Figure 1.--This photograph was taken about 1980. It shows the family of "Dear Leader" which provides an insight as to the clothes worn by the North Korean elite at the time.

We have very limited information on Korea at this time. Korea is not a country HBC has been able to research in any detail. Hopefully Korean readers will provide us some information on clothing trends in their country. Curiously South Korea is a country with very high levels of internet use, but we receive very few contacts from Korea. Korea is also a divided country, separated by the Cold War. Before separation there was little cultural and fashion difference between North and South Korea. Today glitering, prosperous South Korea could not be more different than the desperately poor, pranoid garison state to the north.


Korea is a peninsula streaching south from Manchuria toward Japan. This geography has in large measure determined the history of Korea. Large powers from Manchuria abd China to the north and Japan from the south have over time invaded abd dominated Korea. The ealiest Korean state may have been a Chinese colony--Kojoseon. Three Kingdoms developed on the penib=nsula and were eventually unified by Silla. The Three Kingdoms accepted Buddhism and with Buddhism came increased Chinese cultural influences. Wang Kon founded the Goryeo Dynasty (918). This was the derivation of the modern name Korea. The Goryeo Dynasty was suplanted by the Yi family which established the Joseon Dynasty (1392). The Yi set up a state structure based on the Confusian ideal. The Goryeo rulled for centuries, facing invasions from China, the Mongols, and the Japanese. Korea became a Chinese vassal state (17th century). It became known as the Hermit Kingdom. As the dominant military power in northeastern Asia, Japan was able to annexed and colonize Korea (1910). The Japan began a brutal attempt to extinguish Korean culture. Japanese authorities did not permit Koreans to speak their own language in public. The Japanese in the early colonial period did not expell Christian missionaries. Chistinity gradually became associate with resistance to Japanese domination. The Allies at the Cairo Conference committed to Korean indedendence (1943). Japan surrendered to the Allies ending the Pacific War (June 15, 1945). Soviet troops which had attacked the Japanese in Manchuria entered the Korean Peninsula from the north. Americans landed in the south. The country was divided into Soviet and American occupation zones at the 38th parallel. As in Germany, cooperation proved impossible. The North Koreans Army crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950 to forcibly unify Korea. The Soviets had provided modern weapons in great quantity to the Noryth Koreans. Embolded by the Communist victory in China during 1948-49, Kim-il-Jong obtained Stalin's approval for the attack. President Truman ordered the United States military to support South Korea and obtained United Nations support.



Korea was annexed by the Japanese in the early 20th century and then administered as a colony. Clothing for boys continued to follow traditional styles. We have very limited information on traditional styles at this time. Korean boys even in the early 20thb century began to wear western style-clothes in urban areas. The Japanese introduced school uniforms, using the same styles as used in Japan. Korea remained a Japanese colony until surrender to the Allies in 1945. Korea was then occupied by the Soviets in the north and the Americans in the south. Until 1945 clothing styles were quite traditional except for some modern styles in the larger cities. There was very little difference between styles worn in the north and south. Since them very significant differences have developed. Clothing in Korea was affected by the poverty of the country, made worse after North Korea invaded South Korea by the destruction occuring during the Korean War (1950-53). The Eureopean styles adopted in Japan have been very influential in Korea. Boys in Korea wore short shorts and also tights as was the case in Japan. Korean boys now wear the latest Euroean and American styles.

Divided Country

After Korea was liberated from Japan, the Soviet Union occupied the north and the Americans the south. Two very different regimes developed in the north and south and destinct clothing styles began to appear. These styles became increasingly apparent after the 1960s when south Korea began to devlop economically.

South Korea

Clothing styles in South Korea, despite liberation by the Americans, have primarily been influenced by Japanese and followed Japanese styles. Korean boys commonly wore short pants. Knee socks were common, but younger boys and girls often wore tights with shorts during the colder winter months.

North Korea

North Korea is perhaps the most closed state in the world. The outside world glimses only occasional images of North Korea. Japanese newspapers in May 2001 carried a story about a man who seems to have been the son of North Korea's dictator, "Dear Leader" (as they call him). Kim Jong Il was caught trying to enter Japan illegally. He was deported, but the Japanese press ran a picture of him as a 10 year old boy sitting next to his father. the picture was taken 20 years ago and gives some indication of at least the way the North Korean elite was dressing their sons at the time. Most of the pictures you see of Young Pioneeers etc. seem to show them in red kerchiefs, short-sleeved white shirts, and navy long pants. But this boy was dressed in a some sort of T shirt and short, dark shorts. He would have looked completely unremarkable in the Japan of 20 years go. North Korea is one of the last remaining Communist states. Living condituions in the North are some of the most dreadful in the world. Several million are believed to have died in the famine of the 1990s. The children were those most affected.


We have no information on Korean choir, dance, music, religion, sport, and other activities at this time.


Korean children mostly wore traditional clothing in the first half of the 20th century. Some boys wore Western garments in the cities, but traditional clothing was more common. We do not yet have detailed information on the various traditional garments involved. This did not begin to change until after World War II and the Korean War. The change may have occurred faster in the North as it was more industrialized with a larger urban population. Substantial change took place in the South during the 1960s. By the 1970s, Koreans boys were mostly wearing Westrern clothes. The garments we have noted were essentially the same as worn in Japan. We see country children by the 1970s wearing the same Western clothing styles as worn in the cities. Girls wore both pants and dresses. Boys wore T-shirts and shorts in the summer. Track suits seem popular in colder weather. Younger children commonly wore colorful tights. Sneakers were very popular.

Hair Styles

We have no information on historic Korean hair styles. We notice that during the Japanese occupation that many Korean boys had cropped hair like Japanese boys. Since World War II we see many Korean children both boys and girls wearing bangs. We see this same style in Japan and China as well. We are not entirely sure why this particular style is so popular in Korea. There are various ways of cutting bangs. Girls commonly wear bangs with the sides over the ear. Boys wears bangs with the hair cut shorter at the sides around the ears. Nangs are especially popular for younger children.

School Uniforms

We have very limited information on Korean schools at this time. Hopefully our Korean readers will provide us more information. School uniforms seem strongly influenced by Japanese styles in the South and Chinese styles in the North. We have begun to collect some information on South Korean schools. Short cut short pants were not as commonly worn by Korean school boys as was the case in Japan. Secondary school uniforms, however, are similar to Japanese styles. Unlike Japan, there are no private schools in Korean and even private tutoring until recently has been illegal. We also have some limited informnation on North Korean schools.


We have no information on Korea movies or television at this time. We know South Korea as an active film indutry. We are less sure about television.


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Created: December 20, 1998
Last updated: 4:16 PM 2/27/2013