BTS members Jung Kook and V have been spotted wearing so-called “airport fashion” in the past. For their look, the two chose to put on modern hanbok. Jung Kook emphasized the ease of matching a casual gray hanbok with “ugly” shoes and a black T-shirt, while V showed off his individuality by combining a green shirt, black slippers and a doctor bag. The two prefer to wear hanbok that sport a modern, casual design—those which incorporate buttons and zippers in place of goreum and daenim (jacket ribbon and ankle bands, respectively) and which forego the silk of classic hanbok in favor of low-maintenance materials like cotton. Ahn Yongje, team leader at the Hanbok Advancement Center, which will hold the K-pop X Hanbok exhibit on April 13, calls this kind of casual hanbok a fashion item that “has its own special charm, mixing well with jeans, pants, sneakers, hoodies—anything off the rack and all streetwear.” He notes how hanbok “is always changing based on the lifestyle, trends, and aesthetic of any given time,” and that casual hanbok are the end result after “people naturally sought out everyday clothes they could feel comfortable wearing out and about and that would allow them to express themselves.” A staff member at the Hanbok Advancement Center says these newer hanbok are “transforming somewhat to meet the needs of modern living while still keeping with tradition.”
The hanbok that j-hope wore at the 2018 Melon Music Awards (MMA) was made by CheonUiMubong, whose director, Han Ji-hye, said she “reproduced the original design of a po (a light robe), known in the 18th century as a sochangui” to give the hanbok a “traditional look, but specially designed it using a single layer of fabric without any lining so the garment could feel dynamic without hiding the dancer’s movements.” By “styling modern clothing in the image of casual hanbok to emphasize traditional beauty,” the apparel helps bring out the same feeling as in the music of “IDOL,” a modern song with elements of Korean traditional music. The hanbok that BTS wore in the “IDOL” music video maintain the look of the dapho, or overcoat, that scholars of the Joseon era wore when going out, updated to be devoid of color to fit right in with modern street fashion. Cho Jinwoo, chief designer of Baek Oak Soo, who created the outfit, made daring changes to the color palette and materials while “maintaining the basic, intrinsic form of the hanbok.” He explained that their creative vision was to design it such that it makes use of modern materials and muted colors, and suits modern styles. There’s a straightforward explanation for why hanbok are still around in the present day: Cho noted how, even “without any change to the clothing or customary accessories,” just through “modifications like modernizing the material” or “mixing and matching with contemporary clothes,” the final result can feel altogether modern. When BTS themselves paired a traditional po with updated fashion items like sneakers, a shirt, and a robe or jacket, “you can see that traditional clothes match quite well with modern fashion.” Even “the unique way hanbok flows is beautiful, so you can find a good match with modern clothes just by choosing the right colors.” Kim Rieul, the designer behind the hanbok suits that j-hope, SUGA and Jimin wore for their performance of “IDOL”—staged at Gyeongbokgung Palace and aired on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—said he paid special attention to bringing out “the beauty of the fabric.” According to Kim, “100% silk is challenging to work with and wrinkles easily, but it looks much more stylish under lights. That’s why the fabric really pops when you see it under the stage lights.” The aspects of hanbok that were, in the past, considered inconveniences are now the very reasons some might choose to wear them.
Hanbok, therefore, simultaneously represent the adaptation of traditional elements into modernity. Using this perspective, we are able to interpret the past as well as express the present in a new way. 

At MMA 2018, j-hope wore norigae, as did Jung Kook, Jin and SUGA during the “IDOL” performance.

 Norigae are a type of ornament worn on a jacket goreum or the waist of a skirt and symbolize what were considered sources of happiness for women at the time of they were commonly worn, such as wealth, honor, having many sons, eternal youth, and good fortune. 

BTS, however, wore norigae on traditional men’s clothing, such as a sochangui robe and dapho overcoat with a phoenix on it. 

“I attached norigae to the goreum to add a dash of flowing beauty,” Han, CheonUiMubong’s director, explained. 

“If you examine old hanbok, there are many that look similar regardless of which gender they were made for, and some you can’t really determine who would’ve worn it just by looking at,” Han said. 

“By studying the commonalities, we are designing new, modern hanbok that can be worn by anyone.”
“When Koreans think of our traditional clothing, we think of the standard Joseon-era hanbok with jeogori (jacket), pants, skirt, and po,” Cho said. “But with 5,000 years of history behind them, our clothes include a lot of different kinds,” referring to the way hanbok has changed throughout the generations. In 2021, Korea is trying to keep tradition alive but also interpret it from a different perspective; this is one of the ways hanbok is important in the country right now. In his music video for “Daechwita,” SUGA sports a satgat and its attached gatkkeun atop his black hair. A satgat is a type of woven hat made from bamboo strips or reed and shaped like an umbrella, and is similarly used for protection against rain and sunlight. Though the gatkkeun, or hat string, was once a functional part of the satgat, as time went on it became used as an ornamental part of the hat to represent dignity and honor. Commoners were forbidden from hanging gatkkeun from their utilitarian satgat as they were seen as an extravagance for those outside of the aristocracy of the era; SUGA creates an unlikely combination by wearing the two together in the “Daechwita” video. He also plays two characters, a king and a folk rebel, as they confront one another. Here, the relationship between this rebel opposing the king who tries to capture him is symbolized through the combination of the satgat and gatkkeun.

Depending on how you interpret it, “Daechwita” may be a hip expression of the Joseon dynasty and hip hop together, or a social commentary criticizing the class system of the past. But one thing is clear: Thanks to BTS, and others their age, hanbok has taken on new meaning. At the Advancement Center, Ahn said he came to think of “the meaning of hanbok in a way that emphasizes BTS’s identity and the things that made BTS possible today” while looking at the hanbok in “IDOL.” Within the hanbok is embedded the message in the song’s lyrics: “For I was always myself,” and, “You can call me artist / You can call me idol / Or any other something you come up with / I don’t care.” In other words, hanbok is a means of self-expression. And with a desire to express themselves through style, each individual breaks through the era’s outdated ideas and shapes the future. That’s exactly why 5,000 years of tradition needs to last for many years more.
Article. Minji Oh
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC