Ok, so this week’s question is a really interesting one. We’re asked about Korea’s idea of modesty in clothing. Is showing cleavage taboo? How short can short shorts go? What can you show, and what can’t you show?

It took us a while to get used to Korea’s version of what seems to be appropriate and inappropriate in clothing. We hear about Korea being very conservative a lot of the time. Kpop songs are banned for saying bad things, like GD & TOP’s “Knock Out,” or for being too sexy as in Sistar’s “How Dare You.” In the case of GD&TOP, we were really confused, because we didn’t understand what’s so bad about what they’re saying. Maybe because we’re North American and we’ve seen a lot worse? Which is why in the case of Sistar’s “30 second stripped pole” appearance, we were also shocked. Sure, it’s not the best material to show young kids, but ban-worthy?

Live performances of Kpop songs supposedly have very strict regulations as to how much flesh you can show on stage, which also kind of makes us laugh, not because the ideas of modesty are laughable, but because we’re so overexposed to improprieties now that what we see in Kpop performances seems tame. It does seem interesting, however, to note that kpop males groups can easily get away with showing their stomachs in a performance as well as dance around shirtless with open dress jackets, or even take pictures while underage in their underwear and…heels…*coughteentopcough*. Yet female groups can get in big trouble for showing their mid-drift…but only sometimes, like in the case of Rainbow’s “A” which was forced to change their dance for being inappropriate, yet Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop” dance and Rania’s “Dr.Feel Good” was aired with no problems. We’re not saying that these two songs should be banned as well, but it seems to us that the criteria for the Korean censorship board is a little confusing to understand.

Which is why we were so shocked, and continue to be shocked, by Korean mini-skirts. Holy crap Batman! Korean skirts are shoooooort. SHOOORT! Like, wow short. Aren’t legs considered to be sexy? We’re amazed at how short the dresses and shorts and skirts are here. Martina goes shopping for clothing and finds skirts that see thinks are belts. Or maybe we’ve been out of Canada for too many years now, but we’re sure for sure for sure that when we were in Toronto last summer we didn’t see anything as short as what we’re seeing here. It’s like, the dresses go up as much as comfortably possible, juuuust before unmentionables can be seen, and there have been times here in which we’ve seen more than we’d have like to have seen.

Korean Miniskirts

Korean Miniskirts - Worn Year Round

Also, we have to add that miniskirts are worn year round. DON’T DENY THIS! We’ve seen girls in freezing winter with mini-skirts and high heels on, and that completely blows our minds. Sure, they’re not as common in the winter as they are in the summer, but – we swear – we have no clue how people aren’t fully bundled up in the winters here, which are belligerently cold! And we’re saying this as Canadians…from Canadia! We don’t know how Korean people do it: they don’t seem to sweat as much as we do in the summer or shiver as much in the winter. It’s…amazing.

Let’s add to this by saying that not everybody dresses this way, so don’t get the idea that Korea’s a mini-skirt paradise with hot girls walking around everywhere showing off their long legs in high heels. All we’re saying is that we’re surprised at how shorter short skirts considering how modest they are regarding many other things.

And on that note, tops are muuuuch more conservative here. Much more. There aren’t a lot of low cut tops and not a lot of cleavage being shown. Bare shoulders aren’t seen often (but it’s getting more popular, noticeably in the three years that we’ve been here) and there aren’t a lot of low-cut backs either. The policy almost seems to be “cover the tops, bottoms be damned!”

TVXQ Sofa Suit

Only TVXQ can wear sofas

Now, this isn’t necessarily easy to see in Kpop videos, which aren’t an accurate reflection of what the rest of Korea wears. In fact, Martina got in a conversation with her students about it before when she asked them why they don’t wear tank tops without shrugs or boleros, they responded “oh! Only idols can wear things like that!” As if different rules apply to idols! Idols are human, too! They also have parents who surely see them on TV and sigh and TSK disapprovingly. But one thing is for sure, the outfits idols wear on stage don’t follow them into everyday life. When kpop idols post selcas (Konglish for a self taken pictures) of themselves online traveling between shows (or enjoying their day off…haha…do they ever get a day off) the are most often in baggy t-shirts, hoodies, or other comfy looking articles of clothing. Nonetheless, the mini-skirts, short-shorts, and super high heels still match nicely with a baggy t-shirt. ^^

TL;DR – Korea’s more modest when it comes to tops, but not as modest when it comes to bottoms.

  1. So, I’m a Pakistani, American raised Muslim, would I fit in in Korea?

  2. So why do the female kpop stars, get pretty darn sexual in music videos when the culture is to cover up? Not to say all videos are like that, but would you say they do it because they have to based on their agreements or because they want to. And if they choose to why are these music videos being banned in the first place

  3. Um, i actually have a question, i’m going to South Korea at 16th June-22 June, there will be a tour guide, but, when u go shopping in Korea, are there some things that u should not buy AT ALL? And, will a Korean like, uh, gives u a nasty look when u cannot speak Korean well? Cuz, rumors are flying around in fb(my frens).. :/ And i will like to have a pack-up list issued to me before i go overseas. But there was none issued to me and, i was hoping if u could provide me with more info bout packin to Korea? I already saw one of ur videos, so, i was hopin for more, ya. (:

  4. When I lived Moscow I did wear short skirts (“normal” short skirts not like K-miniskirt!) in Winter time and didn’t feel cold! lol

  5. Not to be rude, I don’t mean it in that way but Korean women are smaller in terms of body size generally – far as I have noticed. So these shorter shorts don’t really look revealing on them – is it just me? I mean most women in the west, like myself, are bigger generally, so if I am even the same height as an average Korean girl, possibly same weight too, I still won’t pull off those shorter shorts because I am way to curvy in some areas, where shorter shorts would make my butt for example exposed – make me look like some hooker. However a average Korean girl to me, they seem to have less fat in their butts and whatnot – you know, they have curves on them, but slim curves, so they look ‘normal’ not sluty, but cute and pretty whatnot…whereas a lot of women in the west tend to have much more fuller curves…just bigger lol. I envy them sometimes, and sometimes my curves come in handy ;)

    • Yeah, I’m a tall white girl with a normal-sized butt, and I’ll see skirts and dresses in stores that will literally not cover my ass. I always wondered who in the heck even could wear things like that when one of my Chinese friends wore a skirt that went about a centimeter past her butt. And it was cute. And did not ride up like mine did. And I could never wear that.
      Short shorts don’t discriminate against tall people though. I wear those things every day.

    • That’s kind of true. I would get in trouble for shorts not being arm length in elementary school, but I was REALLY TALL so other girls could wear short shorts and never get caught. 

  6. oh lookie! i found the female version of the sofa print here :D (http://j.mp/n4yGjs)

  7. Yeah … Everytime I’ve been to Korea in summer, I was always watched angrily … Because of my naked shoulders and shorts. And make-up. And nail polish. Hmpf. :/
    In my hometown, it’s totally normal to go out with only a top and a skirt or shorts. Sometimes Korea is so prude … :/

    Libra from Berlin (Germany)

  8. kimchi is not only made with cabbage. there are over 100 different kinds of kimchi and each person has their own preference.

  9. “ Aren’t legs considered to be sexy?” THAN YOU for this comment ^___________^
    I really had a hard time trying to convince my non-kpoper friends that its ok to show-off ur LEGS as long as u cover ur belly button & yea they all went : HUH ?! then burst out laughed at me T_T 
    And when my sister watched Ga-In’s irreversible perf. *when she wore a long sweater* she said: “she’s dancing with only a sweater on >.> *sigh* i guess a sweater to us is a dress to them.” LOL sorry, but its true XD and in my opinion, no offence to anyone, they wear short mini skirts to look taller. THAT’S THE ONLY EXPLANATION that convinced me.

  10. Hi
    First of all, you guys are awesome. I stumbled upon your videos on youtube and have been following you since.
    I do have a question for you. I am interested in going to Korea for a short trip, say 7~10 days, What places would you recommend? I am more interested in places with historical significance than scenic beauty

  11. “OPPA” thing……. YES

    Kimchi tastes like……..umm…… i can’t explain, but u will like it.

  12. On a casual day, I love the ‘Abercrombie style’..front-buttoned-double-layered tanks, hipster shorts and flipflops/sneakers and never fail to receive weird stares…like they’ve nothing seen it before. lolx..  And..I went to school like that..

  13. Sofa suit..pfft..*snickers*..classic..just classic.>XD

  14. LOL, sofa suit…

    Poor Yunho<3

  15. LOL i learn a new word today! MAPRON FTW!!! :DD

  16. You gotta admit, Jonghyun still really pulls of his mapron in Lucifer though. XD

  17. How to wear miniskirts in winter: LEGGINGS that are like 1 cm thick. You don’t realise they’re that thick until you feel them. I bought some in China, it was -25 C and I wore skirts. Didn’t freeze at all! :D

  18. People tend to confuse what singer would wear and take it as what ordinary citizens would wear, like your question kinda says. But it is all stage outfits. Most of the time singer will where what the fashion of the time is on the streets. 

  19. I wish to never sweat!!!! I feel really uncomfortable wearing anything that cover my shoulders( well, mostly when it is to close to my arm pits, if it is something long that is not stick to my skin then it is ok XD)

    I live in the Puerto Rico and believe me, the weather in this island is
    spring- hot hot
    summer- hot hot hot hot, summer (XD)
    autumn- hot hot
    winter- hot
    so it is hot all year, and I prefer short clothes, and here girls always wear super short shorts!!! like really short, they look like bikinis sometimes( I never wear them that short) but I do love to show my legs XD
    I think that when I go to korea, I will use my mini skirts and shorts, but I wont cover my shoulders, I dont want to sweat a lot there XD lol

  20. Hhahaha  Lol i love how DBSK is brought in a lot of your videos XDDD
    Lol Junsu ~ yah like Simon said Sexy man-apron XDDD Lol 
    Sofas didnt catch on alright Changmin….But Hey TVXQ looks Hot in ANYTHING :D so it doesnt matter ….
    Martina Thanks for telling us about the ‘no showing shoulders’ ……


  22. hey look :D. Yunho got a manpron toooo XD

  23. Its true, a lot of the dresses that I’ve bought in Korea are so short, They’re more like long tops on me- I’m taller than the average Korean girl, but not by that much! I’m just not comfortable wearing them without shorts or leggings underneath. 

    I wear short skirts in the winter too and I live in Rochester, NY -Snow capital of the USA. It’s actually not as cold as you would think. 

  24. Id fit right in. XD 

    I always have a little jacket on over my tank tops….even in the summer.  But it’s mainly because I have a nasty scare on my shoulder that I don’t like people to stare at. I even swim with this big long sleeve cover up shirt thing on.  I’m sooooooo pale because of it too. I don’t even like wearing skirts/dresses with out tights on and I normally don’t wear shorts.  
    I’m actually Hispanic…but because I’m so white no one knows it. XD  I actually get mistaken for being Asian more than anything else – which is rather funny.  

  25. Dear Simon and Martina,
     I will be visiting South Korea soon. As a teenager, what are some things i should know about culturally or just in general that you think or wish you had know before you went to Korea?

  26. I was in Korea recently and if girls weren’t wearing leggings/tights/jeggings/skinny jeans, they were wearing tight skirts (TIGHT) or shorts that were cut off just below their butts and heels longer than my head (or some of the ladies were just wearing flats or converse shoes). Baffling to me since Korean girls are always so adamant about trying to keep their skin as pale as possible.

    Korean idols are more considered to be eye candy, so it’s really okay for them to dress in the least modest way possible, because it’s to be expected. That’s what I’ve perceived, anyway.

  27. Omg! I really expected to stand out this August in Korea but now I think I’ll stand out even more cause I’m a fashionista & I hate to go around wearing just a T-shirt & jeans or shorts. I prefer tank tops & low cuts & strapless overalls & I refuse to wear anything but that. So I guess I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. :P

  28. So are boy backs considered as sexy as girl backs? ‘Cause then Jonghyun’s outfit in Lucifer is pretty much the sexiest thing in a Korean MV, ever. (And “mapron” was pretty much the first thing I thought when I saw it.)

  29. “Thats a saxy Abe Lincoln”
    I want to see that costume!!!!

  30. This makes me so glad that I went to Korea when it was still considerably cold ’cause… I has to have mah tank tops some times WITHOUT a cover-up. >_>

    But yes, I saw many a mini skirt and dresses. At least most of them were accompanied by tights/leggings, which… sort’ve helps with heat. xD;;

  31. Oh man, the references to JYJ and TVXQ had me absolutely rolling.
    There are a bunch of strangers in my house too, so I’m trying really hard not to make any sound while laughing…

  32. That is kinda crazy. So much leg, and so little top. But I guess, in way, it’s kind of refreshing. I do get tired of the second butt crack [located on the chest] sometimes. Haha. 

  33. yeah TVXQ have a good fashion sense ! LOL and JYJ also, the apron for man one …Junsu suit it !!!

  34. i don’t understand the whole idol uniform thing!! don’t the boys and girls of Korea want to imitate there idols?? how do the celebrities parents feel about there kids dressing like that?? on the other hand its really nothing compared to some of the garbage music videos we have in the USA!!

  35. I don’t know why they care so much about cleavage if most girls don’t even have big breasts… I understand when a skinny wears a tank top, nothing shows, but if a girl with big books wears the same tank top the things change… So what’s the problem about showing shoulders? D: Weird… I think I would die there, I hate t-shirts xD I only like tank tops and strapless dresses.

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