During the holidays, I returned to my mother’s homeland for the second time, to further absorb the culture I was geographically isolated from in my early youth. If you know anything about Korea, it’s probably about the cosmetics and cosmetic surgery. The cosmetic stores were my first visit’s focus; this time I decided there was more to the country’s bona fide beauty.
Appearances are so important that you can find mirrors in the train stations and even along the indoor roller coaster waiting line, to turn up-dos into down-dos for maximum hair tousling. It got to a point where everyone in the city was so well dressed, because their stores are so well stocked and varied in colour, style, and texture, that my eyes hurt from trying to focus on every detail. (And believe me, it was difficult to shop.)
The broad trends were skirts attached to leggings with fuzzy linings, which are incredibly, meltingly soft on your warmed skin, and spacious, rotund tops or jackets, to accentuate twiggy legs. Korea has an endless selection of knits—be meticulous in your choosing, or you might buy them all. Korean couples often dress similarly and like to get the same coat or jacket during the winter season. Not just with a similar style, brand, or colour; they wear exactly the same outerwear. Beanies may be included.
I noticed two kinds of older women. One wore beautiful (perhaps faux) fur coats and pearls, while the other wore what I like to call Ajumma-pants. “Ajumma” is Korean for aunt or middle-aged woman. These pants poof slightly around the hips and thighs, narrow towards the ankle, and are made with comfortable, quilt-like materials for laborious movement. These are paired with jackets of the same material, that resemble the top of a Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, though the jacket comes together at the front with a bulbous knot rather than a long, draping silk ribbon.
The micro-fashion around Myeong-dong is adorably squeal-worthy, with little girls in emerald fur coats, prim white dresses and black ballet flats, and infants in starry-eared pompom beanies. It’s no wonder the children are even more well dressed than their guardians, because they make such perfect models for reinventing outfits.
I came to love Å-land (a-land.co.kr), which has been described as the Korean Urban Outfitters, but is exceedingly better by all accounts. I can only describe the surface, because it would have taken me the whole holiday to properly examine the offerings. The store, which has four or five levels in total, is generously supplied with clothing and accessories from brands that were unfamiliar to me, yet produce quality articles. To the best of my memory, some levels had a unique feature: the basement had shelves and shelves of scarves; the first floor was laden with too many socks; the penultimate floor’s walls were coated in accessories by a brand called 3.3 Field Trip; and the topmost floor held mostly vintage items, with rustic interiors and handmade watches.
There’s also a second chapter called Å-2 Page. I purchased a set of 3.3 Field Trip hair elastics that seem to be the novel take on hairbands lately (but it could be a chicken and egg scenario). They’re really just wider, flatter elastic bands that end in a knot rather than a metal clasp, but I do find them vaguely prettier. They remind me of the ballet ribbons I used to tie around my ankles. Rachael from Shore Society (blog.shoresociety.com) posted a DIY project on them, so you can make your own with materials of your choice.
I also got one too many ear cuffs from an accessory store called Redeye. They’re simple and small, backed by faux pearls and fronted with skulls, roses, or glittering golden spheres. Due to the lack of occasion, I’m holding off on the larger cuffs that cradle the whole ear, like the fast-selling beauties by Molten Store (moltenstore.com) or Ryan Storer, whose designs you can find at net-a-porter.com.
If you ever decide to explore south of the country, be sure to visit Myeong-dong. The winter is cold, but the brown sugar pancakes (hoddeok) and ox-bone soup (seolleongtang) will warm your Seoul. Annyeong haseyo!