Modern hanbok: South Korean heritage in eyes of new generations, foreign cultures

Nehal Samir
16 Min Read

South Korea – Hanbok is traditional Korean clothing. It was first worn around 37 B.C. during the Goguryeo Era. Back in the past, when the western people came to Korea for the first time, Koreans admired western clothes, so the hanbok was not as popular as it is now. At that time, the people wore hanboks only on special occasions. Now, Korea is witnessing a revival of the hanbok culture, especially after the k-pop groups began to wear a modernized style of hanbok in their music videos, including Black Pink and BTS.  

The K-pop bands inspired their audience not only with their songs but also with their new modernity hanboks, as they appear dressing the modern hanboks, that made not only the Korean people but also foreigners who love the Korean dressing styles.

Daily News Egypt interviewed Kim Danha, who designed modern hanbok outfits, with bold prints and bright colors, for Blackpink group in their music video “How You Like That”.


What is hanbok?

Hanbok was first worn around 37 B.C. it is characterized by its long flowing sleeves and high-waisted skirt, It consisted of the same upper garment for men and women: the jeogori (a jacket without pockets or buttons). But for the lower garment, the difference is that women wore the chima (skirt) while men donned the baji (pants). 

The colours of the traditional hanboks used to be vibrant shades of white, red, blue, black, and yellow, which respectively correspond with the elements of the five-element theory: metal, fire, wood, water, and earth. Also in the past, the colour and material of hanboks signified one’s social status.

In recent decades, modernized hanbok designs appear in many hues, from the brightest pinks to the darkest purples, marking a stark contrast to the five traditional hanbok colours.

Presenting a casual comfortable side of the clothing the contemporary denim and gingham fabrics have been integrated into the latest hanbok designs.

In 2020, hanbok designer Kim Danha garnered attention for her hanbok-inspired jackets used in K-pop group Blackpink’s music video, “How You Like That.”

The hanbok may continue to develop, but it will always have its unique cultural and historical value. Keeping the hanbok in modern culture shows the evolution of Korean style throughout history and honours Korean heritage.


Danha: Designer of modern hanbok

Danha said that her company’s goal is to promote Korean culture and tradition, but also to consider the environment, and sustainable development.

Danha’s clothes are made of eco-friendly fabrics that are harmless to people and nature, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. Recycled polyester or organic cotton mixed using a yarn extracted from abandoned pet bottles.

Just because I am making a modern version of  hanbok doesn’t mean that I disrespect the tradition or take it lightly. I just wanted to show to people that hanbok has more than just feminine traits. I wanted hanbok to be famous in foreign markets as well,” Danha said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.

“In the design, I try to keep the small details as core as possible such as the ribbons in terms of how they do the ribbons or how do I use the sewing machine in terms of making hanbok, But as for the material I am more open to new materials that are sustainable, and environmentally friendly,” she explained.

Answering Daily News Egypt`s question about if she gets ideas from Korean folk paintings from the past, Danha said that yes the patterns that are used in the hanbok now they are collaborating with the artist who draws Korean folk paintings so yes.

Danha talked about the challenges that she faced. One of the challenges that she faced while she was remaking the design was that Korean people have a great consensus that a hanbok should be traditional and should be ladylike so it was somehow difficult to break those traditions.

By asking her if she faced any challenges from the traditional hanbok designers or companies, she said that on the contrary they were very happy the modern hanbok got popularity.

Danha talked about her collaboration with Black Pink, stating that she was able to do the collaboration with the black pink, because the black pink costumes team saw the company’s website and they directly called her if they could collaborate with her.

“Black pink project was a life changing experience as it was a good venue for me to promote hanbok around the world and also my brand Danha got publicity,” she said proudly.

Originally Danha`s target audience were women who have the buying power in their late 20`s to early 30`s but after gaining popularity, Danha revealed that they have upped that age, as ladies in their 40s and 60s are buying hanboks from her company.

Notably, People in the past used to wear the hanboks on special occasions but the modern hanboks mainly focus to shift the mindset of the people to wear the hanboks every day.

“About 70% of our customers buy hanboks for their daily use, while about 30% buy the hanboks for special occasions, also bear in mind that usually in our website you can buy clothes that are already made but we can also make a costume made for you,” she said.

Regarding the foreign customers, Danha said that she noticed a high increase in the foreign customers, as about 60% are from the US and the rest are from Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

As for the Middle East, Danha said that there are not many sales in this region, explaining that it is only 0.5%, but her company has a plan to target the Middle East soon. She continued that she would add new features and functions to her designs that will suit the Middle Eastern countries like hijabi wear.


Nariman: Egyptian hanbok designer

After talking with Danha, Daily News Egypt was curious to know more about the Egyptians who know the hanboks. We found out that there is an Egyptian woman who wants to be a hanbok designer. 

Nariman Talal Salama, 21, is a student in the Faculty of Commerce’s Department of Business Administration at Ain Shams University.

She met Korea’s former first lady during former President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Egypt last January.

Nariman narrated to DNE how the idea of designing a hanbok originated. She said: “I love Korean TV series, especially “Jewel in the Palace,” and while watching it I noticed for the first time the hanbok and asked what these clothes were. I searched for any place that could teach me the designing of hanbok but failed, so when I turned 18, I started learning Korean and met a Korean woman visiting the pyramids of Giza. I told her that I loved Korea and hoped to be a hanbok designer. Fortunately, she was a fashion designer and advised me to study hanbok design. She got me thinking of applying for a scholarship to study in Korea or learning to design hanbok at home. Luckily, I had the chance to learn how to make hanbok for a year. I made one outfit for myself and felt great. I showed my family the hanbok I made, and they encouraged me. I took part in contests and actively posted comments on social media about hanbok.”

She talked about the steps of designing the hanbok. First, she comes up with the design and colours, and then she goes to the cloth market to buy cloth. Finally, she goes home and tailors the fabric to her size, and then iron the hanbok.

She continued that if the hanbok needs artistic touches, such as putting drawings on it, she uses gold paper, then make the shape that she wants to draw, and use Custom glue for fabric, she also use a hair dryer to remove the excess in the hand-printed shape and then she is done.

Nariman faced a lot of difficulties in choosing to study hanbok, first, when she made the decision to study hanbok, she did not find any place or teacher to teach her hanbok designing in Egypt, even when she found books about hanbok designing they were in Korean language so it was somehow difficult for her but she used to translate the books from Korean to Arabic through the translation applications.

She also used to take online courses but she used to record the lecture and go back to it when she had trouble sewing some parts of the hanbok.

Nariman said that one of her dreams was to get a scholarship to study hanbok in Korea but she could not make it now, but she would not give up on this dream.

The second challenge was that she could not find the materials of the Korean hanbok fabric.

“Even when I came up with the right hanbok design, it was difficult to make the design with the alternative fabric because the alternative fabric is not strong as the Korean fabric used in the hanboks so it did not give the exact shape of the traditional Korean hanbok in texture, but I was doing my best to do the closest shape by the alternative fabric because it was the only solution I had,” Nariman continued.

“I faced a lot of difficulties and losses in the cloth at first because I made a lot of mistakes in cutting the cloth and did not know the hidden secrets of the hanbok,” she revealed.

Challenges ahead of Nariman are a lot but, she said that she does not want to give up easily, and will focus on achieving her dream of becoming  a famous hanbok designer, as she believed in a saying, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but the important thing is that you still stand and continue on the way to your goal.”

Nariman thinks that currently, not all the Egyptians know the hanbok, but most girls that are interested in Korean know about the hanbok.

“I think that Korean hanbok is very suitable for Muslim women because it is not a short sleeves or scandalous design, it is a long and cute design, and any girl will like it and love to try it ،And for a hijabi, she can make rolls that fit,” she said.

Nariman was chosen by which is a website affiliated to the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS), as one of the most influential people that promote Korean culture through their talents and was also chosen to be an honorary reporter on

So when the former first lady was in Egypt, Nariman was chosen among the people to meet her.

Talking about this experience, Nariman said: “I was very nervous, as there were a lot of lights and cameras and a lot of security in front of me and I was anxious about how to sit next to the president’s wife. I was so nervous.”

“But when I entered and saw her wearing a hanbok like me I was so happy because she dressed like me. When she sat next to me she was humble to me, spoke to me, and joked with me. She told me I have the same norigae looks like you’re wearing.  She also loved the gift I made for her which was a mini hanbok, we took a selfie together and when the party’s over she also signed the gift I took from her,” she narrated.

Nariman targets to open a hanbok store in Egypt because there is no hanbok store in Egypt. She said that her goal is to promote Korean culture to the Egyptian community.

Nariman dreams of having an atelier next to the International Park, as there is a Korean corner there and also there are a lot of Korean restaurants, so she hopes for the Egyptian people to experience the whole Korean atmosphere starting from trying hanbok, to the Korean house and Korean food.

“I also hope to collaborate with Korean hanbok designers, especially Danha, as I like her modern designs that fit the modern era and at the same time have traditional Hanbok touches. I like her choices in the colours that are the bright colours and the unique designs. I hope one day to meet her and benefit from her experience in the hanbok design industry,” she said.

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