I have officially been here to witness all of the seasons in Korea and as such, feel finally equipped to bring you this blog post. I know some of you have been dying to know what people wear and how they do their hair and makeup, right!? I am sure that many of you are not sure how much of Japan’s anime culture has influenced Korean style, and whether the modesty of the culture is perpetuated by their clothing choices. I am quite sure that you have all been waiting with breath abated for this post. Well, breathe easy my friends, because the day has come. IT’S HERE.
You will note that many of these pictures are of mannequins. And some stolen images from the inter-web (retails sites and the like, not anyone’s personal blog or anything). It turns out that I am a big, fat chicken and I was too scared to take that many pictures of real people. But trust me, the mannequins are pretty true to form (hehehe). And the pictures of clothing stalls…allll mine, baby. (Sorry about the terrible quality of some of these!)
When you are born, and they issue you your Korean citizenship, I believe the government bestows upon you your very first hiking uniform. Boots, full pants, sweat-slicking tee, windbreaker, a brimmed hat, and a day pack. If you are a woman, you will get purple or pink or black, maaaaybe green or yellow. If you are a man, black or grey with some green, orange, blue or yellow.
But seriously. For many Koreans, this is their weekend wear. Whether they are hiking or not. If we wear sweats or baggy tees with jeans, they wear this (at least, once they are married). This is the gear that might be worn around town for a casual meander through the stalls…you know, in case a mountain crops up in front of you and you just can’t resist climbing it.
In all fairness, though, many Koreans actually DO hike on the weekend. It is rather remarkable, however, that not one of them will hike without every piece of the aforementioned uniform. I’m serious. Every single piece.
If you are a young Korean girl in winter, yet unmarried, prepare to freeze your ever-loving a$$ off all winter long. Quite literally. The style for these poor women (though I’m thinking it’s self-imposed and thus my sympathy sort of drops off there) is to wear the teeniest, tiniest skirts and shorts to be found. They sometimes wear them with tights, but not thick, warmth-giving tights. Sheer tights, of course. Because that makes sense. And they top these teeny skirts with teeny jackets. Often faux fur. Sometimes faux leather. Never warm.
If you are not a young Korean woman, you will be wearing layers, of course. But the Koreans tend to like the cold and on the whole, do not dress so warm as their Canadian counterparts. I was surprised by this. Many of the buildings do not bother with heat (like the schools) and everyone just wears their jacket day in and out for a period of up to 5 months. Depending on your wimp level, naturally. ME? I wore mine for at least that long. And graduated to my warm down jacket just the moment Dad flew it into town. It. Was. So. Cold. We really underestimate the life-giving force that is indoor heating (especially when used generously!). I wore cotton socks layered under wool socks inside boots every day and still went home with numb toes. Just no fun at all.
Puts that first paragraph about the teeny skirts (oh and did I mention little faux leather high-heeled booties to match?) into perspective, doesn’t it?
Also, in winter many of the girls and some of the boys wear cutesy, animal-inspired toques. Rarely mittens, because of the need for incessant texting. But toques, yes.
SPRING & FALL
Koreans love spring and fall. They’re all about the fringe seasons. Makes sense – it’s the only time you’re not being numbed by icy sea winds or choked by humidity and heat. These are also the seasons they dress the most diversely, in my opinion.
Women of all ages love shorts and tiny skirts in these seasons. Leggings are a bigger thing, however, than in winter (WTF?!). A very popular item is the teeny sweatshirt material skirt attached to a matching pair of sweatshirt type leggings. Always in either light grey, dark grey, black, or white. Never a colour. Also quite popular, especially among the younger set, are teeny bottoms or super skinny jeans, with a huge over-baggy sweater or shirt or button-up. I actually kinda like the look and since they are mostly waifs, they pull it off (in my opinion). Also, this was fantastic for me. Because all those huge, inexpensive shirts!? Fit me like a dream 😉
The guys are also very stylish. They will wear any and all colours, and love a pastel. A very slim fitting button up shirt paired with fitted chinos or skinny jeans is the preferred uniform. There is a bit of a hipster thing going among many of the young men (man, I’m officially old if I am referring to them as ‘young men’, aren’t I?), and you will see some in fitted plaid shirts with big glasses and a rolled cuff on their jeans. Alternately, a pair of slim track pants (or track pant capris in warmer weather) with a t-shirt is the go-to casual look.
It is also worth noting that Koreans of all ages love a good Korlish slogan (read: an English slogan that makes little to no actual sense in English) on at-shirt. Or a skirt. Or a dress. Or some pants. Love ’em.
Fall is the hiking season, more so than any other time of year, and the hiking clothes are out in their fullest force. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a large group of middle-aged Koreans decked out entirely (some even with walking sticks!), and meandering along a stone path. Yes, path. Ahahahahaha! I’m literally giggling right now thinking about it. It should be noted that there are real hikes, too, and that much of the time they are coming and going from these ‘real’ hikes, but the amount of time spent on a path in full hiker gear is still pricelessly hilarious to me.
I bet you can’t guess what the younger women wear in summer, can you!? Well, it’s teeny tiny shorts and skirts! Sometimes with sheer, nude tights and sandals (ew!). Often with a tee. Rarely with a tank. You see, the society is really up in arms about…arms. Ok, shoulders, but I was trying for a pun there. Seriously though. Bum cheeks = a-ok, but shoulders are scandalous. The rules are slowly changing, much to the chagrin of the older Koreans, and it’s been pointed out to me that the older generation isn’t o’er fond of the bum cheeks situation, either. It should be noted that a mid-length or maxi dress is also super common (yay for me!), it just makes a less comical narrative 😉
As you may be able to imagine by now, the rules do not apply to foreigners. Or in this case, they extra apply. We cannot wear short shorts or skirts. We also cannot wear tank tops. Or totter around in heels. Well, of course we CAN do all of these things, and we do, but they will lead to increased stares, at varying degrees of discomfort (on our own parts). Mostly, we all do it anyways. But my legs showing in even a totally work appropriate way (read from the knees down) can lead to an increase of staring from the adjoshis. I have a friend who got aggressively stared at for wearing a normally short (not horribly short) summer dress. Part of this may be because we are both considered tall by Korean standards. I suppose, even when your legs are half covered, there is still a lot more to be seen. T’is the double standard life of the foreigner in Korea 😉
Independent of the season, many women walk around (totter around, really) in sky high heels. The streets and back alleys are any combination of cobbled, potholed to the point of treacherous, and re-paved so many times that there are huge dips on the sides that one can fall in to. This, to me, seems like an insane way to kill yourself. But alas, I have never been one for the tottering heels in any condition, so it’s entirely possible I just don’t get why it would be worth that. I am sure that to many a soul, they are very sexy.
On the total opposite end, many people wear comfy sneakers with any and all outfits, and don’t worry too much about whether they “work” with said outfit. I dig this. It’s just so practical. But that doesn’t mean I do it. (I do, but rarely. I’m a middle-of-the-shoe-practicality-road kinda gal, m’self. Function over fashion but fashion over…not fashion…)
The adjoshis have a uniform that is basically their hiking uniform – sometimes minus the hiking boots, hat and pack. They wear nylon hiking pants or fitted track pants, with a sweat-slicking tee (or what looks like one to me), and runners or hikers. Nearly all of them. All of the time. In all of the seasons.
Also, businessmen wear suits. In summer, sometimes suits minus the jacket. This and the occasional golf tee are the only exceptions to my above statement 🙂
Adjummas have two uniforms: the hiking one mentioned several times above, or the “day-to-day” one that consists of polyester pants (usually black, but some sort of pattern if you’re a kooky old bird) and a polyester shirt (usually long sleeve, sometimes short sleeve, usually in a riot of colour and pattern). And the kind of sneakers that grandmas the world over wear (don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Koreans have dark, straight, thick hair pretty well across the board (obviously). Perming is super common among the women and men, to varying degrees of wave. Highlighting with a bit of an orangey colour (whether on purpose, or because that is the colour dark hair tends to lighten to) is quite common as well, for both sexes. A lot of women will wear a red hair colour and, interestingly enough, some of the older women will wear a black-purple or black-red or even black-blue hair colour, which I kind of admire.
Also, everyone loves hair baubles. Well, not many of the older women, but the girls and young women love hair baubles. Big, huge headbands and barrettes and coloured elastics and giant, colourful pins and bobby pins. They are all the rage. It is tempting, even being one who doesn’t often put said baubles in my hair, to buy a million of them. There are just so many to choose from!
Also, every young-ish person, male or female, carries around a comb. It’s like a compulsion of many of the teens to be constantly combing their bangs – down for the girls, to the side with a perfect swoosh for the boys.
Most Korean women either wear no makeup at all or a full-on face of makeup. There’s not a ton of in-between. The school-aged girls are not allowed to wear makeup at school, so often the university girls tend to wear a ton. As everyone gets older, I really see it kind of break off and about half go back to none or minimal.
The makeup is maybe where some of the Japan anime has entered in, particularly on the University-aged women. Pink or orange lips, applied over concealed lips (sometimes shaped into a perfect, tiny pout) are all the rage. Whitened skin (with creams, as well as foundations), topped with sparkling white and pink highlighters, is pretty common. Eye makeup usually consists of big, false lashes and maybe a swipe of black liner, but some do go all out with the colours.
On the older, or tamer, set, the makeup is much the same as anywhere (read: some variety but nothing of particular note). The whitening is pretty drastic for some, though, which makes me sad. It also ends up looking like any makeup is applied with a heavier hand and, in my biased opinion, also ages many of the people. (Many of the men whiten as well, but it’s not quite as prevalent, and since they don’t usually wear makeup, the effects are more subtle).
Now that it’s summer, the parasols have come out in full force. I’ve never lived anywhere that people still use parasols! They are quite pretty, if an absolute terror on the crowded streets. Also, many women and kids carry fans to combat the heat and humidity, and most people of all ages carry a small towel or handkerchief to wipe away sweat and humid stickiness of any sort.
The classic adjumma hat is a year-round hit. That’s a plastic, canvas, or straw style hat, often open at the top, with a huuuuuuuuge visor (or duck’s bill, as it looks to me) at the front.
Oh, and most of the men carry bags. Small, square, faux name brand bags or large fanny packs that they sling around their chests. I think it’s because their pants are too fitted to carry giant phones and smokes? But that’s all hearsay…I have no male, Korean friends to ask.
In case you didn’t know, young couples in Korea (and occasionally some not-so-young ones), wear matching outfits! It’s a big thing. You can find matching underwear, matching shirts, pants, sweaters, jackets, shoes – anything! It’s a big symbol of your ever-lasting love to match. There are also matching couples rings and watches. You don’t even have to buy the matching outfit, but you can agree to both go out that day wearing, say, your black denim shorts and a plain green tee with your blue runners. I am dead serious. It’s hilarious AND awesome. It’s hilawesome. I am desperate to get Harding into a matching outfit and a photo op. I might just “accidentally” slip into a matching outfit one day and see if he notices…you with me!?
And sometimes, the whole family gets in on it!!
Clearly, I am talking in generalities. To each of these generalizations, you can easily find a counter point. But in a sea of people, these are the things I’ve noticed more repeatedly than anything else.
Japanese style isn’t particularly prevalent here – you’ll find a whiff of it on occasion, maybe even more so among the guys, but that’s about it. I could surmise as to why, but I am not sure – I think it’s largely just that Koreans are a little more conformative and a lot more conservative than the Japanese.
On the whole, I will say that Koreans tend to dress quite nicely. For many, money is a barrier (they are still a developing economy and not yet a rich one, for the general population), yet they always look clean and classy and well-kempt. It helps that China ships over dirt cheap clothing on the regular. That being said, I kinda think that the pressure to maintain a level of ‘style’ might be difficult for many, especially the younger population who already have so many pressures around success and physical beauty. Regardless, Korean people are not sloppy, and if you come here to work, you should plan to dress accordingly.
Stay classy, San Diego!
…(if you don’t know where that’s from, it’s friends OFF…)