Insadong is the domain of tourists looking for a pleasant stroll and the kind of gloriously over the top tchotckes that you bring back en mass, so everyone knows that you were - at one point - in South Korea. Sprinkled amongst stores selling replica Korean ceramics and assortments of postcards are food stalls and Korean makeup stores: Etude, Nature’s Republic, Innisfree….
Insadong is probably the last place one would think to look for a thriving collection of modern hanbok stores.
The hanbok as a traditional form of clothing has had a constant presence in the Korean peninsula for the last two millennia. Though at times the nobility would wear foreign fashion, the hanbok was the consistent choice for the majority of the Korean populace.
The hanbok has continued mostly unaltered through the last several regime changes. The last significant enduring change in the structure of the hanbok came in the 1200s when peace with the Yuan dynasty brought the influence of Mongolian fashion.
It is understandable then how the creation and promotion of the modern hanbok is an uneasy process in Korean society. Even as public interest in wearing a hanbok wanes, traditionalists seek to keep Korean history alive through strictly orthodox hanbok designs.
Amongst the stores in Insadong, it is easy to see that modernization of the hanbok can proceed in many different directions.
Traditional hanboks are made of several parts. The outer jacket, worn by both men and women, is the jeogori. Over the centuries the women’s jeogori has shortened. Women wear a chima, a long skirt that is wrapped and tied around the upper bosom. Men’s traditional hanbok consists of a long jeogori and baji—loose pants.
Modernized hanboks vary in style and inspiration. In Insadong, every store shows the individuality and the drive of the designers.
With growing waves of tourism a new style of hanbok has arisen that while more similar to the traditional form, incorporates a longer jeogori and a chima tied around the waist. These often incorporate dramatic colors and atypical patterns
One noticeable trend is fusion hanboks where European style dresses are melded with the hanbok
Probably one of the more well-known forms of the modernized hanbok looks like this. A one piece dress with the jeogori nowhere to be seen.
Another style retains the bright Korean colors but goes a step further and alters the structure of the top of the dress to a v-neck
There are plenty of designers who instead focus on incorporating the classic silhouette of the chima in new and innovative styles. Sold separately, the chima becomes a fashion statement.
Here the focus is on the chima; shortened and meant to be wrapped around the waist.
Others take aim at the jeogori: creating
a bevy of influenced pieces that can be
incorporated in tandem with or without
Many stores play with fabric: non-traditional patterns with non-traditional sewing patterns.
Insadong is only a short distance from both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace. While most venture for the food or the souvenirs, there is much to be found in the unique clothing stores throughout the small neighborhood.