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The Seoul-Tokyo Fast Fashion Connection and the Evolution of the Korean Paepi

The Korean textile/fashion industry has played a much larger role in the development of Asian fashion than many know. When talking about Korean fashion, it is easy to see what's apaprent, what you see. Some might mark a point, perhaps 2006, 2009, 2012, when Korean street fashions were perhaps worth looking at. Some liketo only look at the high fashion sector, at the designers and their fashion designer associations, or focus solely on Korea's premier fashion event, Seoul Fashion Week. However, these ways of looking at things only focus on the easily visible, the parts of fashion that are easy for the eye to see, the parts that even the neophyte can easily observe. 

There two main things I am going to point out here, in this mental bookmark article I am developing into a paper:

1) Pronto moda fashion technology and infrastructure:
That the QR (quick response) technologies of the uniquely Korean PBHs (private-branded hives) housed in Dongdaemun actually enabled the production of the diverse and unusual styles, accessories, and accoutrements worn and used by the street fashion-leading kogal of Tokyo in the 1990s. In short, the research (and any OG fashion figure one might ask in Korea) shows that there would have been no Japanese street fashion movement -- no Shibuya and Harajuku in the way we know them today -- without Dongdaemun, its silent economic partner. And even today, the growth of the PBH's (from Migliore to Doota to APM) predominance in Korea's fashion economy would not have happened without Tokyo street fashion and the Japanese market as its major client. It's a two-way street, so Korea's DDM and the PBH evolved in an environment that required (and shaped) its evolution; here would be no growth in Korean street fashion in the way we see it today on the streets of Seoul without the QR-cycle-battle-hardened, fast fashion market sharpened, fickle fashion cylcle honed PBH style of production in Dongdaemun. You don't get the ludicrously cheap prices and buffet-like extreme variety of fashion choices (often illegal knockoffs of looks taken directly from picture on ther Internet) that enables young Korean women to look exactly like and wear the clothing Sienna Miller was wearing in a picture of her within 48 of its being updloaded and disseminated across the world without the accelerated QR/pronto moda/fast fashion technology of the DDM PBH complex and places like it. And you don't get the latter without the 1990s Japanese street fashion market driving and sharpening it. (Kim and Kincade, 2009)

2) Demographic/societal changes backgrounding the rise Korean street fashion.
As in most things development related, the Japanese either experienced it first or set it into motion before Korea, but in a very similar way, given the demographic similarities and direct developmental connections between the two countries. Kawamura points out that in the Japanese case in the 1990s, an economic recession had destroyed not only old ways of thinking, but forced a shift to lower prices and a move away from the older way of branded items and outlets. This, along with the beginning of a sharp population decline, changed the way teens saw their futures. In combination with the prospect of probable unemployment even with a college degree, not to mention relative decrease in competition for spots in universities, create the social possibility for exploring life paths and identities outside of the study-college-job-marriage matrix for young girls. Hence, the environmental conditions for the eventual evolution of the kogal. (Kawamura, 2006) Sound familiar, Korea people? 

In Korea, now you have the rise of the "pae-pi" (from the first parts of the Korean pronunciation of the English words "fashion people") who are mostly young women known for their sartorial sharpness, who have started occupying a status of street celebrities, driven by fame on the Internet. Here's an interview with one such paepi (who is hesitant to dare describe herself as a paepi), a series of which I've already started on the "Street Fashion Research" section of this site.

In any case, the existence of the paepi and Dongdaemun are inextricably linked. This is a relationship and a phenomenon I plan to explore with both visual and sociological data in an extended form elsewhere, after more extensive ethnographic research. As the bad guy says in all the Hollywood movies, "This is just the beginning..."

Throwback Seoul Street Fashion: Dongdaemun Reggae Couple, 2007.

Key References:
Azuma, Nobukaza. "Pronto Moda Tokyo-Style - Emergence of Collection-Free Street Fashion in Tokyo and the Seoul-Tokyo Fashion Connection." International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. (2002)

Byun, Sang-Eun and Brenda Sternquist. "Fast Fashion and in-Store Hoarding: The Drivers, Moderator, and Consequences." Clothing and Textiles Research Journal,  (2011).

Kim, Sookhyun and Doris H. Kincade. "Evolution of a New Retail Institution Type: Case Study in South Korea and China." Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. (2009)

Kawamura, Yuniya. "Japanese Teens as Producers of Street Fashion." Current Sociology,  (2006).

Entwistle, Joanne and Agnès Rocamora. "The Field of Fashion Materialized: A Study of London Fashion Week."

Suzuki, Tadashi and Joel Best. "The Emergence of Trendsetters for Fashions and Fads: Kogaru in 1990s Japan." The Sociological Quarterly.

Thompson, Craig J. and Diana L. Haytko. "Speaking of Fashion: Consumers' Uses of Fashion Discourses and the Appropriation of Countervailing Cultural Meanings."

 

 

 

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Fashion-in-Context: Seoul Fashion Week SS2015 Real Street Looks

This is a real-deal mini-lookbook of street fashion looks from Seoul Fashion Week SS 2015. These are all shots of real folks who were outside-looking-in and hoping to get caught and shot up a bit by roving street fashion photographers. They aren't all necessarily of the usual street fashion suspects, who are generally super fashion forward and peacocked to the nines, ready to dominate the visual landscape wherever they might go. This is a more real and representative selection of the interesting, colorful, wonderfully weird, or just plain visually noteworthy folks who populate the real visual landscape of Seoul. I always try to remember that street fashion isn't always about the clothes; it's also using clothes as a way to read culture, to get a window into the real, lived experience of this wonderful and sometimes weird place called Seoul. As a visual sociologist and photographer, I find that "street fashion" that merely records clothing as objects of the sartorial gaze misses the point of fashion completely. STreet fashion photography is more than just shooting subjects with a Telephoto lens from far away with tight depth-of-field. That can be done well, but done the same way, ad infinitum, yawn. That's borrring.

In no particular order, here's what the self-selecting group of folks gathered at the gates of SFW look like, and who define the bleeding, leading edge of what the normal folks in Seoul will look like this season.

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Seoul Fashion Week Super Trooper!

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Thias is a true, blue fashionista, who came to Seoul Fashion Week dressed to impress, come hell or high water, leg in a cast or no. From head to toe, she channeled the Korean cutesy in her personality well sartorially, and was an easy model to work with. Here, this Super Trooper walked, or rather limped, for my camera as I tried to get just the right runway shot of her shoes, dress and coat, along with her hair, hat, and smile. 

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The Cultural Politics of Short Skirts in Korea

While South Korea still likes to think of itself as a “conservative” Confucian culture, and Koreans will often still parrot that line, It is still apparent in the contemporary culture that this belief isn't much more than a pleasant fiction around which many people still organize their identities. Still, in Seoul, the Code and Cult of Demure Domesticity dictates that, despite wearing a Ludicrously Short Skirt, the shoulders should be covered. Somehow, the Korean fashion culture code doesn't see what Americans would call "Daisy Dukes"-length attire showing lately all the way to the bottom curve of the buttocks as at all provocative or even sexual.

 

The original Daisy Duke, from the Dukes of Hazzard show (1979-1985 on CBS)

 

However, showing any amount of shoulder or upper arm is seen in terms of a very sexual connotation and is very much frowned upon. In fact, Korean-American visitors to Korea in the late 1980s still recount tales of Korean middle-aged women slapping them hard on the shoulders for having been exposed during the summer and scolding them for having ripped jeans, which were fashionable items in the late 1980s.

 By American, or one might even say  Western, standards, the summers in Seoul seem to breed a lot of ludicrously short skirt lengths and shorts. The average skirt length in Korea, and this includes even office uniforms, is what would officially be termed a miniskirt. And remember, the  original definition of miniskirt was any skirt with a hem under which to place your 4 fingers  above the knee. While that strict original definition has gone to the wayside, any stroll down a Korean street will yield lots of leg from a Western standard. And combined with high heels that regularly reach past the 3 1/2 inch  de facto limit of what many Westerners would consider casual heels, and the effects of hem length become all the more emphasized. And it's something that Daisy Duke herself seemed to know, since any appearance in the show in her extremely short cutoff jean shorts included  stockings and pretty high heels. The funny thing is that the character of Daisy Duke was once somewhat of an issue on American television but in the land of the conservative Confucians, people dressing like her every day doesn't seem to cause anyone to bat an eye.

 Not that we're complaining, but it is an interesting fashion-based cultural difference worth pointing out. What's also interesting to note is women wearing extremely tiny micro minidresses such as the one pictured below, but along with a sweater to cover the top, even on one of the hottest days of the summer in Seoul. were not saying that's bad or good, but just that  it seems kind of contradictory, especially even as the  wearer herself recognizes the sexual valence of the dress itself even as she wears another piece of clothing seemingly at odds with not just style of the thing it's covering, but with the season itself.

 Of course, this attitude and social rule regarding exposing the upper arms and shoulder is just that: a rule to be violated. Any social norm is not defined by a reality in which everyone follows it, but the norm itself is worth looking at since it is the dividing line that meaningfully tells us something about people on both sides of it as well as attitudes that created the rule itself and what that rule was meant to protect. Of course, even the space of one picture, one can see different attitudes towards how much skin to expose and what that means.

 And then there are  individual interpretations and interesting remixes of  trends and their constitutive social norms around clothing and appropriate gender roles. I like to call the picture below an example of “Geeky Dukes.” I see this as the result of the fact that the Daisy Dukes, or what Koreans would call simply “hot pants” have become so trendy and popular that the original type of girl who would wear them in the culture of their origin, or the kind of Korean girl who would wear them as somewhat socially transgressive trend items in Korean culture, have simply become what every girl is expected to wear in the summer. So, to put it simply, you get conservative  girls who would never imagine themselves as wearing anything socially transgressive in what Americans might simply call Daisy Dukes, even if they are watered-down versions  of them.

Watch closely to see Catherine Bach's "Daisy Dukes" in action.

And here's the opening of Wonder Woman, from the new one they did in the middle of season 2. Wonder Woman's look alawaays changes with the times, and her "satin tights" were hiked up particulrly high.

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Ajumma -- Style Influencer!

Korean fashion culture brings more attention to Korea in Audrey, an online Asian American fashion magazine. The amazing ajumma takes center stage here, although my feeling is that the writer didn't have much in the way of a variety of Korean street fashion pictures to choose from. That's where we can help out a bit. 

OG Ajumma .

You want eclectic? Mismatched patterns and colors? We got ya. Oh, and visors?

Under the ajumma visor.

And you can't forget an ajumma's dog.

"Say hello to my little friend!" An ajumma's dog I bumped into in hongdae. Apparently, the doggie bites.

And an ajumma who brings the sexy back.

Deep Gangnam ajumma in heated discussion.

And the ajumma does colors like no one else.

Ajumma power.
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And then there are ajumma who are just awesome, forces unto themselves.

Ajumma or halmoni? Either way, she's busting through!

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Supergirl in Seoul!

Saw this in Hongdae last Sunday. Comic books and kitsch are all the rage in Seoul these days. I like the fact that this popular cover-turned-tee turned up here in Seoul. I need to track down where these are sold, although Dongdaemun is the usual suspect.

"In this issue:Lois Lane can do everthing that Superman can do."

 A role-reversal, although not really challenging gender role-norms.

A role-reversal, although not really challenging gender role-norms.

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The Korean "Sports Jersey" Look

I first noticed what I now call the "sports jersey" look on young Korean women back in September of 2013 when talking with a fashion design major in my university. I was really struck by how much her top looked like a football jersey, down to the mesh holes and inexplicably large  lettering in stark, football-team allcaps that I at first thought said "LOWELL" -- as in perhaps a football team from a high school in Lowell, Massachusetts. On closer inspection, I realized it said "LONELY", with a superimposed V over the N to double the stencil as "LOVELY."  But it struck me that it was definitely in the style of an American football uniform, down to the high cut, mesh holes, and all. But I saw it as a one-off. But that was going into fall and winter's colder weather. Now, in the subsequent summer, I realized again that no matter what, whatever fashion-forward Hongdae kids are wearing will become the thing within 6 months, no exceptions. Exhibit A:

Got a football jersey in there with player number on the flautist, as well as a stark capital A on a flowery, girlish print with the gayageum player (the girl playing the thing that looks like a harp on its back). And of course, the ubiquitous hot pants that all young girls not in a convent must wear here. 

And the combination of football jersey text with girlish flowers and even lace doesn't end there. Behold:

Besides just winner teams such as the Eagles -- which surely a pronto moda house in Dongdaemun picked up on very recently from American sports follies -- aren't the only teams and things found on women's jersey tops around Seoul.

An actual sports Jersey meets snobgirl faux classism, with oversized, allcaps lettering on the skirt. We also have pictographs meeting faux Boy London here.

Which brings us back to "LONELY."

And back to the first fashionista who started both my thinking on this trend and this post, when you combine an actual, full-on football top with a conservative, school uniform-eque collar, coquettishly quaint miniskirt, along with thick socks and sandals, you get interesting things going on.

But inevitably, all memes evolve into new directions, according to the rules and dictates of their particular ecosystems...

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MY A-DI-das!

Rockin' the Adidas gear.

I ran into this very sporty young lady while catching  a taco after my run to the bank.  since I've been keeping an eye out for especially sporty outfits this summer, I couldn't help but ask for a portrait. And I happen to bump into her again when I circled around to go back to my office, at which point I got a candid shot as well. I also took the opportunity to officially ask her, as the representative of all Korean women wearing summery outfits with stockings, why young Korean women like to wear stockings in the summer, which is a question sometimes foreign women ask me. the answer I got from her in Korean was to have a "보정된 느낌," which means to basically cover and smooth out the look, actually explained to me. It covers bruises and other marks and make everything look clear and even, she explained. of course, many non-Korean women will remark that wearing stockings kind of defeats the purpose of wearing cool clothing in the summer, but remember,  appearance seems to trump comfort here in South Korea.

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Pleasant Korean Contradictions

A GREAT dress caught during the noontime lunch hour in Yeouido. So full of pleasant Korean contradictions. It's demurely conservative with the high buttons and covered shoulders, but with a pretty high hemline, and yet there's a hint of wanting to cover even the neck, but the whole thing is still almost as form-fitting as a cocktail dress, for the most part. As full of seeming contradiction as Korean femininity itself does these days.

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The Performance of Gender and Fashion in Korea

There's a lot going on here that I can see. There's that sports jersey thing that's been going on lately on otherwise demure women's clothing, except this time on the skirt. There's the socks with sandals thing, and the typically really high skirt is coupled with an almost puritanical coverage on top. Oh, and we can't forget the bad English on the skirt. "Weird but adore" is an attempt to appeal to a sense of consumer individualism as a way of putatively allowing people a means of self-expression and "being different," to put an Apple spin in things. But hey, despite the fact that I think it's weird, I adore. Therein lies my conflicted view on Korean female fashion and the particular way Korean women of perform gender identity.

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