Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Korean Fashion Classics

Korea is an interesting country largely because of the hilarious peculiar consistencies and trends. As you may have noticed, I've thoroughly enjoyed playing the role of an observer here. I also take solace in the notion that no matter how much time I've spent staring and observing, Koreans have spent far more time staring at me. Generally, it helps me to feel less creepy. Honestly, I haven't spent much time consciously observing Korea. However, when people visit, I seem to point out little "Koreanisms" all over the place, such as a brief explanation of the hammered businessmen walking arm and arm. "It's normal," I say, or at least some semblance of normal here in Korea. Fashion also tends to be one of those topics in Korea where I can think of at least a few trends that exist specifically in this country. My blog, after all, is about exposing people to what they may not have known or been able to experience, so certainly this gives me reason to write about fashion. Firstly, let me mention that I'm going to omit the couples outfits, as well as colourful hiking attire, as I've already mentioned these in a previous post entitled "Quirks and Queries." Before I begin though, I would like to mention the fact that I am in no way trying to ridicule or belittle Korea. On the contrary, part of what makes Korea so appealing to me is the unique trends and cultural differences that I can experience, and ultimately write about. Well, I've literally had about a thousand blog ideas pop into my head over the last few days, but I've got to write them one at a time. This one, my dear friends, will be my post on the classics of Korean fashion:

 1) Feats of Feet

It makes sense to start from the bottom, then work on up to the top. There is an incredible amount of rambling that I would like to do about footwear in Korea, and have wanted to do since about pretty much day one. Firstly, let's talk about the fact that almost all women are wearing high heels at all times. Let me be frank, how in the hell can that be comfortable? What that Korean trend spells out to me in plain English is that fashion and appearance are more important than being comfortable. I, for one, have always believed that comfort is paramount, and my interest in fashion generally ends once we leave the novelty travel t-shirt topic. Literally though, I have two pairs of cargo shorts that I wear pretty much all the time. Bri and I have kindly coined them "my big dumpies." Now that is comfort. 

Alas, back to Korea. The flip-flops here are eccentric, wild, and ubiquitous. Firstly, I have to mention the fact that socks and sandals here is actually in style. Men and women of all ages wear what looks like a basic Adidas sandle with a pair of socks on. Their feet are usually leaning over these bad boys, as they are usually purchased a little too small for the individual, or else they just decide to push their toes over the edge. They are basically slippers to be worn inside, but everyone wears them outside; to school, and quite possibly to work. They are everywhere, all the time. 

Now, the flip-flop saga in Korea doesn't end there. Actually, it barely even begins there. I have seen some of the most outlandish and obscene flip-flops on some of my students during my tenure here. Take, for example, K-fashion's newest invention - "The Bubble Flip-Flop." This will probably give you a better idea of what exactly I'm referring to.


Yes, these are real, and yes I've seen numerous students wearing them in class. One of my students actually wore them to class only yesterday, and I'm fairly sure that none of the other students even noticed. I noticed though, and as you recognize now, I notice a lot of what goes on around me. It makes me feel like Jerry Seinfeld, and trying to feel like Jerry Seinfeld has always been a sub-plot in my life. Of course they also have themed sandals. Would it surprise you if I told you that there were sandals based on K-POP stars? If you've been following my blog, then probably not. 

It would be blasphemous if I didn't at least mention the fact that "Crocs" have made their way to Korea with a passion. Actually, the appearance of Crocs here far surpasses anything I've witnessed elsewhere. Students wear them to school, young men wear them to dinner, then for a night on the town.


I'm a huge fan of the hilarious flip-flop and footwear culture here. It makes my life infinitely more entertaining, and isn't that what life's about? As Russel Crowe says in one of my favourite movies, Gladiator, "Are you not entertained?" - Yes Russel, I am. Very. 

2) Rise and Shine 

When I get out of bed in the morning I often make myself a cup of coffee, eat a little breakfast, grab a shower, and get dressed. As you will realize from the previous paragraphs, I don't take much time, or really put much thought into getting dressed, especially in the summer. Well, for Korean business men it's probably a similar routine, except it finishes with really getting dressed. As my title suggests, they put a whole new spin on "rise and shine." I've seen some suits shiny enough to stop me in my tracks and get my sunglasses out. It should also be noted that these suits are quite slim-fitted if not skin-tight. These men think they are silky, smooth, and cool, but I always imagine them as some sort of hired help at a bachelorette party gone wrong. Or gone right, depending on your disposition. Not all men are down with the shiny suits, but I've seen enough of them to classify it as a trend. I've seen enough of them to wonder what direction the human race is heading. Enough of them to wonder if this is the single tell-tale sign that an apocalypse is on the way. 

You are not cool, my friend. I'm sorry. (source)
At least he's not as bad as this performer on Britain's hit-show "X-Factor."


But that's neither here, nor there. 

3) I Can See Your...

Very short skirts. Bri garners daunting looks for showing a little bit of shoulder or upper chest, but Korean women flaunt their legs like it's the last day on earth, and you get extra points with the big man upstairs if you show some skin. In fact, due to this, some male foreigners may already argue that they've arrived in heaven. As usual, I've exaggerated a smidgen, but there is some truth to my former statements. It should also be noted that I can't possibly, and don't intend to, generalize all the women from an entire nation. It's just particularly interesting for me to view from a cultural perspective as Korea claims to be a conservative society, and yet the popular female K-POP groups flaunt their sexuality quite overtly. Short skirts and short shorts are virtually ubiquitous. These videos might drive this point home better than I can. I'm certainly not implying that every one Korean woman is like this, but I know that most of them would give anything to be a K-POP star like these gals. The first video actually plays in circulation on the bus, and the second video has over 30 million views. In short, they are immensely popular in Korea.  Here are two rather racy examples of some K-POP, complete with those aforementioned short skirts and shorts. The first is G.NA's "2HOT," and the second video is HYUNA's "Bubble Pop!"

I'm fairly sure you get the picture. I understand that it's quite hot in Korea, but it's almost baffling how short some of these skirts are. I'm not saying they're going for attention, or shock value...actually, I am. As I've mentioned a million times before, Korea is all about appearances, and that's not lost on the women in the slightest.

4) Glasses Galore 

I've never been to a country where such a high portion of the population needs glasses. However, I should note that it's entirely possible that North Americans are just more inclined to wearing contacts or other, subtler corrective vision techniques. Although, I should also note that a much higher percentage of my students seem to need glasses. I would say that most of my students wear glasses, and probably upwards of 85-90 percent. It's unusual for a student not to have glasses in class, even if their seventh birthday was sometime last week. Additionally, they all not only know their own eye quality down to the exact ".25", but they openly discuss and compare them with other students, and even the teachers sometimes (Bri's experienced this on some days when she switches from contacts to glasses). The bottom line is that because everyone, more or less, needs glasses, there are particular trends and styles that have developed. 

First up: The over-sized "I'm hipper than a hippo" with a touch of nerd, trendy glasses. 



Of course, you've got your themed glasses. Here we feature a selection of "Hello Kitty" glasses.


You can't possibly forget the eccentric print collection that's make more of an appearance as the weather heats up.


My last example will be the more angular, smaller, yet just as trendy glasses. These are mighty popular. As the picture notes, they are a "trandy" item.

There is also the look that is quite popular among the female population here - massive glasses with no lenses in them. I actually had several young female students today giving this look a try.


So here are some examples of eye-wear across this peninsula. There are more examples, but I've chosen a few to highlight what you may see if you land at Incheon International Airport. These trends are also fueled by the fact that there is literally a glasses/eye-wear shop every 100 steps you take. I can think of 7 within five minutes of my office. On the bright side, these glasses are cheap! I got fully outfitted in a brand new pair for about 50 dollars Canadian, lenses and all. So, if you come to Korea, keep your eyes open for the glasses that surround you, and grab yourself a pair for next to nothing. I can assure you, there are some pretty fantastic, exciting, and bizarre glasses just waiting to be tried on.

5) "Wait...What?" 

Korea is notorious for their t-shirts with extraordinarily poor English. Personally, I think it's absolutely fantastic because it makes for some excellent, authentic souvenirs. I've spotted innumerable stores selling these fashion items, and wouldn't hesitate to imply that it's a phenomenon. I've wondered ever since I went to China in 2009 whether they get Google translate in Asia. Certainly it wouldn't hurt to take a moment to double-check your English before mass-producing it, or putting it on your sign or t-shirt. I understand that Google translate isn't always accurate either, but pretend you're on the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and call a(n) (English) friend. I've found myself a few pretty quality t-shirts along the way, and so has Bri. I honestly crave wearing t-shirts like that in Canada and getting people reading, then double reading, then abandoning reading your shirt as you walk by. I won't be posting any of our own t-shirts here, but here are a few gems that have found their way into the hands of interested foreigners. 

Just to prove that these aren't anomalies, I will in fact post one of the shirts we've found so far. This shirt speaks, in completely nonsensical English, about a pleasant bike ride. Bri plays the role of fashion model for this one. I could find you a shirt with similar broken English 5 minutes after you touched down in Korea. They are everywhere, and it is absolutely wonderful.

Final Words on Fashion 

Now, I mentioned before that I'm not an authority on fashion. However, I'm an authority on the obscure, bizarre, and downright hilarious, and that's what I've covered today. You see, there is an entirely respectable (and very high-fashion) realm of Korean fashion, but it's simply no fun to cover that from a blogging perspective. So, what you've got here is everything about Korean fashion that puts a smile on my face, and continues to make my year here utterly worth it. Believe it or not, I've got less than 50 days left here in this country, and I'm starting to feel the nostalgia pouring on. You may think I'm poking fun at Korea with this blog, but in fact, these are some of the things I will miss the most. When I'm skyping from home with a friend who's still here in Korea, and they mention the new flip-flop trend, or the shiny suit that blinded them on their way to work, then I may shed a tear. These are the memories that I'll never forget about Korea, no matter how hard I try.


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