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K-fashion is a fashion trend that originated in South Korea and has recently grown in popularity across the globe. It has been mainly targeted at Asian countries and younger generation, due to the high demand of South Korea’s cultural products like clothes, accessories, and cosmetics. The popularity of K-fashion has rapidly increased since the 2000s as South Korean cultural exports such as K-pop and K-drama increased in popularity. Not only is K-fashion influenced by the trends and styles of the national culture, but it also incorporates styles and ideas borrowed from other cultures around the world, in particular Western cultures. However, K-beauty, which is an essential element of K-fashion, sometimes provokes controversy in regard to women’s rights due to its depiction in the media.[1]


Traditional Korean Fashion[edit]

1392-1897 The period of Joseon there was only one fashion choice which is called Hanbok. Hanbok is generally loose-tied suits and skirts. During this time, cosmetics were made of natural materials and makeup traditionally.

The late 1800s After Westerners and Japanese arrived in Korea in the late 1800s, Korean fashion and makeup started losing some of its traditional traits and elements.

Early 20th century Korean initiated to choose Western-style fashion which is highly influenced by the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945). Japanese colonial government instigated modernization to Koreans.

Second World War(1940s) During WWII, fashion adopted a militaristic-style. This continued through until the end of 1940s. Due to poverty and fabric shortages, clothing seeks to simplicity so the colors are generally dark. Handbook was still worn by women and makeup style was light and natural.

After the Korean War(1950s) After the Korean War, the US had a major influence on Korea, and new hairstyles, bright makeup, and swimsuits became popular. Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Markets started to produce their own clothing. In 1957, South Korea's first fashion show is hosted by designer Nora Noh, Korea's first fashion designer.

The 1960s New fashion trends such as miniskirts and makeup were launched. Western musicians, especially The Beatles, were the main influences of the Korean fashion industry. In the 1960s, the President Park's government encouraged to use nationally manufactured materials and fabrics like wool. Korea fashion designers started to launching their own brand. Korea's first fashion magazine, Uisang, is published and the first modeling school is founded in 1964.

The 1970s By the 1970s, consumers became the main trendsetters rather than fashion designers. As this period was under the dictator government, fashion became a way to express citizens themselves. For women, hot-pants, miniskirt, and long hair were regulated by police officers. For this reason, short hemlines became a protest of the government.

The 1980s In the ‘80s, casual fashion styles such as t-shirts, jumpers, and blue jeans became popular among youth. In addition, due to the growth of women in the workforce, women’s fashions, like formal dresses, became popular and women’s makeup became more colorful.

Modern K-fashion[edit]

Korean Pop (K-Pop) in the 1990s

K-fashion and K-beauty originated from (K-pop) idol culture. Seo Tae-Ji and Boys, the first K-pop idol group, took the lead in this era through their unique music and fashion style. Their music mixed cultural styles as they integrated Western music styles of the time, like rapping and hip-hop, with traditional Korean Pansori sound. Additionally, their fashion was more Westernized and this had a huge impact on youth. Furthermore, the makeup industry has rapidly grown in this period due to the emergence of new cosmetics like BB cream. The selection and application of makeup products during this period was highly influenced by Western culture. K-pop idols considerably influenced the youth culture of appearance and make-up. Due to this, not only girls do the makeup but also men use BB cream.[2]


K-fashion and K-beauty products continue to have a cultural impact on the global beauty market. Due to technological developments like the emergence of Internet and Social Networking Services, K-pop idol fashion and makeup products have become famous around the world. As the number of online markets increases rapidly, foreign customers have more access to K-fashion and K-beauty products.[3]


K-fashion is South Korea's fashion and make-up style which is frequently seen in K-dramas and K-pop shows. This term was initially used by foreign fans of Korean culture to describe typical Korean youth fashion and make-up styles. [4] Compared to traditional clothing styles in South Korea, K-fashion has distinctive features as it is more related to South Korea's entertainment industry products.

Definition and Background[edit]

The fashion trend 'K-fashion' is a social phenomenon among the generation born in the 1990-2000s.[5]During that time, South Korea's entertainment industry was rapidly growing and gained a good reputation throughout Asia. This led consumers of the entertainment industry to become interested in South Korea's fashion industry as well. Nowadays, K- fashion is a fashion trend that is originally from South Korea and well-known especially in Asia due to the high prosperity of Korean cultural exports like K-dramas and K-pop. In more recent years, the trend has become more than just the fashion styles, clothing and accessories, but has turned into a global social phenomenon that is building a cultural bond between people from different countries throughout Asia. This has led the term ‘K-fashion’ to be distinguished as different from Korean fashion itself and has a broader meaning than just ‘fashion’.

In recent years, ‘Idol culture’ has led K-fashion. In South Korea, K-pop idol group’s fashion style is regarded as K-fashion. Members of one of South Korea’s top girl groups, Black Pink, are often seen wearing luxury brands, including group member, Jennie, becoming known as ‘Human Chanel’ as the style and brand fits her well. When K-pop stars wear some brands, these will often sell out soon.[6]

Social phenomenon[edit]

K-fashion has had a considerable effect on youth both nationally and globally. From a national perspective, South Korean teenagers often mimic the appearance of top celebrities. This emulation creates a cultural bond between people who wear K-fashion by sharing information about fashion and preferences of celebrities. However, this sometimes leads to social issues like peer pressure and bullying as some young people who cannot afford to follow K-fashion feel a sense of deprivation and isolation from their peer groups.[7] Furthermore, due to the flashy nature of K-fashion, it has a high possibility of forcing uniformized individuality to young people

From a global perspective, the popularity of K-fashion is boosting South Korea's national prestige as it forms a positive national image of the country. For instance, in China, the recent K-wave (Korean Wave) increased demand for South Korean products and boosted tourism in Seoul. This has become beneficial to South Korea’s economy through increasing international business. In addition, Chinese people’s fashion style has been changing in a similar way to K-fashion, and now a large number of South Korean brands launch businesses in China and export beauty products to China.[8]

K-fashion is the result of a mixture of Western and Asian fashion styles. Many South Korean fashion brands were initially influenced by Western celebrities clothing and makeup style and they altered it to appeal to the South Korean aesthetic. This was especially prevalent in the entertainment industry where the combination of Western and South Korean styles changed in a way that aligned with K-pop idol group music concepts.

These characters of K-fashion is considered meaningful in the global stage due to its motivation and it can be the reason why K-fashion could achieve huge success in the world. As K-fashion includes different cultures so people can feel both uniqueness and familiarity. [9][10]

Celebrity Power in Korean fashion[edit]

In K-fashion industry, relationship between celebrity and fashion designer is indispensable. Park(2015),who publish the article which describe the relationship between designers and celebrity in Korea, stated that Korean celebrities and fashion designer have a win-win relationship in marketing and branding perspective. Park argues that there are two ways that stars can influence brand image. Firstly, designers use stars to change brand image for a strategic reason. Secondly, top celebrities wearing certain brand's clothes can be influential to form or alter the image of brand.[11]

Sponsorship in K-fashion[edit]

Sponsorship within the Korean fashion industry is called 'hyeopchan'(협찬) in South Korea. The hyeopchan industry is considerably huge and well-organized. This industry is independent from fashion and entertainment companies and exists so that sponsorship companies can serve as mediator between the fashion and entertainment industries. The system of sponsorship in the K-fashion industry starts with stylists who belong to a celebrity’s agency. Due to both the fashion company and entertainment agency's needs, they form a reciprocal relationship by borrowing clothes to celebrities with certain money and then the fashion agency can maximizing profits by marketing effect from celebrities.[11]

Famous k-fashion designers[edit]

K-fashion designers are distinguished from stylists who dress TV stars. Designers generally initially work at a Korean fashion brand and then use the experience to launch their own brand. Their brands have unique features but also have commonalities in that they combine traditional and modern culture in designing their clothes. This means that even their branding looks unique and creative as their inspiration has come from classics.

Hoyoung Chi Hoyoung Chi is South Korea’s most famous womenswear fashion designer. He majored in Menswear at university before working at South Korea's fashion brand, Kuho. Due to this unique experience, his own fashion brand, Chi, which launched in 2016, was evaluated as genderless and unisex. Chi said that past men’s fashion in South Korea was boring and uninformed, so this feature gave him the motivation to launch a unique and fashionable menswear brand. Chi puts an emphasis on creativity visionaries so that differentiated with others. Chi mentioned that his main customers are the stylists who dress celebrities, people in their 20s-30s, and gay men.[12]

Hyemee Lee Hyemee Lee is a fashion designer of EENK, a famous youth brand in South Korea. In 2013, Hyemee started an unprecedented fashion project called Letter Project which released several items for every few months and naming the items by using the alphabet in alphabetical order. This project achieves success and then launching her brand EENK. Lee said that her customers are generally youth but the design of her brand is far from a trendy clothing style. She added that her customers are really confident and proud of their ego. The designer insists that her design motivation is from classics so she enjoyed collecting vintage clothes. The top-selling item of her brand is a classic designed iPhone case that has classic twist designing as well.[13]

Bona Kim and Jae Hyuk Lim

Both Bona and Jae Hyuk studied at the London College of Fashion and formed a friendship through their fashion spirit. After they graduated, they launched Besfxx together in 2016. The duo frequently take motivation from military garments and the duo said it's because military clothes include much functionality. The duo mentioned that when they design clothes, they always consider how clothes can be more functional. For instance, many of their outwear can be dressed in different ways not only for different textiles but also for different goals. Kim and Lim argued that their brand's goal is to combine history with contemporary culture.[14]

Global Influences[edit]

Due to the high demand for South Korea’s cultural products, Korean celebrities’ clothing and cosmetics have made a big splash in the global market, especially in China and Japan who are the main consumers of Korean culture. People from all over Asia admire South Korean culture which is depicted in Korean dramas and TV shows. Today, many tourists’ motivation for traveling to South Korea is due to their admiration for Korean drama and idol groups. For many fans, this interest can gradually grow into a fascination for Korean history and its political relationship with North Korea. This is known as the K-wave, which means that an individual’s cultural interest can be extended to other fields of interest as well. In addition, these influences can tie foreign people together in foreign countries as common interests like these are a powerful means to get people together. [11]

Downside of K-fashion standard[edit]

Despite the high popularity of K-fashion, it may also adversely affect beauty standards due to its strict features toward women. The media such as drama, movies, and commercials depict the ideal women as extremely skinny and who always has to put on make-up every day. This imposes a social pressure on South Korean women that requires them to maintain high beauty standards which can lead to serious gender inequality issues. For example, one study conducted compared US and South Korean cosmetics advertisements. The research found that US commercials had a tendency to focus on the products' effect whereas the South Korean advertisements were more likely to focus on the woman's body and face. Lee(2009) insists that this comparison shows how South Korea's fashion and beauty industry focus on women's bodies and face strictly and criticize the seriousness of this feature. In addition, Lee(2009) added that kind of advertising can give global youth unsound beauty standards which can be detrimental to their mental and physical health. The author(2009) argued that K-fashion has a positive image in global stages nowadays but if they stick to these high beauty standards toward women, in the future, it can downgrade South Korea's national prestige due to its sexism-included contents. [15]


  1. "The Korean beauty industry: Ugly face of a national obsession". 2017-12-24.
  2. "Evolution of South Korean Fashion and Makeup Culture". 2018-07-02.
  3. "Evolution of South Korean Fashion and Makeup Culture". 2018-07-02.
  4. "10+ Best Fashion Looks for Petite Girls, According to Korean Men". 2018-02-24.
  5. "Korean Wave (Hallyu) - Rise of Korea's Cultural Economy & Pop Culture". January 2018.
  6. "Why Chanel loves Jennie of Blackpink".
  7. "In South Korea, North Face jackets tied to wave of bullying, theft". 2012-01-16.
  8. "Hallyu and national prestige". 2011-06-15.
  9. Min, Seoha (3 July 2015). "Korean Fashion Designers' Use of Cultural Expression and Its Influence on Their Design". Fashion Practice. 7 (2): 219–239. doi:10.1080/17569370.2015.1045352.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Park, Judy (May 2015). "Star Power in Korean Fashion: The Win-Win Relationship between Korean Celebrities and Designers". Fashion Practice. 7 (1): 125–133. doi:10.2752/175693815X14182200335817 (inactive 2019-08-20).
  12. "Three South Korean Fashion Designers You Need to Know".
  13. "Three South Korean Fashion Designers You Need to Know".
  14. "Three South Korean Fashion Designers You Need to Know".
  15. Jung, Jaehee; Lee, Yoon-Jung (1 October 2009). "Cross-Cultural Examination of Women's Fashion and Beauty Magazine Advertisements in the United States and South Korea". Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. 27 (4): 274–286. doi:10.1177/0887302X08327087.

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