priced at their most affordable.
Of course, there is then the trade-off in quality. Korean people are fond of affordable fashion items with great aesthetic taste, so generally, you can find cheap and wonderful fashion finds in Korea.
When shopping online, whether you’re buying an everyday dress or even a wedding dress, the price of the clothes is often more expensive than if you shopped in the stores locally, but overall Korean fashion is reasonably priced in comparison to many international brands.
How to purchase Korean clothing for yourself?
South Korean Fashion is so popular that, in fact, the regional fashion industry in Korea has gained international acclaim and has attracted foreign tourists and international fashionistas.
Upon seeing how stylish many Koreans are and how much aesthetic taste they have, you may want to add some of that same sense of style and outfit choices to your wardrobe repertoire.
But where can you shop for Korean clothes if you are not in Korea? Or what if you are in Korea, but you don’t have the time and effort to brave Korea’s busiest fashion streets?
Well, while it may have been an issue a few years ago, today, it can be incredibly easy to find a Korean online store with international shipping! All it comes down to is sizing.
Korean Traditional Clothing
Along with unique and remarkable food, clothing is a huge part of Korean culture. Typically made with plain and patterned silks and other fabrics with intricate designs typically featuring graceful lines and national symbols, Traditional Clothing in Korea is unique, and rich Korean history has been woven into them.
Traditional Korean Dress
When talking about traditional clothing in Korea, one distinct type of clothing, a dress specifically, comes to mind. You might have seen this worn by women in person during one of the Korean traditional holidays or in a historical Korean movie or drama that you’re watching. It is, in fact, a huge part of Korean culture. These traditional Korean dresses are also called Hanbok.
What is a Hanbok?
The Hanbok (한복) is an article of distinctive clothing that’s unique to Korea. It has only been about 100 years or so since Koreans gave up on wearing hanbok daily. Up until then, there were different kinds of hanboks worn each day, depending on one’s class (upper classes wore a more colorful version), the time of year, whether it was a special event, and more.
Every Korean has a hanbok in their closet. However, hanboks can also be rented for an hour or two in special shops near areas like Gyeongbok Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul and Jeonju Hanok Village in Jeonju. On these occasions, the hanboks are worn for fun.
Imagine yourself walking around in traditional Korean attire, strolling around the streets of a traditional Hanok village, and walking past the traditional Korean houses, like a Korean person in the past would. This is a fun activity, especially among Korean youth, but foreigners and tourists are welcome to it as well.
The traditional hanbok does have a lot of the basic traditional features of clothing that are found in most East Asian countries. However, Korea developed distinctive clothing that set them apart from the rest of Asia.
What does a Hanbok look like?
This traditional Korean costume comes with basic traditional features such as a bell-like shape, a slim-fitted top, and a wide bottom, especially the skirt for women. The top jacket for women is slim and cropped, creating an illusion of an exceptionally small upper body, while the wide skirt offers a full lower body in contrast, which is seen as an attractive balance in Korea. This type of cut should be flattering on any type of body.
The colorful variations are similar to what the upper classes wore in the olden days.
What is Hanbok made of?
The fabrics used in this traditional clothing are light and usually vivid and vibrant in various colors, which have been created using natural dyes. You might see plain and patterned silks, cotton fabric, and other gorgeous fabrics.
A Korean traditional hat that is worn with the hanbok along with hair accessories for women.
When do you wear a Hanbok?
Today, hanboks are reserved for special occasions only, like traditional holidays, which also means that most modern-day people only see one style of a hanbok being worn anymore. Some events where traditional clothing is expected are Thanksgiving and Lunar New Year.
Additionally, on a wedding day, the mothers of the bride and groom may also wear traditional Korean attire. And in a traditional wedding setting, the bride and groom will also get dolled up in special hanboks that are specifically worn during the wedding ceremony. Children wear hanbok on special occasions as well, and the parents are always ready to snap a picture of them.
These days, a modern hanbok exists as well. It follows the same guidelines as a traditional hanbok but is styled to fit use in daily life. It’s quite gorgeous as well, and you can even purchase one for yourself, along with other cute and affordable fashion items, at The Korean in Me.
Dressing for Korea’s weather per season
As we mentioned above, Korea has four distinctive seasons, and you will want to think about your wardrobe accordingly for each of them. The weather can also change majorly in a short span of time, so you’ll want to be prepared for that as well.
So before you hit Korea’s busiest fashion streets or the fashion district, make sure to check out the weather first!
Korean Clothing for Spring
If cherry blossoms are your thing, then spring is the best season for you to visit Korea for that reason alone already. Spring also brings along warmer temperatures. In March, it may still be around the 10°C mark, but by April and May, you may get to enjoy plenty of days with sunny weather and 20°C temperatures.
Since Koreans love enjoying colorful clothes, spring is usually a burst of color, you’ll still want to wear those knitted cardigans, but you may not need a coat over them any longer. Or you may want to switch to a lighter coat, like a trench coat or another spring-fitted one. Because it may rain quite a bit, you’ll want to ensure your coat or jacket can handle the rain.
In general, including a lot of long-sleeved shirts, sweaters and hoodies, and long pants in your spring wardrobe in Korea is a surefire way to stay comfortable. For footwear, boots that won’t let the rain in are a good choice, as are some shoes and sneakers made for walking and hiking.
Nights and mornings can remain quite cool, so don’t forget to pack up a few pairs of warm socks as well!
Korean Clothing for Summer
Summer in Korea is hot and humid and comes together with a month-lasting rainy season. That’s why cool summer clothes are usually in season during this time. You’ll want to wear clothes made with light fabrics that are breathable, such as linen or cotton fabric, and also focus on clothes that are loose-fitted.
However, try not to fall into the trap of wearing tank tops or wifebeaters, as they are not common attire in Korea. Also, even at the beach, because of Korean tradition, you won’t see many people wearing bikinis; most Koreans will wear t-shirts or long-sleeved swim-tops.
As for shoes, it’s up to you whether you want to go for waterproof shoes or sandals.
Korean Clothing for Fall
Once September hits, the temperatures slowly begin cooling again, giving much of the same degrees as the spring season would. Only cherry blossoms are replaced with colorful autumn leaves. A layering tactic may be the way to go, as the day temperatures may still be around 20°C, but then mornings and evenings will be much chillier.
So even if you only need a t-shirt and a light jacket during the day, do keep a sweater or a cardigan tucked away in your bag, waiting for the cooler temperatures that come around after sunset. You may even want to invest in a fleece jacket. For shoes, the same walking shoes and boots you would wear during spring work excellently.
Korean Clothing for Winter
Winter in Korea can get quite chilly, even when there is no snow on the ground. Especially if you come from a country that’s not like places like Canada or Northern Europe, you’ll probably feel the cold in your bones – even those from cold climates do! So it’s incredibly important to dress right if you’re in Korea in the wintertime, and considering how beautiful the country gets when there’s snow, you just may want to be.
You’ll want to invest in a proper winter coat, have some cute sweaters underneath, and also protect your fingers and head with some gloves and winter hats.
You may even want to consider a thermal layer in your wintertime outfits, and definitely also wear thick pants. For your feet, you want to put on warm socks and boots specific for winter wear.
Popular Korean Brands of Clothing
If you are in Korea, we highly recommend shopping there, from brands to street shops, as there are so many cute styles out there! Here are some brands and outlets that foreign tourists and locals are raving about:
- YESSTYLE – Right off the bat, YesStyle is probably the most famous and longest-running online shop selling Korean brands. They do also sell clothes from other countries, as well as other items like cosmetics, art goods, and whatnot. Of all the shops on the list, they likely have some of the cheapest clothing on offer, but the quality of the clothing on their site may also vary the greatest from product to product.
- CHUU – CHUU’s shop is primarily focused on selling clothes from their own brand collection, some of which have been purchased from outside retailers and some of which have been created by in-house designers. They are most famous for their jeans, but their shop is full of chic clothing that dances around the lines of cute, cool, and sensual, the majority of which are sold at a sensible price.
- STHSWEET – This site is specifically engineered for an international audience. They also sell CHUU’s collection, which has produced cool summer clothes to trendy warm winter clothes. This is in addition to around 20 other brands that they carry, which feature designs using various clothing materials. It’s an excellent selection of different types of brands, from cute, to elegant, to streetwear.
- DABAGIRL – One of the brands sold on STHSWEET’s site, DABAGIRL also has its own online store. The majority of the clothes on their site are from their own brand, but some clothing items from other brands are also sold on the site. The style of DABAGIRL is versatile, including casual clothes, more feminine styles, and also some more hip streetwear outfit ideas.
- KOODING – KOODING is quite similar to STHSWEET in that it sells a variety of different brands, many of which are similar to the brands on STHSWEET. They do have more brands on offer, but they also sell international brands, such as Christian Dior and Estee Lauder, in addition to Korean clothes brands.
- STYLENANDA – STYLENANDA is one of the most famous Korean clothes brands, both locally and internationally. Much of what the site sells is from their own brand, which is focused on chic streetwear, but they also sell some clothes from other brands that fit their overall style.
- MIXXMIX – This is another site that offers a variety of different Korean clothes brands for purchase. Plenty of their clothes start at affordable pricing, but you can also find extremely expensive clothes on the site. They have approximately a dozen different brands they sell in their collection, and their advertising seems to be largely geared toward the Western audience.
Whether we’re talking about Korean traditional clothing or the modern styles of both Korean men and women, Koreans seem to have had a specific sense of style since the beginning of time.
From a gorgeous traditional costume to today’s everyday wear, South Korea just may be one of the most stylish countries out there.
What do you think of Korean clothing and the everyday style of modern Koreans? Do you already own some Korean clothing, or are you planning to make your first purchase? Let us know in the comments below!