I think it’s about time I did a travel post. Well this is actually a travel and fashion post because… why not. When I left for South Korea in 2012 I wasn’t thinking about fashion. My thoughts on that flight ranged from would the North Koreans attack and we’d all die? To would I survive the apocalyptic Korean winter? (I did, but only just).
Before I left people said I’d experience various forms of culture shock. I was away from home in a strange country, with a culture very different from my own. I kept waiting for this ‘shock’ to set in. It didn’t. What did happen was that I fell in love with the Korean people and their style. Oh man these people can dress! Soon my eyes were open to a world where couples match at all times, trainers went with everything, and androgyny was the order of the day.
I lived in South Korea’s capital Seoul, which is the fashion capital of the country. It is also slowly making a name for itself in the worldwide fashion industry. It is rare to find a Korean in Seoul that doesn’t have street style to die for. What I loved was that anything goes. Some go for outrageous colour, some for patterns. Some go for flowing neutral garments, while others prefer skin-tight. Don’t forget the platforms or Dr. Martens either. I’ve never seen such an array of colours and patterns on Dr. Martens as I saw on the streets of Seoul.
Having just stepped out of my ‘white privilege Cape Town bubble’ I found their non-conforming style a breath of fresh air. Of course if you want to find conservative Koreans you don’t have to look too far. I wasn’t interested in them. I was too busy enjoying pastel coloured hair, over sized shirts and vintage denim.
I knew I had to get a piece of this. So I did what the Koreans do best. I shopped. My favourite shopping experience was the Gwangjang Vintage Clothing Market. Now, if you’re into vintage clothing and you have the patience to find this place (and you happen to be in Seoul). I would recommend a visit. First of all accept the fact that you WILL get lost. Deep breaths. The easiest way is via the subway. Take subway line no. 1 (the blue line) and get off at Exit 8 or 12, Jongno 5-ga Station. From there take a photo of the address in Korean script here:
서울특별시 종로구 창경궁로 88 (예지동) (88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul).
Then show it to a Korean, and they will direct you. Trust me, this way is better. The market is very well known so most Koreans in that area will know where to go. You could of course walk around for hours trying to find it yourself.
This market is one of the oldest markets in Korea. It originated in 1905 during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which lasted for almost 35 years. Don’t be fooled as you walk in. The first floor is a food market. It’s packed with delicious, and not so delicious traditional Korean food (think pig heads and trotters). You need to get to the second and third floors. That’s where the vintage market is. If you’re confused just act out shopping for clothes to one of the stallholders and they will direct you. I found this worked quite well.
Once you make it, enjoy all the market has to offer. The majority of the clothes are real brands from either Japan or America. You may find a fake here or there but generally I found the quality in Korea to be excellent. You can also flex your bargaining muscles. I got my favourite sheepskin leather bomber jacket by playing rock, scissor, paper! (Well actually my boyfriend did while I egged him on). This jacket is my one true love after Baxter. If anything, you get to rub shoulders with Seoul’s hip and trendy youngsters, and they can show you how it’s done.
Korea is a cultural oxymoron. Foreigners use the expression ‘Oh Korea’ to express their frustrations at the constant ambiguity. It is way ahead in some ways, and completely backward in others. Yet, it will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first time living overseas. The young people are open, friendly and a little shy. Yet they make up for shyness in flamboyant trends and an ‘I don’t give a dam if my shorts are too short’ attitude. I can’t wait to go back one day… to shop of course.
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