“Prior to westernization, our residential space was just a house and was not called ‘hanok.’ The clothes we wear were just ‘clothes’ and not ‘hanbok.’ The food we eat were not called ‘hansik or Korean food.’ These terms–hanok, hanbok, hansik, and hanyak (or traditional herbal medicine)–were coined as constructs counterbalancing the existence of newly introduced western houses, clothes, food and medicine in the course of westernization and modernization of the mode of living. In other words, even though the substantial history of these material culture products is long and rooted in the lives of Korean people, the history of these terms are limited to the period a­fter westernization.” – Kim Minjee, Hanbok Scholar

From the 1990s to present, a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave has led to increased global popularity of South Korean contemporary culture such as television dramas, beauty/ skin-care, and pop music. However, less acknowledged but equally critical is the story of traditional Korea, including nature-centered ideologies, village craftsmanship, and collective identity of the peninsula when it was unified. The revival of hanbok presents an opportunity to tell such a story. This project seeks to present hanbok both as a means of understanding Korean history and culture as well as a conduit for contemporary Korean voices to express their identity and dreams.


accessible via the ‘HANBOK HEROES’ tab on the upper left of each page

This section highlights voices from the contemporary hanbok community. Interviews with designers, apprentices, and national craftsman give insight to diverse and sometimes conflicting opinions on the meaning of hanbok in modern-day South Korea.


accessible via the ‘MENU’ tab on the upper right of each page

This section provides broad, general context for understanding hanbok. Background information on ancient and modern history, influencing philosophy, defining characteristics, various types, and additional resources for hanbok can be learned here.

This project is a compilation of research conducted in Seoul, South Korea during a 2019-2020 Fulbright Research Fellowship by Ying Bonny Cai.

Ying Bonny Cai is a designer, researcher, and tree-climbing enthusiast exploring the ways in which cross-cultural understanding can improve sustainability and create empathy in apparel design. Her artistic work combines researching traditional East Asian costume, playing with material manipulation, as well as collecting precious narratives. She is passionate about reviving culture and histories through contemporary design in a way that can reach people’s hearts.

Her apparel work can be found at: http://www.bonny-cai.com/