Na Young Hong and Jiyeon Kim

Ewha Womans University

Fashion and Making Modern Self-Image

The Western clothing that entered Korea at the end of the nineteenth century was at first worn by few people. The adoption of Western clothing has accelerated since the 1920s. Wearing Western clothing emerged as the necessary choice to pursue modern life. However, a number of people tried to wear Western clothing while keeping Korean identity.

Traditional clothing became the first target of reform by Korean intellectuals who aspired after the modern way of life. The shape of traditional clothes was changed conveniently to fit modern life and to be easily worn. Rubber shoes, which became very popular during the 1930s, also adopted the traditional shoe's shape. Short hairstyles became popular and symbolized the shinyeoseong (new women) who received a modern education. Women's short hair was meant to free women from a feudal way of thinking that prohibited women as well as men from having their hair cut. People considered women's short hair as the realization of modernism.

White clothes especially were placed at the center of reform debates during the 1920s and 1930s because it took too much labor and time for women to prepare. White clothes, which symbolized Korean identity, also became the target of the Japanese colonial rulers, who tried to obliterate Korean identity. Meanwhile, Korean nationalists made an enormous effort to promote the wearing of hanbok and the use of Korean-made textiles.

Koreans who encountered the new Western thought and culture voluntarily adopted the modernization of clothing. They tried to express the cultural originality and personality of Korea in their effort. The fashion of costume changed, and it was often criticized due to the special circumstances of colonial society. This kind of complexity was what differentiated the Korean experience from that of Western European modernization.