In Korea, appearance is everything. While this fact applies to all aspects of Korean life from business representation to food presentation, it’s especially true in one’s personal looks. Plastic surgery is the norm, as it is believed it will give one the edge in landing a big company job or will catch the eye of a rich bachelor. Women spend hundreds of dollars on whitening creams to lighten their skin and even more on eyelash extensions and hair treatments. Even kids have perms. Yet, one of the most noticeable aspects of Korean appearance is that of fashion.
From my observations, it seems that fashion in Korea is more about looking good and less about the expression of personal style. Though Koreans have the perfect body frame and skin tone to pull off any style in any color, they generally seem to follow the trends of celebrities. One doesn’t have to travel far to find the same styles donned by the celebs; the wares of each and every clothing store in Seoul are almost identical. Luxury items are also a sign of social status; women wait for hours in line at Louis Vuitton all to leave having purchased the same handbag. I guess it’s understandable in a way. Seeing as Korea is a Confucian society, where individualism is believed to upset the balance of the whole group, it’s not surprising that many of its people are seemingly indistinguishable as far as appearance is concerned.
Despite the similarities in appearances and in fashion, there are some younger Koreans who are going against the grain and differentiating themselves with their unique sense of style and their ability to create their own fashion trends. My friend Dada is one of these types. As a student at Dongduk Women’s University, a school known for its fashion program, and a freelance designer, she is contributing to the creative force that is pushing Seoul forward to be the next big fashion capital of the world. I was unable to attend this year’s fashion week so I was super pumped when Dada invited me to her school’s graduation fashion show this past week.
When I arrived at the venue, Dada immediately brought me backstage to meet her friends who had pieces in the show. She was eager to show me various designs that they no doubt spent weeks working on. It was pretty hectic as everyone made their last minute preparations so we headed to our seats. I didn’t know what to expect, seeing as it was my first fashion show and all, but I was immediately excited as the lights started flashing and the high-energy catwalkin’ music came on.
There were various concepts presented throughout the event and each clothing item was designed with that particular inspiration. Some of the concepts included machinery, classic cinema, and famous artwork by Monet and Klimt. Most of the clothes were of the high fashion class and not really wearable; still, I was highly impressed by the amount of creativity invested in each piece. My favorite pieces belonged to the Korean/Asian inspired theme. The concept included dresses designed in the likeness of a sogonghu, a traditional Korean harp, and hanoks, traditional Korean houses.
After the show, the graduates (about 100 of them) made their way down the catwalk, collecting flowers from their families and friends cheering them on. Judging by their enthusiasm and obvious talent for design, I’m sure many of them will end up becoming famous designers in both the Korean and international fashion scenes. It’s my hope that as these young women (and men) help Korea to make its mark on the world that they also inspire their peers to express a similar creativity in their lives. As for me, I can only try to be as half as cool or creative as these fashionistas as I abandon my Mississippian t-shirt/flip-flop look in search of a more trendy, Korean style. We’ll see how that turns out.