The Netflix Hanbok Trend: Can Foreigners Wear Hanbok?

lady wearing a traditional hanbok

The small-screen trend of hanboks on Netflix is helping new audiences discover and appreciate this beautiful Korean attire. If you’re among the many viewers tuning in to binge watch K-Dramas like “The Kingdom”, “The King: Eternal Monarch,” and “Mystic Pop-Up Bar” you’ve probably wondered what the story is with the gorgeous, princess-like skirts that the heroines are wearing. You might even have wondered if, as a non-Korean, it is culturally appropriate for you to don these outfits. Here are three tips for wearing a hanbok as a non-Korean so that you can join the trend with confidence.

Respect Tradition

A common error when adopting the dress of another culture is to change the look to make it a closer match for your own culture’s aesthetics. This impulse makes sense. It can feel comfortable to make an outfit seem more “your own” by changing details like sleeve length or fabric to be a closer match for the clothing you already wear! However, this can show accidental disrespect for the culture that created the garment and chose its shape and style for specific reasons.

The hanbok’s design creates a feeling of ease with its dynamic contrast between sharp elements (like the crisp angles of the collar) and soft elements (like the curved bottom of the jacket and the flowing skirt). These choices are an expression of Korean aesthetics and exist to be appreciated; they match the look and feeling celebrated in some types of Korean architecture and other long-standing cultural art forms. So, before you alter or change a hanbok, pause and consider what beauty you might be missing. Can you celebrate and respect the tradition instead?

Wear Hanbok Made by Koreans

It’s one thing to wear a hanbok as a non-Korean, but it’s another to buy a hanbok from a designer or company that does not have ties to or roots in Korean culture. As an outsider, place your trust and your business in the hands of someone who is part of the tradition that created the style you are excited by. Korean designers who modernize or update this attire are more likely to do so with thought and sensitivity, and those who make and sell classic hanboks will have better knowledge of the methods and practices that go into making a quality garment. As a consumer, buy smart by making sure you’re shopping for your outfit at a Korean-run shop. If you are unsure of how to buy a hanbok from a Korean-run shop, there are online shops like the Korean in Me that offer consultation calls in fluent English.

Beyond Costume to Fashion

Where will you wear your attire? The context makes a difference. Are the people around you dressing for beauty or for comic fun? If they are dressing for beauty and you are wearing a hanbok because you also want to create and share beauty through fashion, then you are donning the outfit with respect and care. Hanboks are often favored for special occasions like weddings or engagement photos. It is appropriate at these times to wear one since the purpose is to appreciate the aesthetic of the outfit and look and feel very special at a special event. However, if you are dressing for a sillier context like a Halloween party or a music festival where the people around you are in all kinds of wacky get-ups, then a hanbok in that setting might be seen as a joke. As a foreigner, wearing a hanbok should be done with respect and appreciation, around others who will see the garment as special and beautiful.

If you follow these tips, you can relax into the glamour and flattering A-line shape of your very own hanbok. What’s great about hanbok is that with the right hanbok boutique, you can get a hanbok customized or tailored to fit your style and body shape. With multi-layered skirts that twirl and float, these garments can make you feel like the star of your own hit series. Like the next episode of “Mystic Pop-Up Bar” your perfect outfit from the Netflix hanbok trend could be just a click away!