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TL;DR – Modesty in Korean Fashion

July 22, 2011


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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.



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TL;DR – Modesty in Korean Fashion


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

    8 years ago
  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

    8 years ago
  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. (:

    8 years ago
  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

    8 years ago
  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 ;)

    8 years ago
    • 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.

      7 years ago
    • 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. 

      8 years ago