Seoul Urban Life Museum takes a look back at fashions gone by
To get a glimpse at what fashion trends in Seoul were like in the past and how they have evolved, the Korea JoongAng Daily visited the Seoul Urban Life Museum in Nowon District, northern Seoul, on Feb. 10. The museum is currently holding an exhibition titled "Fashion and Seoul,” displaying fashion items and historical data from 1945 to 2020, and exploring how society influenced the changes in fashion trends.
After 1945, post-liberation Korea struggled with poverty and industrialization, not to mention the Korean War (1950-53). While people mostly wore hanbok, or Korean traditional clothing, before the war, it later became difficult to manufacture, as well as unaffordable. In the 1960s, the government proposed that people opt for casual Western attire, promoting such styles through fashion shows that featured celebrities in simpler work clothes.
Myeongdong in central Seoul became a mecca for boutiques of tailor-made clothes. Choi Kyung-ja (1911-2010), known as one of Korea’s first fashion designers, founded the Kookje Boutique and the Kookje Fashion Design Institute.
“Choi’s protégés later on continued the fashion institute, which became the Kookje Fashion Design Occupational Training College today,” Park Hye-lim, curator of the exhibition, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “She has many students that have later on highly contributed to Korean fashion — one example being André Kim.”
In the 1970s, Korea underwent rapid economic development, with the country’s exports surging to $10 billion in 1977.
The younger generation, who were in their 20s and 30s, started bustling into the central Seoul areas like Shinchon. The acoustic music lounge “C’est si bon” (French for “it’s so good”) in Mugyo-dong was one place where the trend of wearing mini skirts and jeans could be seen. Op art dresses, patterned with colorful geometric shapes like squares and ovals, also proved popular at the time.
However, Korea was under a military regime and heavily censored songs and clothes like miniskirts. If men with long hair were caught on the streets, soldiers cut their hair right on the spot.
“In documents you can see that miniskirts were banned due to ‘overexposure’ and men’s long hair because of ‘indiscernible gender,’” Park explained.
Nonetheless, the 1970s was the period which saw people no longer wearing tailored clothes.
Seoul went through a radical change in the 1980s. Color televisions were finally introduced and Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, leading to an explosion of pop culture. Athleisure wear brands like Nike and Adidas became popular among the general public as they obsessed over sports events.
“Fashion advertisements started surging in the 1980s,” Park said. “Before then, advertisements were usually about food. But now that television was in color, it encouraged fashion brands to jump into advertisements as well.”
In 1983, the government abolished school uniforms and hairstyle regulations for students, which served as an opportunity for them to express themselves more freely.
“This is why in television shows like tvN’s ‘Reply 1988,’ which was set in Seoul of 1988, the main characters aren’t wearing uniforms,” Park said. “It’s funny, sociologists say that when school uniforms were abolished, students became less interested in protesting and more focused on their own styles and being individualistic. Maybe it was one of the government’s tactics to draw the public’s attention elsewhere.”
Then in the 1990s, Generation X, which refers to those born between 1965 and 1980, found themselves on the forefront of fashion trends. Hip-hop was in style thanks to boy bands like Seo Taiji and Boys. Among Gen X, there were people who were children of rich families and usually resided in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul, dubbed the “orange clan.”
A Chosun Ilbo articled dated Feb. 2, 1992 explained that the typical style of the orange clan as “swede jackets with miniskirts and leather boots.” They were also known for having extravagant styles as they usually wore high-end luxury brands.
Where the name the orange clan comes from is still debated, with some saying that it was because oranges were an expensive fruit in the 1990s, while others claiming it represented how orange clans studied abroad with the support of their rich families in cities like Los Angeles, where most oranges were imported from.
The streets of universities, like Ewha Womans University and Hongik University, Dongdaemun, Apgujeong-dong and Myeongdong became major fashion hubs as large shopping malls, department stores and wholesale markets popped up in these areas.
“The commercial streets in front of Hongik University are transforming into a fashion venue for the new generation [...] As the youth nowadays claim that they ‘don’t want to look like others,’ the clothes being sold here are catered to their tastes,” a JoongAng Ilbo article dated April 21, 1995 described.
“Fashion and Seoul” continues until March 27. The Seoul Urban Life Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., including holidays. Admission is free.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]