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Do Foreigners Have to Be Fashionable in Korea?

October 4, 2012


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A question about Korean fashion and style! But, more than just about the trends and style: how important is it to be stylish in Korea if you’re a foreigner? Will you not “fit in” if you’re not stylish? Is there more pressure put on foreigners, because they’re foreigners? If so, how has our style changed because of living in Korea?

Well, we kinda answer both questions, but disagree with the bridge between them. Yes, we have changed our style while living in Korea, and yes, it has changed because of Korea, but we didn’t change it because of a desire to fit in or to be more accepted. We’re foreigners, and we’ve come to accept that we’ll always be viewed as outsiders.

Now, don’t take that in a super-negative way. It’s not like we’re sneered at or excluded from anything. Korean people are always super nice to us, friendly, helpful, and generous. But we always get the “Oh! You’re a foreigner!” kind of deal, in which we’re always reminded that we’re outsiders, rather than a part of Korea, you know? Even our friends who have mastered the Korean language or married their Korean partner will still be viewed as “foreigners” by Korean people that don’t know them, and they will never really have to fit the rules of Korean society completely, even if they do follow all the rules out of respect. Of course it’s not like we try to avoid fitting in as a result. In fact it’s the opposite, but we’re still SEEN as outsiders who don’t “have to” do what Korean people do to fit in. Know what we’re trying to say?

Now the really difficult situation is when you LOOK Korean but weren’t raised in Korea, thus you are a foreigner, but Korean people don’t fully accept you as one. Our Canadian and American friends who are of Korean descent actually have a pretty hard time in Korea, especially if they don’t speak Korean because they are expected to act and speak a certain way, even though they have nothing to do with Korean society apart from their appearance. So, in our opinions, fitting into Korean society has nothing to do with how stylish you look, but how Korean you look. Anyhow, this topic could be further delved into, but for today’s topic, we’re going to focus back on the actual question being asked!

We did, however, still change our style in Korea, because we were inspired by how bloody stylish everyone seems to be here. Our change is less out of a desire for acceptance and more out of admiration. After seeing how amazing everyone looked all the time, we felt ourselves asking “why can’t we do that”?

Let me tell you a story of what really changed my (Martina) idea of fashion: when we go to the airport in Korea, we’re amazed at how Korean people look incredibly stylish even though they’re taking a 10 hour flight wherever. Back in the day, we always used to fly in our scrubbiest of clothing: PJs, jogging pants, flip-flops, etc, but after flying back and forth from Korea to Canada, I saw lots of incredibly dressed people that would get on the airplane with us in style, sleep like us, and then freshen up (change, put on some makeup) and pop off the plane in Toronto like they were coming off a fashion runway. Meanwhile, we got on the plane looking pre-exhausted and got off looking even more exhausted.

So after three years of flying in my PJs, I decided to try to look as stylish as the Korean people I saw at the airports. I wore a long black super comfy dress and wore a pair of comfy fold-up travel sparkle slippers. I packed a comfy hoodie, a brush, and some very simple makeup in my carry-on. I got on the plane feeling like a million bucks, snuggling happily in my oversized dress and hoodie, and before landing I popped into the washroom to run a brush through my hair and put on a little makeup. Despite the 14 hour flight to Toronto, I FELT AWESOME AND CONFIDENT! As soon as I saw my family they all exploded with compliments about how lovely I looked in my dress and how perky I looked!

I was just so shocked to see how different I felt just by how I was dressed. It was like my PJs were telling me to be mopey and sleepy and my dress was telling me to hold my head up high and strut off the plane! So after this simple test, I decided to try on more of the cute dresses I’ve always wanted to wear but thought I couldn’t pull off. I seriously feel bubbly and happy in a puffy dress; I feel like I’m out of an anime or something, and I know when I feel sad and mopey I tend to go towards jeans and a huge hoodie to sulk under. No cupcake earrings that day. So for me, my emotions can be affected by the clothing that I wear, and although it may not be that way for everything, I still recommend trying a test on yourself to see if different clothing, a change in your hairstyle, or an addition of makeup can affect your confidence or attitude for the day! Hokay. Martina’s big odd rant over! BTW, is this just me or does anyone else notice a link between their clothing and attitude?



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