Exploring South Korea’s street style revolution: 90s K-pop nostalgia and the new K-punk aesthetic
At Seoul Fashion Week Spring Summer 2018, South Korean designers, models, K-pop stars and celebrities mingled inside Zaha Hadid’s cavernous spaceship-like Dongdaemun Design Plaza – while outside, a whole other scene was unfolding.
Blue-pink men’s undercuts, dip-dyed neon tips and a variety of other flamboyant hairstyles were spotted in the event’s unofficial street style area. The boxy bright jackets, cartoonish T-shirts, loud sneakers and bold-coloured Doc Martens creepers indicated the emergence of a new era of style — and perhaps even social attitudes — in South Korea, a country that has experienced much political and social turmoil in recent years.
Young Koreans and local fashionistas seem to have developed a devil-may-care attitude towards sartorial and self expression. And at Seoul Fashion Week, they showcased their creativity with an array of different looks ranging from what can only be described as 90s boybander (reminiscent of K-pop group H.O.T) to a rebellious K-pop-meets-punk style one might call “K-punk”.
Nineties-influenced looks ranged from brightly coloured plaid button-ups to oversized sunglasses with tinted lenses in hues of faded blue and burnt sienna.
Beyond eyewear, men and women alike also wore strong shades of eye make-up to complement the various tinges of colour circle contact lenses they had on in mostly blue, blue-greys and red.
“The trend for blue contact lenses started at the end of last year because Korean model Lee Sung-kyung naturally has light brown eyes, and many people admire them,” an attendee sporting blue contact lenses explained.
Piercings were another major accessory trend. In conservative, traditional South Korea, both men and women tend not to get facial or excessive ear piercings for the sake of gainful employment and to avoid prejudice.
This season, however, a handful of septum piercings could be seen. Many male and female fashionistas also showed their multiple ear piercings with loud, proudly dangling silver earrings, and long labels and tags fashioned into earrings.
“Sometimes people will come up to me to criticise my look,” said one man with a string of piercings along his ear lobes, “But I don’t care about what people say.”
Meanwhile, punk aesthetics — including brightly coloured David Bowie-influenced 70s mullets, along with skinhead looks complete with head-to-toe tattoos, and moto style leather jackets – graced the outdoor street style catwalk.
“I’m showing my inner self on the outside,” said Kim Yoon-ji, a stylist and aspiring fashion designer, who was wearing her own creations. “People are quite surprised when they see me dressed like this. They usually say nice things to me like ‘this is cool’ ... but [this look] could definitely be seen as an act of rebellion [in Korea].”
“I believe Korea [and its attitude towards fashion] need to change more. It needs to become more global. Instead of following trends that exist only in Korea, we need to work harder on showing what we can offer to the world.”
Seoul Fashion Week executive director and organiser Kuho Jung said the event’s burgeoning street style scene had helped promote individuality in outh Korea’s otherwise highly conforming society.
“Even if [the fans outside] cannot come in to see the shows, they can at least experience the mood together,” he said. “They have their own chance to express themselves in a way, and this also gives them more chances to buy from more [unique] individual designers [at the trade show here].
“[The street style scene] is kind of a performance. They cannot wear these items in everyday life. This is the only time, only moment for them to express themselves, so why not?”