The Korea Herald


Jeonju culture center's staff uniform raises controversy over 'Japanese-style' design

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : Feb. 19, 2023 - 14:05

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Employees are pictured wearing their official uniforms at the Korea Traditional Culture Center in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. (KTCC) Employees are pictured wearing their official uniforms at the Korea Traditional Culture Center in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. (KTCC)

A newly designed official hanbok uniform for employees at the Korea Traditional Culture Center, a foundation operated by the city of Jeonju in North Jeolla Province, has been embroiled in controversy over its design some say are similar to that of a Japanese kimono.

After members of the public and the center's staffers criticized the uniform for "looking Japanese," the designer argued that the piece was designed as a hanbok based on historical research.

The new uniform was unveiled through an internal KTCC announcement with a photo of the center's staff wearing them, local media reported Saturday. Employees are encouraged to wear them on Fridays to promote hanbok, the center said.

The center explained that the uniform was inspired by the four black trigrams of the Taegeukgi, the national flag of Korea. The KTCC logo is engraved on the collar and a brooch with the center’s initials is attached on the chest.

Some of the center’s staff and members of the public said the uniform's black color and shape of the collar resemble that of a "typical chef at a Japanese restaurant," local media reported.

Other netizens pointed out that the collar's top is similar to a Japanese "haneri," a detachable decorative neck piece for a kimono. The width of the uniform's Korean "dongjeong," a cloth attached to the collar of the "jeogori" -- the upper piece of hanbok -- is very narrow, which some say is similar to other traditional Japanese clothes.

The designer in charge of the uniform refuted such criticisms, saying that the collars are based on those from the Joseon era, which become narrow toward the edge to resemble a Joseon sword.

"To make the outfit work-friendly, the widths of sleeves and collars were intentionally made narrow, with Western-style cuffs attached so the sleeves can be rolled up comfortably," the unnamed designer was quoted as saying by local media.

The uniform's color is based on one of the traditional five colors that are also used in attire for kings and scholars, the designer said.

"The color (black) symbolizes wisdom in Korea. It is inappropriate to come up with a specific country for the color," the designer said.

The center spent 9.6 million won ($7,408) on purchasing 80 uniforms, according to the center.

The center was not available for comment regarding the issue prior to press time.

Meanwhile, the KTCC plans to open its Hanbok Culture Creative Space within the center on Friday, sponsored by the Culture Ministry and the Korea Craft and Design Foundation.