While my switch from apparel design and production to linguistics and the ESL world may have seemed abrupt, I certainly haven’t left the world of fashion entirely! Shopping is still one of my favorite aspects of travel, and I love discovering the unique aesthetics and styles of each city and country I travel through.
Korea has been inching its way into the fashion spotlight over the last few years, especially in terms of street style. While foreigners often think of Japan as being a more experimental and fashion-forward center of Asian street style, after traveling the two countries that doesn’t seem to be the case. Japanese subcultures and their extreme fashion are certainly more “out there” than Korean fashion, but when you look at the average Japanese street crowd, you’ll find a lot of black, grey, and navy and the same dull business suits and skirts shuffling past.
Korea, on the other hand, has become extremely experimental. Still conformist in the sense that trends are followed with a herd-like mentality, but the fashions that catch on here seem to be far more expressive and flamboyant. For example, a current trend this past fall/winter 2015 has been cropped pants. For Korean men, this is exhibited in the form of a very slim, tailored pant that ends short, just above the ankle, and is paired with either (often contrasting) socks or bare skin. A more casual alternative is a cuffed skinny jean, achieving the same look.
|Three young Korean men showing the cropped pant look, featuring cuffed denim, bare ankles, sneakers, socks, and boots.||Five young Korean men showing the biggest trends for this fall: slim, tailored, cropped pants; wool overcoats in a variety of colors; sweaters layered over collared shirts, and bare ankles peeking out over leather dress shoes.|
For women, the cropped pant trend manifests itself in the form of culottes, where the comes in a wider variety of patterns and colors. Koreans aren’t afraid to incorporate these trends into their work wardrobes, and many professionals can be seen with fun pops of color, patterns, and on-trend tailoring influencing even the most conservative of business dress.
|A woman at Seoul Fashion Week shows off her boldly patterned culottes (cropped, wide-leg pants) and a chunky knit sweater.||A young professional shows how bold fashion has pushed business wear in Korea. Note the unique cut to her button down shirt; loud, printed skirt; and bold accessory choices.|
With Koreans quickly embracing fashion as a form of self-expression and stepping out of the old shadows of conformity, shopping in Korea is more exciting than ever. While there are a plethora of resources and shopping guides available for Seoul and Busan, I didn’t see too much out there for some of the other larger cities in Korea. After living in Jeollanamdo for the last year and a half, I’ve become a frequent visitor (and shopper) in the downtown Chungjangro (충장로) area of Gwangju (광주). I recently went and visited my 12 favorite shops in the area, which I have marked out on the map below:
1. Plus + One (프러스원)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 서석로7번길 9-1
Style: street fashion, one-of-a-kind pieces, pop-art, wild, experimental
Cost: ₩ ₩ ₩
Plus + One is a two-story brick and mortar (literally) shop tucked down the quiet back alleys of wedding street. I apologize for the poor quality interior photo (I had to sneak it!) as they don’t really do the space justice. The owner hand-selects pieces from the infamous Dongdaemun Fashion Market (동대문시장) and, from what I can tell, all items are one-offs. The pieces here are certainly statements, and are for the bold trendsetters who are truly passionate about expressing their unique sense of style. Not sure you can pull off something as crazy as a fully-sequined Daisy Duck pop-art sweater? Not to worry! Plus + One has more subtly detailed pieces too, like customized denim, sweatshirts, and accessories. The price range is fairly wide, depending on the item, from a top for ₩40,000 to coats up to ₩350,000.
2. INUS (인어스)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 서석로7번길 8
Style: vintage, bold prints, delicate details, feminine accessories
Cost: ₩ ₩ ₩
Located just down the block from Plus + One (and on the same corner at The B.B. Waxing Boutique), is INUS, a (relatively) higher-end shop that features a mix of possibly handmade and vintage-inspired pieces. One of my favorite items to shop for here are full, knee-length skirts with gorgeous, lush prints (₩60,000 – ₩75,000), though they carry very cute dresses and tops as well. They also have a selection of shoes and accessories that are always on-trend. I find at least something every time I go in here…thought last time it was a ₩1.4mil hooded fox-fur vest that broke my heart after I made the mistake of trying it on, hahaha! Unfortunately for INUS, I don’t have that kind of money nor do I ever buy new fur, but that was far outside their average price range of ₩45,000 – ₩150,000.
3. Cotton (코톤)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 서석로7번길 12-22
Style: one-of-a-kind, menswear-inspired, unique embroidery, muted feminine fabrics
Cost: ₩ ₩
Cotton is a very small shop located down one branch of my favorite shopping area. All of the boutiques in this area (dark purple on the main map above) carry unique pieces to at a touch of je ne sais quoi to any wardrobe. The owner is very friendly and happy to chat with you if you speak a bit of Korean. It had been a few months since my first visit, but she still remembered me and that I was a teacher in the Jeonnam countryside! Her pieces typically feature more muted colors and are differentiated by their details: one sweatshirt I regret not buying had an adorable, stylized hedgehog on it, embellished with some beads and hand-stitching. She also has a small selection of unisex items that could easily be worn by men or women. I would say the average piece here costs a little bit less than those at nearby shops Plus + One and INUS, coming in between ₩35,000 and ₩110,000.
4. L.A.P (Los Angeles Project)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로 72 (on the second floor)
Style: west coast influence, menswear-inspired, trendy, classic pieces, daily street fashion
Cost: ₩ ₩
L.A.P. was a shop I wandered into after one of my usual stops at H&M. Located on the 2nd floor of the YZ Park mall across from the teen and loungewear section of H&M, L.A.P. is a unique blend of American west coast and Korean fashion. You can try on anything in the store, and they provide face covers to wear when doing so. I’ve found the staff to be very helpful and friendly without hovering, which is a huge plus in my book. Items cost on average between ₩30,000 to ₩90,000, and go up to at the very most ₩200,000 or so for the odd piece of winter outerwear. They also have a cosmetics line, where I picked up two fantastically colored lipsticks this past fall.
5. Paper Dress (페이퍼드레스)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 중앙로160번길 10
Style: something for everyone, trendy, menswear & womenswear, street fashion, very Korean
Cost: ₩ ₩
Paper Dress was one of my first discoveries in Chungjangro, and has continued to be a favorite shopping spot. Their merchandise is very trend-driven, and can be found at an excellent price point. Most pieces retail between ₩25,000 and ₩75,000, and there’s always something new. Something to note is that you can try on any items with a zipper, but not knits without one. Pants, skirts, and dresses with buttons or zippers are all fair game, but sweaters, tops, or anything that fits by stretching and pulling on isn’t allowed in the fitting rooms. They also have an excellent, equally as on-trend men’s section on the 2nd floor, and a sale section on a balcony area between the 1st and 2nd floors (seen on the left in the photo on the right above).
6. TOMOTOM’S (previously Tomo Factory/토모팩토리)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로 80-6
Style: easy to wear, trendy, basics with a twist, feminine, very Korean
Cost: ₩ ₩
I’ve shopped here since it was called Tomo Factory this past spring, though I’ve found the stock to be pretty much in the same vein since the name change to TOMOTOM’S. This is a very cute, feminine shop located directly across from Daiso in the heart of Chungjangro. They have a great price point for trendy fashion, and like Paper Dress have a very “Korean” aesthetic. Pieces cost between ₩25,000 and ₩70,000 on average. The staff is always friendly and will greet you as soon as you walk in the store, though they’ll let you shop at you leisure without “following” you around the store. They’ll also let you try on any pieces you want in the fitting rooms, and are pretty attendant with getting you another size or style.
7. Rosemary (로즈메리)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로 102-9
Style: something for everyone, cute street fashion, trendy, feminine, fun accessories
Cost: ₩ ₩
It took me a while to sort of figure out what Rosemary was. The shop is much deeper than it looks from the outside, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out if it was a nicer boutique or a super cheap mish-mash of street fashion. In the end, it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. It strikes me as a nicer alternative to “Favorite” (#12 on this list) though has a similar mix of fast-fashion. Some pieces are stocked in multiples while others are one-offs, but everything falls in a pretty reasonable price rage of ₩25,000 to ₩70,000. I’ve found some really awesome, cozy, winter favorites here that have become daily staples in my wardrobe!
8. Golden Vintage (골든빈티지)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로3가
Style: handmade items, trendy vintage, seasonal, one-of-a-kind, feminine
Cost: ₩ ₩
Located right outside the Geumnamro-4ga (금남로4가) station–pass exit 1 and head toward Geumnamro Park, exiting up the stairs to the right–Golden Vintage is one of two legitimate vintage shops in Chungjangro. I find their stock to be a bit classier and more feminine than their competitor, Tokyo Juice. Their stock changes and is merchandised seasonally (fur in winter!), and they have a handful of menswear and houseware-type items in the back as well, including large floor rugs for a fraction of their original price. They also carry a small selection of handmade items, possibly from the fashion hagwon located above their building. You can try on most items, though I find the staff to be a bit apathetic every time I stop in. Items cost, on average ₩10,000 to ₩250,000 depending on what it is. Note that many of the vintage trinkets on display on the walls are not for sale, and are not to be touched!
9. Tokyo Juice (도쿄쥬스영)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로안길 16
Style: true vintage, western, tomboyish, one-of-a-kind, disregards trends
Tokyo Juice is the second vintage shop located in the Chungjangro area, and is located right across from H&M and theYZ Park mall. Their stock is a bit more western than Golden Vintage, and will require a little more digging, but is at a lower price point. Items can be found for ₩5,000 to ₩180,000, again depending on what it is, as Tokyo Juice carries some fur coats in winter too. They also have a larger selection of menswear than Golden Vintage, and seem to have more unisex pieces as well.
10. REDEYE (레드아이)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 충장로 83
Style: chain store, cute accessories, trendy street fashion, feminine, very Korean
Redeye is a chain store that you can find in many major cities, as well as in pop-up kiosks underground in subway shopping areas. The Chungjangro location offers their full range of accessories, as well as clothing on the 2nd floor. Their accessories are mid-priced, but their clothes often have very agreeable prices. They have seasonal sales with clothing marked down as low as ₩5,000 to ₩30,000 on the first floor, plus a larger selection of good basics on the 2nd floor for ₩15,000 to ₩60,000. I don’t recall whether or not they have fitting rooms, but I would guess they have similar rules of Paper Dress regarding knits or items that must stretch to be worn if they do.
11. Pigment (피그먼트)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 중앙로160번길 9
Style: feminine, inexpensive, trendy basics, fast-fashion, comfortable
Pigment is located right across from Paper Dress, and I discovered it after a usual shopping trip to the latter. Pigment carries feminine basic pieces, and often features pastels year-round. They don’t have any fitting rooms, though I think most of their customers don’t mind as their items cost between ₩10,000 and at most ₩50,000 a piece. You can see many Korean girls shopping here for fast-trendy fashions!
12. “Favorite” (즐겨찾기)
Address: 광주광역시 동구 서석로7번길 12-22
Style: something for everyone, menswear & womenswear, inexpensive, fast-fashion, daily street fashion
“Favorite” gets its name from the Korean word jeulkyeochatgi, which is the term used for marking your favorites in Internet Explorer. It literally means “something you favorably look for”, and the store “Favorite” definitely involves some looking! Inside is a endless sea of closely-packed racks of fast-fashion and knock-offs that is slightly reminiscent of Primark, in a way. They carry both menswear and womenswear, as well as shoes (up to at least a 245, possibly a 250; I’ll check when I’m there next!) and accessories. Items usually go for between ₩ 10,000 and ₩ 50,000 and are a reflection of whatever is currently “hot” among Korean youth. Note that women will not be allowed to try on any items that pull over their heads for fear of makeup smudging, so snag a free face cover from Zara or L.A.P. before going if you’re adamant about trying-before-buying!
So there you have it! For those who live in Gwangju, I hope this list can give you some new places to explore outside of the usual H&M, Zara, 8 Seconds, UNIQLO, and Giordano many expats tend to favor. For those who live outside of Korea, I hope this article was an interesting peek inside some Korean boutiques, Korean style, and what fashion and shopping are like for a local. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below, including any of your favorite shop discoveries in Korea!
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