I’ve always liked the idea of having a fashionable oppa (오빠) and for a time I fixed my standards to these men especially those of Korean dramas: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo’s Jung Joon Hyung, My First, First Love’s Tae O, and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim’s Lee Young Joon. I’ve lived in my fantasy as a female lead with these handsome fashionable men as my male leads (Well, it’s a fantasy so might as well dream about the finest men there are on planet Earth, right?).
Korean dramas have been my form of escape and entertainment and they quite struck down with me and more often than not, Korean male leads have set a high standard on men – I mean visually, personality, and style. And I know all the ladies watching out there are screaming how we’d all like to have one Korean male lead in our lives.
Looking back at all the kdramas I’ve watched, there has always been a holy trinity of things you would always find: First is the Korean beauty and skincare which most female leads follow in their nightly routine or injected somehow in the story or a scene. Second is a visually-appealing male lead with an equally visual god of a second lead which tugs a lady’s heart out of proportion. And third is top tier fashion style alluring the viewers of the scenic fashion culture in Korea.
Contemporary South Korean fashion has been growing a steady consumer base with the influence of K-idols and the popularity of kdramas. There are also fashion bloggers and vloggers alike who contribute to advancing the trend to a global scale. But before South Korea became a leading capital of fashion in South Asia and vying for a top spot in global fashion, how did it look?
History of Fashion in South Korea
Hanbok (한복) is the classic piece of Korea’s fashion and one of the most common fashion choices during the Joseon period from 1392-1897. Today, hanboks are still immensely present with historical kdramas, the incorporation in many cultural and historical landmarks in Korea such as enabling tourists to wear one while touring, and traditional Korean festivities and ceremonies. H
anboks can be very simple pieces mimicking the everyday life of most Koreans during that era but can also be lavish like royalties. A typical Korean hanbok consists of a blouse on top and loose-fitting pants or skirt for the bottom. Women wear what’s called a ‘jeongi’ (전기) which is a blouse or jacket paired with a ‘chima’ (치마) or skirt.
The 20th century of Korean fashion is marked by the Japanese occupation and entry of Western influence which powered the modernization of fashion. The conservative culture of hanbok evolved into men wearing suits and women with new hairstyles.
One of the most famous hairstyles back then was the ‘flapper’ style of the West which dubbed women as a ‘new woman’. Social lifestyles have urged changes in the fashion culture of Korea.
The militaristic style that has been used as common themes in many Kpop music videos traces back to the Second World War which pushed through the liberation of Korea from Japan and then into the Korean War. Hanbok was still worn up to this day though mainly by women and the war has also created a shortage in fabric which required clothing to be simple and made in dark colors.
By the 1950s following the end of the Korean War, the fashion culture slowly became vibrant with newer hairstyles born and swimsuits rising in popularity. One monumental fashion scene was the opening of the International Western Clothing Company in Seoul in December 1954. This has provided the first fashion education in South Korea and has also marked the production of clothing in Namdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Market.
And three years later, the first fashion show was held showcasing the collection of Korea’s first fashion designer, Nora Koh. It also marked another grand moment in Korea’s fashion history wherein fashion designing has been officially labeled as a new career.
The 1960s welcomed the new wave of fashion, the launch of Korea’s first fashion magazine Uisang, and the establishment and opening of the first professional modeling school. By the 1970s, fashion trends shifted from the designer to the consumer – that is, the consumers became the trendsetters. Off the rack clothing brands and brand-focused stores were also developed during this time.
Although modern fashion flourished alongside urbanization, the 1960s through 1970s also experienced a harsh and conservative environment under the rule of Park Chung Hee. Instead of cowering down, the youth utilized fashion as an expression of protest and resistance.
Punk clothing and miniskirts with bold accessories became the trend. Fashion movements did not stop with the assassination of Park Chung Hee in 1979. T-shirts, jumpers, blue jeans, Reebok shoes – the casual clothing line – became the embodiments of protests.
KPop which catalyzed the K-Fashion and K-beauty culture and industry entered the scene in the 1990s with Seo Tae-ji and Boys. Korean fashion designers were also getting international recognition by this time. From here on, KPop became a powerful influence over K-Fashion with its unique spin on fashion incorporated in their music videos as well as the personal influence of K-idols with their hashtag ootds.
Contemporary South Korean Fashion: The Evolution of Streetwear Fashion
The contemporary South Korean fashion is the leading fashion movement to this day and has a big consumer base and following across the globe. It is worn, innovated, and popularized by many K-idols like G-Dragon with his debut with the group Big Bang in 2006.
G-Dragon has been dubbed by Vogue as one of the biggest Asian fashion moguls. He had established his position in many elite fashion circles and he had grabbed himself luxury brand ambassadorships and associations with the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Givenchy way before luxury brands tied with Korean idols for endorsements. He was also credited with the current trend of airport fashion among idols.
In 2015, the prestigious fashion weeks happening over in the cities of Paris and Milan opened in Seoul further cementing South Korea in the global fashion industry. Seoul Fashion Week happens twice a year in March for the Summer/Spring and October for Fall/Winter. It is sponsored by the city of Seoul and conducted by In Motion WW and prides Seoul fashion as inclusive and diverse.
Seoul Fashion Week has three events. First is the Seoul Collection which features the high-end collection of Korean fashion. Second is the Generation Next which features a fashion design program for designers with 5-year experience or less which encourages unique appearance and creative thinking. And lastly is the Seoul Fashion Fair which aims to build partnerships to compete in the global fashion market.
Aside from the Seoul Fashion Week, big KPop idol groups have also been headlining local and international brands. The limelight of the fashion scene is expanding and is being defined by BTS and EXO in the male fashion arena while Blackpink and Red Velvet are taking the storm of luxury brand ambassadorships for women.
In recent fashion development and evolution, Jung Kuho, Executive Director of Seoul Fashion Week in an article published by hypebeast.com in 2017 shared that the Seoul fashion scene “is very much involved with street culture; the city is not really into high-end fashion but more so into affordable streetwear that is influenced by K-pop stars and K-entertainment.”
The fashion culture is fast and trend-driven. Logo hoodies, statement denim, and fun denim color the streetwear fashion landscape. Brands like Supreme, Balenciaga, OFF WHITE and Vetements are still in as Koreans are still crazy for it.
What walks on the runway, walks on the streets
Definitely what people see walking down the runway is reflective of the scene in the streetwear fashion of South Korea especially now that consumers are the trendsetters especially K-Idols and Kdrama actors.
Infusing the 2020 trends and the season, here’s how to dress up like an oppa this Fall (to make girls “fall” for you and of course, to be the most stylishly confident individual that you can be).
Campus Crush: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo’s Jung Joon Hyung
This drama has been one of the most famous romantic dramas in 2016 which told a coming-of-age story inspired by the life of Olympic gold medalist Jang Miran. Jung Joon Hyung played by Nam Joo Hyuk is a swimmer and a definite campus crush. I know ladies would love a bit of his sporty physique and clingy boyfriend vibes.
Athleisure is a trend that is here to stay. With the mix of comfort and style, everyone’s trying to cop out this style. In a story published by the Business Insider, Deirdre Clemente, a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said that “Athleisure is the new casual.”
It’s the sum of innovation. Activewear for athletes has always been on the lookout on creating better fabrics to improve the performance of their athletes and style brings more on the table especially in the consumer base. It has garnered the votes of celebrities and a common fashion style when they’re not walking the runway or going on a quick stylish weekend.
The athleisure style is also well-executed in the growing fashion of South Korea with idols using this style during their off-duty days or also known during preparation for a comeback season. It’s like the comfortable version of avant-garde fashion which mixes high-end style with functionality.
To dress as a campus crush, you can style with oversized items like oversized sweaters, large-sized hoodies, or baggy pants. This trend is reminiscent of the 90s grunge era which made its entrance in Seoul Fashion Week.
Oversized can be a drowning style so make sure you keep the balance when working on this one. You can cop out oversized sweaters – the style depends on your style and preference but it’s good to keep a simple pattern or style (like an asymmetrical hem) on your closet which you can use on many different occasions.
There’s also the large-sized hoodies which girlfriends like to steal and one of the staple campus crush trends. Baggy pants and loose fittings are also hot on the trend.
Accent It Up
Accent your looks with a baseball cap, a trendy school bag, and some classic or chunky sneakers and you’re good to go!
Cop Your Style with Korean Streetwear Brands
- D-Antidote – This brand gives a cyberpunk twist on the common American sportswear labelling their brand with mischievous streetwear lines. In an interview with D-Antidote designer Hwansung Park to Hypebeast, he said, “I think that the fashion here reflects the environment.” As he describes the flashy colors of the brand complementing Seoul’s modern vibes.
- Ader Error – In 2018, this brand was named by GQ as “the world’s coolest brand.” This brand aims to put up a new type of business beyond just becoming a fashion brand – a techy lifestyle choice. They’re the brand to go for chunky sneakers and oversized knit sweaters which features the style of “avant-garde twist on typical 90s tropes”
Boy Next Door: My First First Love’s Tae O
Starring Ji Soo, Jung Joon Young, and DIA’s Jung Chaeyeon, this web television series which features the struggles and happiness of five twenty-year-olds as they meet in the house of a common friend, Tae O. Tae O is your classic childhood best friend who would be with you through your ups and downs, a reliable rock, and donning the style of a true blue boy next door.
Korea experiences rather chilly and frigid weather most time of the year and jackets are one of the most staple items in the closet. And for this year’s trend, the jacket gets a unique Korean spin with dramatic puffed sleeves or leather jackets with edgy details like asymmetrical hems.
These are usually worn with simple white clothes underneath to make the jacket shine. If you’re looking for a next-door vibe, get one statement jacket!
Statement tees are level ups of your basic shirts which gives additional personality to your outfit and definitely screams boy next door (boyfriend) look. You can style it up with a denim jacket to give a more defined look.
This trend is not a surprising one but one that has become more dramatic over thus the name. The tears are larger this time evolving from the subtle cuts of your usual ripped jeans but like with oversized items, keep it on a balanced tone and explore pairings that will suit your preferences. A more refined top will surely make your destroyed denim work.
Accent It Up
You accent up your look with a pair of glasses for that extra cool vibe or replicate the denim on denim style! You can also turn it up with neon colors to fit in with another trend and if you want to definitely stand out in the crowd. Finish it with a bucket hat or some really cool sneakers.
Cop Your Style with Korean Streetwear Brands
- Thisisneverthat – Some go as far to call this as Korea’s answer to Supreme (a brand beloved by all streetwear enthusiasts and has become a craze in South Korea worn by big names like BTS). This brand works on a wide variety of clothing items. Its style is minimal and fits into the hype of urban fashionistas who “pretend they don’t need a label”.
- Kichwork – Kichwork is mainly a girls apparel but caters to a unisex audience and style and has an arsenal design for “logo tees” featuring their brand. For their fall and winter collection, they usually dive in for a darker and elusive palette and switching it up to colors during summer and spring.
Rich CEO: What is Wrong with Secretary Kim’s Lee Young Joon
This is a romance drama featuring the narcissistic second generation heir Lee Young Joon played by Park Seo Joon and his highly capable secretary who has worked with him for nine years, Kim Mi So played by Park Min Young.
As Mi So expresses her desire to resign and finally do something for herself, Lee Young Joon tries to win her back through a debacle of boyfriend-like courtship. Though Lee Young Joon can be a bit too much about himself, he is a total boyfriend material who can actually give you your whims! Not to mention that he is too cute! (Shh, welcome to the PSJ fan club.)
For the rich CEO look, you can never go wrong with a monochrome look which is one of fashion’s classic styles… of course when done right. It’s a cool guy chic vibe which has become a sort of uniform of Korean men. A monochrome look doesn’t have to be boring. All you need to do is play with shades and textures and color accents to perfect the look. For example, you can do an all-black outfit and accentuate with a bit of color on your accessories or take an all-blue outfit playing with washed-up jeans and different shades of blue and denim.
Accent It Up
This look can be leveled up with a bit of color. A logomania blazer or jacket which can add personality to the look. There are also your trench coats which add texture and a classic vibe. Some Doc Martens kind of shoes can also add more streetwear vibe to your look.
Cop Your Style with Korean Brands
- YouthLab – This brand is an arsenal of “understated wardrobe staples reinvented with progressive textiles and generous silhouettes sold by many influential Korean retailers. They offer trench coats, drizzler jackets, sweaters, and jeans.
- KUSIKOHC – This Korean streetwear brand is founded by renowned photographer Cho Gi-Seok. He has three different categories for his collection: Showpiece, Ready-to-wear, and Jewelry which are all styled in avant-garde fashion. The brand offers some jacquard suits which can definitely amp a rich CEO style.