Fashion is a very important part of the South Korean lifestyle. From hanboks worn in the times of the kings, to dresses, and suits made popular after the Korean War, the country has seen a lot of fashion changes. With the Korean wave spreading all over the globe, Korean fashion has been put into the spotlight by actors and K-pop idols.
Fashion Subcultures in South Korea
Hanboks is a traditional Korean outfit, which is worn by Korean people daily. There are both male and female versions of the outfit. A hanbok is made of a fitted bodice and a full skirt. The skirt hides the movement of the lower body, so you appear to be floating on air. The fabric is dyed using natural dyes, and the bodice is tied together with two strips of cloth on the front of the top.
Male hanboks have a pair of pants, a jeogori (jacket), and a vest. A female hanbok has an undershirt, a jeogori to be worn on top, a skirt, and pantaloons
In recent times, hanboks are worn on special occasions, like birthdays, holidays, and various other types of special cultural events. Children are dressed in hanboks for their first birthdays, and people wear them during traditional Korean holidays. The style of the dress has changed considerably over the last 100 years. A new line of modern hanboks is being launched into the market.
They are now made with light fabrics, and bright colors, and incorporate a lot of western styles. This innovation in the styles of the hanbok is what has kept them in fashion, even after South Korea’s modernization. The main reason why hanboks are still popular all over South Korea is that they have been improved with time in terms of quality as well as the fact that they match the contemporary fashion standards with a modified design.
A lot of tourists love wearing hanboks when they come to Korea. It can be difficult to buy them because they do cost you a bit. However, there are a lot of hanbok rental shops in Korea. Numerous companies are modifying hanboks to suits and giving them a modern twist. This means more and more people are wearing them, even at work.
Luxury Dresses and Suits
You can sum up South Korea’s fashion, as a combination of fancy clothes and streetwear. While hanboks are common in the country, western clothing made its debut with the Japanese occupation of Korea. Men started wearing suits, and women started keeping their hair down, as opposed to wearing it in top knots. The evolution of the fashion subculture in South Korea is quite pleasing because it shows the acceptance of other cultures towards the native South Korean culture.
Over the years since the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, and with modernization in Korea, fashion and clothing have evolved numerous ways. 3-piece suits have become the standard of business attire all over the country. For women, there is a choice between either a suit or a formal top, paired with a long skirt.
Floor-length gowns, made of materials like silk, taffeta, and velvet can be found in stores throughout Korea. These gowns are usually made to order but can be found in standard sizes as well. They are used for special functions such as marriage. Huge brands from countries like the UK, USA, and even France, have now not only built shops in Korea but also have Korean ambassadors.
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Dyed Hair in South Korea
Another fashion trend K-pop has brought to the public is dyed hair. While people all over the world have bleached, and completely dyed their hair, Koreans stand out. This is because while people usually dye their hair brown, blonde, and black, South Koreans choose bright colors. Colors like silver, red, blue, green and purple, are some very common choices. Following these idols and actors, normal people have started to dye their hair as well. In different types of South Korean movies and dramas, one can easily spot the bright-colored hair actors.
Streetwear holds a lot of importance in Korean fashion. Baggy shirts, Jeans, leather jackets, and sweaters, all have become fashion statements. A big reason for the importance of streetwear is airport fashion by celebrities. People love seeing their idols laid back in casual clothing, which has instinctively led to a desire to dress like them.
Loose clothes are a very big trend, with people choosing oversized pants cinched at the waist. Oversized shirts and puffed sleeves are also things people pair with coats and jackets on the streets. One reason why casual wear is so popular in South Korea is that it is quite light to wear. Moreover, it is not very expensive and anyone can buy it from a street vendor.
A very popular accompaniment to any casual look is a trench coat. Since South Korea has freezing winters, with temperatures constantly sliding below zero, overcoats are also a very good way to stay warm. They aren’t limited to just casual outfits either. Overcoats are popular over formal suits too. The common way to wear them is over the suit jacket, with the buttons left undone.
The South Korean fashion world is quite fluid when it comes to gender rules. Unlike the rest of the world, South Korea does not limit the use of any color, to any particular gender. A man can easily wear baby pink, and even a shocking pink suit, without anybody raising any eyebrows. This is something very distinctive about South Korea and Japan that you might not see in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia.
Another fashion statement in which we see this fluidity is earrings. Men and women both wear earrings, with K-pop idols taking the lead. While women can wear big, bold statement earrings, men usually choose thin, and long pieces. Some men only prefer small earrings but not gold. Instead, they wear silver.
Almost all of the idols in the K-pop industry have their ears pierced, and wear earrings in either one or both ears.
The western world prefers tanned faces, considering them a sign of beauty and wealth. However, for Koreans, pale, white skin is the standard of beauty. Koreans invest a lot in skincare. Makeup and sunscreen are a must whenever they step out of their homes. Many of the products you might use may have been made in South Korea.
The Koreans go with very subtle makeup and tend to stay away from strong colors. Eye makeup is usually nude, with shades like orange, peach, brown, and pink, used to give the eye a larger effect. The lips aren’t outlined, and lipstick usually consists of a color concentrated at the center and smudged towards the edges.
Eyeliner, mascara, and even false lashes are made to look as natural as possible. Due to South Korea’s gender fluidity when it comes to dressing, makeup is very common for male celebrities too. However, men usually stay away from eyeliner, and mascara. The emphasis is on using foundation, concealer, eye shadow, and light lipstick; all to give a smooth, glowing effect.
Outfits You Can’t Wear in South Korea
- Any outfit that shows cleavage. Revealing too much of the upper body is considered taboo in Korean culture which is why you should avoid wearing that.
- Backless outfits. This is for the same reason as above. You can’t reveal too much of your upper body.
- Men’s shorts that are too short. Men aren’t allowed to put on shorts that are shorter than the tips of their fingertips when they leave their hands straight from their knees.
- Casual Menswear is supposed to be a light color. Warm colors are favorites when it comes to Korean fashion. While women can wear bright colors casually, men are required to wear lights only. This is especially the case during the day.
- Bikinis aren’t popular with South Koreans.
- Shoulder revealing tops. While this rule seems non-existent for celebrities, the mainstream, normal people of Korea still keep this rule in mind.
- Foreigners coming to South Korea should try to adapt and adjust accordingly. Wear the subcultural fashion of South Korea rather than going your own way. This will allow you to easily adjust with the locals and find their welcoming attitude as well.
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Fashion in South Korea is a way of life. People dress up and look their best, for things other nations consider mundane. Whether it is at the office, the mall, or even just a small breakfast place on the street, South Korean fashion can be seen everywhere. The K-beauty industry has fans all over the world, with Americans making up most of the foreign demand. More and more people are growing to admire the Korean lifestyle, which means South Korea will stay in the spotlight for a long time.