Korean Fashion is a style all its own. Here are some of my main observations over the last 5 months.
1. The women are very feminine.
Unless specifically going to the gym or hiking, I'd say the women in general dress more feminine than women in the West. And actually, you see plenty of heels and skirts in the woods. I find Korean women very beautiful, and they definitely make an effort to be "pretty". I think this picture typifies a young Korean woman- dress, long hair, perfect make-up, bows, flower, pearls. They are very well put-together. (Except for the mismatch, see #6) Not that they don't wear jeans and t-shirts, especially more here in the small city of Gunsan than somewhere more cosmopolitan like Seoul, but overall short hair, no makeup, pants, and tennis shoes are not as common as on an American woman. (Photo from YoCo Fashion)
2. The men are pretty feminine as well.
I love the men's style here. It manages to be funky, professional, and metrosexual all at once. For a country where gender roles are strict and homosexuality is outlawed, it's a little surprising to see man-purses, guy-liner, and impeccably styled hair. Boys have golden years in fashion, usually around 18-25, when they no longer have to wear high-school uniforms, but they also don't have to look too professional yet. Once entrenched in the working world, their style gets more subdued.
Have you ever seen celebrities wear these pants that are loose at the thigh and tight at the bottom? I think they're called harem pants. I say celebrities, because most average people can't wear them. You need really slender hips to pull them off. Not surprisingly, they look great on Koreans and are fairly common. I even saw a guy wearing a pair the other day. Whole outfit: capri harem pants, a ribbed tank-top (I hate saying wife beater but you know exactly what I'm talking about), plaid slip-on loafers, and a thick, studded leather bracelet. He looked great.
The Korean woman's ability to walk in heels is astounding. It's like they were all stepped out of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance video. They walk all over town, and I have seen them book it when necessary. I recently saw a young mom walking with a small baby in a kangaroo sling in front of her body, also holding the hand of her 3 year old daughter... while wearing incredibly high heels. You see pumps and sandaly heels, but more popular are thick-strapped, boot style heels, like this. And yes, you frequently see high heels at the beach. (Photo by Sarah Shaw)
4. The standards of modesty are different from the West.
This is a comic from ROKetship on Facebook that illustrates this point perfectly. In Korea, there is no such thing as a skirt or shorts that are too short. Showing lots of leg is totally acceptable, even at work. However, in the U.S., such display is considered provocative. Conversely, at home, showing shoulders, collarbone, and moderate cleavage is totally okay. But here, a tank top, especially on a foreign woman who tends to have larger breasts than the average Korean, is fairly racy.
5. Office-wear is its own genre.
My last two jobs in the U.S. were barista and farmer, so I'm not exactly an expert in contemporary office styles. But there seems to be a sort of overlap between work clothes and non-work clothes, in a style I would dub 'sexy office' or 'business glam'. Sometimes my coworkers look like they are ready to go straight to a cocktail party after work.
6. An outfit is nice as long as the separate pieces are nice.
I see this more on middle-aged Koreans than younger ones. Seriously though, there can be quite the mismatch of styles, though it's clear that each article of clothing is expensive and fashionable. For the most part, Koreans can totally pull it off looking good too. Well, maybe the women more than the men. I can't tell you how many times I've seen men wearing nice silk suits with plaid pants and a DIFFERENT print of plaid shirt or jacket.
One day I saw a middle-aged woman wearing black slacks, and a nice dark purple silk blouse with ruffles up the front. In the U.S. this would have been a complete outfit, but here she added a fitted short brown leather vest. Another time I saw a similar aged woman in capris, a business jacket, and a 1970's-looking flight attendant scarf riding a lime green cruiser bicycle with a basket on the front full of cabbage. Not bad, not good, but definitely makes you go, 'hmmm'.
Here's another outfit on a younger woman: skin-tight blue polyester mini-skirt, cream colored cotton shirt tucked in, with a black satin bow over the chest, cream high-heeled strappy shoes over purple ankle socks, and to tie it all together, an oversized red leather purse. Another: floral ruffled shirt, fuscia denim short shorts, and high heeled sneakers. Another: flowy black genie pants, striped shirt, floral blazer, and black tennis shoes with gold swirls.
7. Couple's outfits.
They wear matching shirts, sometimes whole outfits. Commonly. That's all I'm gonna say about that.
(Photo from lajavasyle)
8. I'm not immune to the influence.
All clothes I have bought since coming to Korea have either flowers, ruffles, lace, or sparkles... or some combination thereof.