Newtro – Making Retro New!
Inspired by hugely popular period dramas, such as Mr. Sunshine, Koreans in their teens and 20s are revisiting vintage clothing, design styles, and food, giving them a contemporary twist in the process. Here, we take an in-depth look at the Newtro trend, from exploring how it began to how the trend manifests in design and culture across South Korea.
What is Newtro?
Newtro describes a popular youth culture trend sweeping across South Korea, defined by a reinterpretation of vintage and retro design styles. Seen across fashion, interiors and food, Newtro could be interpreted as Korea’s own version of “hipster” culture, though it is distinctly Korean in origin and interpretation.
A range of historical eras are referenced through Newtro culture, from the more recent 1990s, back to the 19th century. Through their parents’ and country’s memories and history, Korean youth are rediscovering and reinterpreting a vintage-tinted lifestyle.
How Did Newtro Originate?
Young Koreans who were born in the 1980s and 1990s have developed a nostalgic attachment to the design styles that were prevalent in the periods when they were born. A new generation discovered the design styles, leisure activities, fashion, and food that were popular during these decades.
A desire for authenticity, simplicity, and nostalgic experiences amongst a younger generation drives the growth of Newtro, but the ability to share Newtro-inspired experiences via social media has also given the movement a thoroughly modern mood.
Similar to the revival in interest in early 20th century clothing and design styles in the UK following the huge success of TV show Peaky Blinders, Korea’s Newtro trend can also credit some of its origins to television. Mr. Sunshine, an emotional period drama set in 19th century Hanseong (the original name of Seoul), led to a rise in popularity of wearing period costumes and visiting city districts which retain traditional architectural styles, such as the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul.
How Does Newtro Manifest in Korean Culture?
Newtro is a “total” trend, meaning that it influences a broad range of features in Korean culture. Fashion, interiors, graphics, gaming and cafe culture are all experiencing a revival in vintage styles.
Following the success of Mr. Sunshine, television and film is experiencing a renewed interest in period dramas. The trend is also impacting wider industries in Korea, including tourism, with more young Koreans looking to replicate “authentic” vintage experiences by visiting old villages and historic urban districts.
Fashion is one of the most obvious areas that the Newtro trend can be seen in action. Inspired by the costumes donned by characters in Mr. Sunshine, many young Koreans buy, rent, or make period-inspired clothing. Young Koreans are adopting a mixture of periods, from the 19th century through to the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, creating a contemporary version of vintage style.
The Future of Newtro
While Newtro is uniquely Korean in its style and origins, the revisitation of historic design styles and culture is not exclusive to this region. The enthusiasm for all things retro in South Korea echoes global cultural trends amongst millennial consumers.
Across the world, a young generation are rediscovering past decades in a quest to find an antidote to fast-paced, digitally-dominated modern life. However, while the authenticity, romanticism, and tradition of the past are being rediscovered, they are still being channelled and reshaped through a millennial lens. This fusion of technology and history has led to a completely new cultural phenomenon, which in Korea is seeing no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Source: Grace Fussell from Shutterstock (October 16, 2019)