July 22, 2011

same same... just korea (pt. X)

Stay Fashionable

Korea is not a fashion runway like countries such as Italy, but Korea is a country full of people who are dressed great, all the time. The days of the week don't seem to make a difference in the way that Koreans dress. Whether it is the weekday or weekend you are not going to notice a huge variation in terms of dress. It's easily become one of my favourite things about this country. Not like what you'd expect to find in most of North America where people love to dress down when they are not on duty.

Perhaps my favourite part of the whole thing is that they dress the way I'd like to. I've never really been much of a shirt and tie person. Yet recent months and my current work environment have broadened my horizons. I'm at a point where I feel that one should be dressed well, no matter the occasion, or period of time in your life. I spent the 4 years leading up to my Korean experience in University, and my fashion outlook couldn't be any further from where it now resides.

How bout U?

Wandering around the hallways of my U(niversity) rarely resulted in seeing people dressed great. I usually saw a lot of sweatpants and Uof L stitched across girl's asses. Hoodies and sweatpants (later including yoga pants) became the unofficial student dress code. There were usually set times during the course of a semester where'd you could tell it was presentation time, but that was about it.

I loathed waking up for early morning class, and thus often skipped them. BUT when I did attend I would often arrive in my pajama pants. The rest of time I could be spotted wearing jeans and a hoodie (I never really liked sweat pants, although I once found a pair of lululemon pants I did like. They were technically girls pants, it was at a party, and that is another story). The fact that I was a business student didn't mean shit to me. I never wore ties to school, how could I? (I didn't own one: asked and answered) I remember hearing about universities with business casual dress codes, and I remember being appalled. I felt that because I was paying the university, I could dress however the hell I wanted to. Being expected to conform was never one of my strong suits.

Korea couldn't be more different. The attire worn around universities would have made me uneasy only a few years ago. At that point I still rarely wore a collared shirt, and even if I did seldom tucked it in. I always wanted to be comfortable while awkwardly rustling around in my seat. The comfortable look however, doesn't really go over well in Korean universities. I asked a friend about the differences between Universities both here and in the states, she said that she liked how comfortable people dressed in the US, and that there wasn't a certain expectation to dress up all the time. She said that in Korea it doesn't matter if your class starts at 9am or noon. There is an expectation that you are going to show up dressed well.

The women (or girls in several cases) that attended my university rarely dressed up. In fact I'm fairly sure they are the ones who helped implement, and maintain, the unofficial dress code. Ponytails were often the most common hairstyle, and little effort was put into their attire. I didn't viewed it as a bad thing, it never bothered me. Girls would often take their time to get ready for the bars, instead of wasting time for a lecture. It seemed to be for this reason that every club, and the university itself sold tracksuits. Also many guys welcome excuses to check out the walking club adverts.

According to my friend most female Korean U students wear heels, everyday. I think that is pretty much all you need to know to establish the rest of the outfit. Only on 'People of Wal-Mart' would you find people mixing heels with sweatpants. The result is a female populous that is dressed to kill. If the effort put into their hair, makeup and outfits doesn't do you in, being stabbed by their stilettos will.

Just like in western U's fashion is cyclical, and there are times when the fashion changes. Around exam time (presentation time in N/A, when western students dress to impress) Korean's will often study so hard that they slack off in the appearance category. I've been informed that if you show up to school in 'comfortable' clothes, people will ask, and assume that you've had to study hard for an exam. Thus the only excuse a Korean might have to dress down is when the pressure to do well on an exam outweighs the social pressure to dress up.

Pressure U say?

Among the many pressures that face Korean students today, I think at least part of the excellent fashion in this country can be attributed to the pressure to fit in. With this possible explanation group mentality has to be at play here. My friend doesn't know why people dress the way they do at school. She simply proclaims that "everyone does it, so everyone just does it". Although I wonder if students in N/A can truthfully come up with a much different answer.

While the end result is different, and comfort requires a lot less time to prepare for, So N/A students perhaps may have more solid against being collectivist. There is a very real fear of standing out in Korean society, much like any culture who values the group as more important than the individual. I will say this though, I'm very impressed with this group of individuals who are dressed to conquer the world, even if they are only learning about it. The residual effect has created a workforce, and city, that values the way it looks.


  1. Totally agree with this post. Dressing up in Korea isn't just for personal satisfaction. Nicer clothes elevate my my social status.

  2. Interesting read! I'm finding your blog to be quite a primer for what to expect in Seoul, thanks.