Fashion Essays: Determinants of Korean Fashion


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Fast Paced Fashion in South Korea


Fashion in Korea is evolving faster than we might think. In the 1900s, Korean Fashion was no different than any other Asian nation. History shows us that in Korean culture, people preferred basic, white-coloured clothing, sometimes decorated with various colors depending on the event and style of clothing. That is why Korean people were mostly called "the white-clad people" by their neighbors who were jealous of the peaceful nation of Korea. However, this situation changed in around the 1950s and 1960s. This was when western Fashion was introduced to Korea. With the help of the ready-made clothing industry, the idea of integrating western culture into their own took off. In this paper, I will analyze how a whole industry changed in a short amount of time and how K-fashion spread to the world.

Body Paragraphs

Culture, Pop Music and Society

In the 1970s and 1980s, a significant breakthrough happened in Korean culture. That was Korean pop music, popularly known as K-Pop. Among the ambassadors of this culture wave, there are names like Cho Yung Pil, who also popularized rock music. After Cho Yung Pil started the early popularization of this western culture, it came in internet video streaming sources such as YouTube. We may think that just a new music culture wave wouldn't affect a country's fashion and culture. But it was, and still is, the biggest change-maker. Koreans realized their need to discover their traditional culture again to create a new culture and also a future for their country. Eric Hosbawn, a Jewish-British historian, calls this phenomenon "invented tradition." But, during the 1970s, it was not easy to wear whatever you want, then-president Park Chung Lee wanted a conservative environment. Therefore, for the youth, Fashion was a way to resist; punk clothing, miniskirts, sunglasses, shorter hemlines. Then comes Korean Pop in the '90s and create K-Fashion and K-Beauty. The first-ever K-Pop group, Seo Tae-Ji, and Boys brought rap and hip-hop style fashion. Also, other western fashion style mixes like grunge were taken by the youth and named 'resistance fashion.' During these times, we see the first signs of globalization with fashion-designer Lee Cinu's showcase in Paris. As the name 'resistance fashion' suggests, it was not a government-approved way of life, but with the access of the internet and smartphones, the new Fashion and culture became unstoppable.

Politics and Economic Approach

Like I have mentioned in the paragraph above, the intervention of government was decreased, but did not disappear. Once the government saw the potential of this new culture and saw that they could not achieve anything by simply restricting society, they started covertly controlling where it is going. In 1983, the Korean Fashion Design contest was created by government funds (Sallis, 2018). The main aim was to show the world how South Korean Fashion is a high-value industry. This can be seen as an initiative. The aim of the government is not freeing its citizens more; it is to lead the fashion industry in a different way: developing its economy, its global image, and exports. We can say that Fashion is the 'invisible hand' governments use for their benefits and succeed most of the time. We can say that the outcome was the same for Korea too. With the help of the internet, Korea easily sat on the throne of globalization. Just take this basic example into our hands: In 2012, PSY released 'Gangnam Style' that became so popular that it ‘broke’ YouTube’s viewing limit (Madsen, 2019). With the popularity, came the economic gains. According to, Korea's revenue from Skin Care and Fashion products amounts to £3,387 in 2018. It is still expected to grow by 0.7% annually (Neza, 2018). The products are consumed mostly in the United States. Looking at the most recent statistics of Exports of Clothing in January 2020, Korea’s exports increased to three million USD, from two million USD in December of 2019.

Current Retail Formats

With Government support and public attention, designer fashion grew, and the Korean fashion industry establishes its position in the world. But before the government, technological progress has helped the development of online shopping by providing easier ways for consumers to buy goods through the internet. These new trends changed the clothing industry by making it accept and react to changes in online marketing and business models. According to Forester reports, the percentage of market share in online Fashion has already reached 27%. Furthermore, the percentage of customers who make online purchases grew to 58%, more than half of it in the fashion industry. We should keep in mind that these numbers do not look like they are going to decrease as they have only shown growth in the past decade. With the help of worldwide shipping, government help of reduced taxes for exporters, every country is trying to get its place in this competitive market. Luckily for Korea, the advertisement comes from their artists and famous fashion designers doing shows in almost every city in the world now.

Just looking at the evolution of shopping, it is not very far off to say that e-retailing will take over normal in-place retailing, and internet-dominant countries like Korea will prevail much more in the upcoming years. However, without Korean Fashion in itself evolving and without a demand from the customers to wear it in public, any Government support or internet fame can give it power. Thankfully, the country knows that their fashion industry makes a big part of their overall economic wealth. Online fashion/clothing stores, and the export of name-brands, along with new designers almost every day, have taken K-Fashion to the level that it is today. Currently, Seoul is competing with big fashion cities like Paris and New York. We only have to wait to see if this increase will stop to a halt or not.


Korea is a great example of a country giving a chance to its youth and leave this gamble as a winner. After all, we did not know anything about Korea except the Korean War, not until a short while ago. Korea was ready for this change; it was prepared for it and held onto this chance not just to change their culture, but also increase their country's overall wealth. And now, we all know Korean culture, even though we do not know it thoroughly we know the names BTS, Jobbawockeez, and PSY. Furthermore, thanks to international shipping, we all have a friend who owns an item of Korean-brand clothing or accessory. Although it is hard to say whether Fashion affected culture or culture affected Fashion, it is for sure that Korea succeeded in its quest to gain reputation and wealth.


Madsen, A. C. (2019, August 15). What Is K-Fashion? In Seoul, South Korea Continues to Push Its Newest Export. Retrieved from

Neza, M. (2018, July 5). Evolution of South Korean Fashion and Makeup Culture. Accessed on

Sallis, T. (2018, April 11). Fashion and political identity in North and South Korea.

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