Figure 1.--This photograph was taken about 1980. It shows the family of "Dear Leader" which provides an insight as to the clothes worn by the North Korean elite at the time.

We have very limited information on Korea at this time. Korea is not a country HBC has been able to research in any detail. Hopefully Korean readers will provide us some information on clothing trends in their country. Curiously South Korea is a country with very high levels of internet use, but we receive very few contacts from Korea. Korea is also a divided country, separated by the Cold War. Before separation there was little cultural and fashion difference between North and South Korea. Today glitering, prosperous South Korea could not be more different than the desperately poor, pranoid garison state to the north.


Korea is a peninsula streaching south from Manchuria toward Japan. This geography has in large measure determined the history of Korea. Large powers from Manchuria abd China to the north and Japan from the south have over time invaded abd dominated Korea. The ealiest Korean state may have been a Chinese colony--Kojoseon. Three Kingdoms developed on the penib=nsula and were eventually unified by Silla. The Three Kingdoms accepted Buddhism and with Buddhism came increased Chinese cultural influences. Wang Kon founded the Goryeo Dynasty (918). This was the derivation of the modern name Korea. The Goryeo Dynasty was suplanted by the Yi family which established the Joseon Dynasty (1392). The Yi set up a state structure based on the Confusian ideal. The Goryeo rulled for centuries, facing invasions from China, the Mongols, and the Japanese. Korea became a Chinese vassal state (17th century). It became known as the Hermit Kingdom. As the dominant military power in northeastern Asia, Japan was able to annexed and colonize Korea (1910). The Japan began a brutal attempt to extinguish Korean culture. Japanese authorities did not permit Koreans to speak their own language in public. The Japanese in the early colonial period did not expell Christian missionaries. Chistinity gradually became associate with resistance to Japanese domination. The Allies at the Cairo Conference committed to Korean indedendence (1943). Japan surrendered to the Allies ending the Pacific War (June 15, 1945). Soviet troops which had attacked the Japanese in Manchuria entered the Korean Peninsula from the north. Americans landed in the south. The country was divided into Soviet and American occupation zones at the 38th parallel. As in Germany, cooperation proved impossible. The North Koreans Army crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950 to forcibly unify Korea. The Soviets had provided modern weapons in great quantity to the Noryth Koreans. Embolded by the Communist victory in China during 1948-49, Kim-il-Jong obtained Stalin's approval for the attack. President Truman ordered the United States military to support South Korea and obtained United Nations support.


Korea has a long history as has for cenbturies maintained its independence from both bowerful neigbiring states, China and Japan. We do not yet have any information on the economy of ancient Korea. We have somne information on more modern era. The Chosôn dynasty dominated Korea for 5 centuries (1392-1910). The Chosôn imposed a tribute command system on largely peasant economy. The Chosen collected taxes in non-monetary forms in the form of products and commodities. They also mobilizing labor services in the form of a corvée. This was not a very efficent system and was static, limiting reade and economic growth. It was the originopf the term 'Hermit Kingdom'. It was, however, not only a way to collect taxes, but for the Chosôn to control the population. It did enable the Chosôn to obtain the food, handicrafts, and labor it needed or desired. Korea gradually fell behind the neigboring China and Japan. A Korean scholar calls it Malthusian stagnation. [Cha] Invading aemies from China and Japan began to rave the countryy (late-16th centurty). This shattered Korea's command system. The Chosôn as a result could not prevent a shift to more market-based economic activity. The Chosôn bureaucracy was badly damnaged by the invasions. They began to demand takes in commodities with a money value maning easily traded. Two of the most important were rice and cotton textiles. In turn, they began minting copper coins and eased restrictions on tradeand commerce. The invading armies and wars seriously damaged the traditional Chosôn labor system, both slavery and forced labor services. Thus labor markets began to emerge.[Cha] The Chosôn over their long history at times were independent and at oler times a client state, especially of China. The Meiji Restoration and begining of industrialization in Japan altered the traditional balance. Japan emetged victorious in the Sino Japanese War (1894-95) and then the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05). This enabled Japan to convert Korea from a Chinese client statre to a Japanese colony (1909). Japan annexed Korea as a colonial ruler began to make wide-spread changes in the Korean economy. Japanese rule was brutal and suppressed Korean ntionlism, including the use of the language. They intriduced a range of odern economic changes, albeit exploited their new colony's economy. Japan founded Korea's industrial econmy. Most of the new industry was in the north where most of the raw matetrial was located. The south remained mostly agricultural. Japan committed national suiside by launching the Pacific War (1941). One of the results of Japan's defeat and the end of colonial rule (1945). Korea was occupied by the World War II victors, the United states in the South and the oviet Union in the south. Noth Korea invased the South and kaunched the Korean War (1950-53). This brough untold destruction and death, but changed the border little. A capitalist democracy developed in the south and a Communist totalitarian state in the north. The results were staggering. A rich vibrant market economy with world class industry emerged in the south. The command ecinomy in the north has brough economic decline. hunger and repression. One Koream scholar writes, "The post colonial decades, when living standards improved rapidly in South Korea, while North Korea returned to the world of disease and starvation. The dramatic history of living standards in Korea presents one of the most convincing pieces of evidence to show that institutions — particularly the government — matter for economic growth." [Cha]


Korea was annexed by the Japanese in the early 20th century and then administered as a colony. Clothing for boys continued to follow traditional styles. We have very limited information on traditional styles at this time. Korean boys even in the early 20thb century began to wear western style-clothes in urban areas. The Japanese introduced school uniforms, using the same styles as used in Japan. Korea remained a Japanese colony until surrender to the Allies in 1945. Korea was then occupied by the Soviets in the north and the Americans in the south. Until 1945 clothing styles were quite traditional except for some modern styles in the larger cities. There was very little difference between styles worn in the north and south. Since them very significant differences have developed. Clothing in Korea was affected by the poverty of the country, made worse after North Korea invaded South Korea by the destruction occuring during the Korean War (1950-53). The Eureopean styles adopted in Japan have been very influential in Korea. Boys in Korea wore short shorts and also tights as was the case in Japan. Korean boys now wear the latest Euroean and American styles.

Divided Country

After Korea was liberated from Japan, the Soviet Union occupied the north and the Americans the south. Two very different regimes developed in the north and south and destinct clothing styles began to appear. These styles became increasingly apparent after the 1960s when south Korea began to devlop economically.

South Korea

Clothing styles in South Korea, despite liberation by the Americans, have primarily been influenced by Japanese and followed Japanese styles. Korean boys commonly wore short pants. Knee socks were common, but younger boys and girls often wore tights with shorts during the colder winter months.

North Korea

North Korea is perhaps the most closed state in the world. The outside world glimses only occasional images of North Korea. Japanese newspapers in May 2001 carried a story about a man who seems to have been the son of North Korea's dictator, "Dear Leader" (as they call him). Kim Jong Il was caught trying to enter Japan illegally. He was deported, but the Japanese press ran a picture of him as a 10 year old boy sitting next to his father. the picture was taken 20 years ago and gives some indication of at least the way the North Korean elite was dressing their sons at the time. Most of the pictures you see of Young Pioneeers etc. seem to show them in red kerchiefs, short-sleeved white shirts, and navy long pants. But this boy was dressed in a some sort of T shirt and short, dark shorts. He would have looked completely unremarkable in the Japan of 20 years go. North Korea is one of the last remaining Communist states. Living condituions in the North are some of the most dreadful in the world. Several million are believed to have died in the famine of the 1990s. The children were those most affected.


We have no information on Korean choir, dance, music, religion, sport, and other activities at this time.


Korean children mostly wore traditional clothing in the first half of the 20th century. Some boys wore Western garments in the cities, but traditional clothing was more common. We do not yet have detailed information on the various traditional garments involved. This did not begin to change until after World War II and the Korean War. The change may have occurred faster in the North as it was more industrialized with a larger urban population. Substantial change took place in the South during the 1960s. By the 1970s, Koreans boys were mostly wearing Westrern clothes. The garments we have noted were essentially the same as worn in Japan. We see country children by the 1970s wearing the same Western clothing styles as worn in the cities. Girls wore both pants and dresses. Boys wore T-shirts and shorts in the summer. Track suits seem popular in colder weather. Younger children commonly wore colorful tights. Sneakers were very popular.

Hair Styles

We have no information on historic Korean hair styles. We notice that during the Japanese occupation that many Korean boys had cropped hair like Japanese boys. Since World War II we see many Korean children both boys and girls wearing bangs. We see this same style in Japan and China as well. We are not entirely sure why this particular style is so popular in Korea. There are various ways of cutting bangs. Girls commonly wear bangs with the sides over the ear. Boys wears bangs with the hair cut shorter at the sides around the ears. Nangs are especially popular for younger children.


Korea has been one of the most isolated countries in the world and Communist North Korea still is. Situated between China and Japan, the country has been conquered by both, but mananaged to preserve its independence and became known as the Hermit Kingdom, reflectings its desire to remain inndependnt of both its neighbors. Like both China and Japan girls and women wore colorful traditionalal garments. The basic traditional garment Hanbok (South Korea), known as the Joseon-ot in North Korea). The Hanbok is done in silk with vibrant colors and follows simple lines without any pockets. Hanbok translates as 'Korean clothing' and is the sty;es of the Joseon/Chosŏn dynasty. This was a long-lasting Korean kingdom (14th-19th centuries). Today the Hanbok is worn as formal clothing during traditional festivals and important family celebrations. Korea over its long history had a kind of dual clothing tradition rather similar to European monarcial traditions. The rulers and aristocracy adopted a variety of mixed foreign-influenced but indigenous styles. Commoners preserved a distinct style of indigenous clothing, today known as hanbok. What the commonors role were, however, not the expensive silk and colored hanbok garments of modern Korea. The photographic record shows both men and women wearing inexpensive white garmebts for eceryday wear. Japan firt intricuced Western garments to Japan during the colonial period, primarily school uniforms for children (1909-45). Since World War II Koreans have adopted Western fashion. This process began slowly, but accelerated as South Korea adopted capitalist economic policies and became one of the Asian Tigers (1970s). The afflience of South Korea have made them Korean women anomg the most fashopn concious in Asia. South Korean women and girls want to use fashion to express their individuality. Just the opposite is the case in North Korea where the state has instituted fashions which reflect the submission of the individual to totalitarian state control. Indivisuality in North Korea actually is dangerous. The hanbok is a rare matter of North-Sputh consensus. And as much as South Koreans are into modern fashions, there is a strong nostagic attchment to the hanbok, especially for women and girls. The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism established 'Hanbok Day' to encourage South Koreans to wear hanbok (1996).

School Uniforms

We have very limited information on Korean schools at this time. Hopefully our Korean readers will provide us more information. School uniforms seem strongly influenced by Japanese styles in the South and Chinese styles in the North. We have begun to collect some information on South Korean schools. Short cut short pants were not as commonly worn by Korean school boys as was the case in Japan. Secondary school uniforms, however, are similar to Japanese styles. Unlike Japan, there are no private schools in Korean and even private tutoring until recently has been illegal. We also have some limited informnation on North Korean schools.


We have no information on Korea movies or television at this time. We know South Korea as an active film indutry. We are less sure about television.


Cha, Myung Soo. Yeungnam University. "The economic history of Korea," EH.net


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Created: December 20, 1998
Last updated: 10:08 AM 7/29/2017