One of my frustrating fascinations with Korea is the collectivist culture in this society. In many facets there is a strive to conform and blend into the society as best as possible. This manifests itself in many ways. One of the clear depictions of this I see is the fashion trends that strike this nation.
Fashion trends exist in many countries on many different continents of course, but in Korea I feel that the trends are very limited and very much bound to age. When I arrived in Korea, like other Americans here, I wore my clothing from home. T-shirts, Levi’s jeans, comfortable, worn-in shoes, etc. I had my first and second Korean girlfriend both complain that I looked like an 아저씨 (old man). What? This was fashionable in the States (and in Guam from where I had come). I didn’t understand it at first, but after some time it became very apparent what they were talking about.
In Korea, people are expected to dress their age. Korean males in their late teens to early twenties often wear tight-fitting jeans, well-fitted and always immaculately pressed blazers when going out. Korean males a little older (I’d say 24-30ish) tend to wear this:
Notice how both men are wearing the same style of jacket, both have a clean, crisp ball cap, white shoes, blue jeans, and similar brown bags. Yes, there are other fashion styles among men, but only about 4-5 styles. If I were to see these guys from afar walking around in Europe, I would not hesitate in identifying them as Korean.
If I wear this style, I’m “in”. But, any deviation from this style, and I’m viewed as an 아저찌 (of course all the 아저씨s look the same too). Americans tend to like looser-fitting casual clothing, so do old Korean men.
This collectivist fashion trend continues for women as well. Young and old. Have a look at these 아줌마s. Yes, they are wearing different clothing, but it’s all the same style.