A while back I wrote the first part of a two-part series on Korean fashion in response to a reader’s suggestion. The first part was about how living in Korea changed my fashion. Today’s post is part two and it’s all about Korean fashion do’s and don’ts. I had some help with this post as while I definitely thought back to things I learned in Korea, I also asked a few Korean friends for advice – both guys and girls to get a balanced perspective. So thanks Hana, Chanseok and Ryan for the advice and help! Oh, and most of the Korean fashion do’s and don’ts are for girls (umm, because I’m a girl) but there are a few for guys too.
Korean Fashion Do’s
Wear makeup – As much as I love makeup, I really don’t wear a lot of it – eye makeup and lipstick… yes, but I never really wore anything on my face. However, it’s considered slightly rude not to wear makeup in Korea (according to guys and girls). Yep, that’s right. I was gently encouraged to wear more while I was in Korea. Luckily my skin tone is similar so I headed to the nearest cosmetic store (they are everywhere in Korea) and bought some face powder and blush. Okay, I have a rubber arm when it comes to fashion but one good thing came out of it… I found the best blush ever!
Wear heels – They are a fashion necessity in Korea. Luckily, like shopping for makeup, shopping for shoes is easy in Korea. There is something for every taste and budget from 15,000won (about $15) shoes in the little shops at many of the subway stations to designer ones that are way pricier in department stores. Generally, girls shoes only go up to 250 (about a North American size 8, British 6) but there are places in Dongdaemun or Itaewon (in Seoul) – among other places – were you can have shoes custom-made. Even if you wear a smaller size, custom shoes rock as you can tweak them a little that way.
Work is more formal – Yes, some work attire is formal in Canada but for the most part, we dress ‘business casual’ for work in most office environments. Suits and formal business wear is more common in Korea. Some companies don’t even like short sleeves. As a teacher in Korea, I would also add that it’s also more fashionable/feminine too. Skirts and dresses are quite common and encouraged.
Shaving/Personal Grooming – Guys need to shave, otherwise they give a bad impression. Perhaps not quite as important in university but once you graduate, shave. On the other hand, shaving your head or being bald isn’t good which is why there’s a strong hair implant and wig industry in Korea.
Korean Fashion Don’ts
Show your shoulders – Okay, this is slowly changing and tank tops are slowly becoming more common. But older Koreans – anyone over 40 say – will still warn you to cover up. Which is why little bolero cardigans and layering are common. One good thing about this is it got me in the habit of carrying one in my purse (or a summer scarf) during the summer so I’m not cold in air conditioning.
Cleavage – As a general rule, Korean girls don’t show a lot of cleavage so doing so will make you stand out. It’s much more common to show a lot of leg in Korea. If you are showing cleavage, be prepared to possibly get some negative attention. It doesn’t always happen of course but…
There was actually just a post recently in The Korea Times about showing too much skin. While I disagree with the tone of the article, it does illustrate the above two points.
No hats in university – This would be hard for a lot of North Americans (me included when I was in university and college). While it’s not a hard & fast rule, my friends say many profs will ask you not to or to remove them. It’s considered a little impolite.
No tanning – One of the funniest things happened during my first summer in Korea – I went to the Boryeong Mud Festival and came back with a decent tan. Me getting a tan wasn’t funny or unusual as I tan really, really easy thanks to being part Ojibway but my students’ reactions were. Yes, I was noticeably tanned but I’ve never had anyone react to my tan in Canada. There are skin whitening creams everywhere in Korea and if you go to a beach, you’ll see lots of people lying under umbrellas.
Random Fashion Thoughts
Remember rolling out of bed in university and realizing you had 30 minutes to get to class so you threw on a hoodie and a hat, and jumped on the bus in your flannel PJs? Or was that just me? Okay, I rarely actually wore pajamas to university but I did wear a hoodie and a hat often. That so wouldn’t happen in Korea! A girl wearing a hat says ‘I didn’t wash my hair this morning’. Plus I’m told that even in university, girls would be all fashionable and put-together.
Feeling a little short but you’re a guy so heels are out of the question? Nope, Korea has in-shoe lifts that you can stick in your shoes and gain an inch or so. Seriously. Fringe benefit of the lifts is they probably also make your shoes more comfy as they look like they’re mostly foam.
Take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house (and any restaurant where you sit on the floor. This means it’s a good idea to wear socks or stockings (or slippers) if you are going to visit someone as it’s a little rude to wear bare feet in their home (and yucky in restaurants).
North American and Korean girls both wear leggings but we wear them differently. Okay, I wear them like a Korean girl and so do some others but as a generalization, this is true. And I’ve had female and male Korean friends point this out. When Korean girls wear leggings, they always wear something long on top – a dress, skirt or long tunic. North American girls sometimes simply wear them as pants. I think that looks ugly which is why I wear them with a dress or tunic.
My final random fashion thought is one I didn’t notice but once it was pointed out… Korean girls don’t wear glasses after they hit university age (guys can). Most will get eye surgery or wear contact lenses. Which explains why I know Korean guys who wear glasses but no girls! Apparently reasons for this include: taxi drivers don’t want their first customer to be a girl who wears glasses and parents don’t want their son’s girlfriend to wear glasses.
Did I miss any important Korean fashion do’s and don’ts? Any interesting Korean fashion thoughts to add?
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