Street style in South Korea: Individualism or Collectivism? Introduction For the scope of this paper, I am focusing on how South Korean urbanites view fashion as a means of expression and how fashion reflects the values of the Korean urban society. Based on my preliminary observations, I have noticed that Korea has a very distinct street style. I have observed that majority of the people on the streets dress in a similar fashion. Unlike in western societies where street style tends to be more varied and unique to the individual, conformity and similarity seems to be the main focal point in Korea.
I am therefore interested to find out what exactly drives this phenomenon in Korea? How does the collectivistic culture of the Korean society influences the way one develops street style in Korea? What kind of political, economic and social factors does street style reflect on the society? Moreover, what does street style reveal about the changing landscape of people in the society? Also, I would like to investigate who are the players who dictate the ebb and flow of fashion trends in the Korean society? Defining Fashion
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The term ‘fashion’ is derived from the Latin word ‘factio’ which means making or doing. Although ‘style’ can sometimes be used synonymously with ‘fashion’, more accurately ‘style’ denotes the meaning of conforming to a ‘prevalent standard’. When combined, the term ‘street style’ connotes the democratization of fashion. (Kawamura, 2005: 3) Prior to the modern concept of fashion, in the 15th century, fashion was a symbol for class distinction and mainly a product that was only exclusively enjoyed by the aristocrats in society.
In the 19th century, the wealthy also had the means to participate in fashion consumption and thus what was initially a closed form of activity now began to open up. This eventually led to the democratization of fashion, which began in the 20th century, whereby anyone, regardless of class or status, possessed the right to look fashionable. (Kawamura, 2005: 5) ‘Street style’ is one such example. A general definition of fashion would be that it is a common standard of dress that is worn by the society of a certain epoch in time.
Because what is considered as ‘fashion’ is constantly evolving throughout history, it is hard to define what exactly is fashion. Fashion is often confused with the physical form of clothing but what it really represents is the symbols that are hidden beneath the material form of clothing. Finkelstein points out that ‘consumers imagine they are acquiring the added values when they are purchasing ‘fashionable’ items’. Fashion is the intangible value that people attribute to the clothing. As defined by Bell, ‘fashion is the essential virtue in a garment without which its intrinsic values can hardly be perceived. (Kawamura, 2005: 4-5) It can be said that fashion itself is a mental construct because it only exists in people’s minds. People believe that in the act of purchasing fashion, they possess the values embedded within a piece of clothing rather than just the simple act of possessing the material form of the clothing. Clothing is not fashion unless the individual believes it is. It is unclear as to what exactly are the values that the individual acquires. However, a likely guess would be that these values are linked with identity expression.
What values an individual acquires through consuming fashion are the values that she or he wishes to express based on her or his identity. Thus, when a person consumes fashion, what they are in fact acquiring are the symbols of an identity construct rather than the physical act of clothing itself. Therefore, from this fact, we can derive the principle that by gaining a better understanding in the patterns of fashion trends in Korean society as observed, we can decipher how South Korean urbanites construct their identities. Perspectives in Fashion studies Economic perspective
Some sociologist believe that fashion is a driver of capitalist society, whereby it drives people to consume new and ever-changing fashion trends. The bourgeoisie classes sets the standard for new fashion trends and styles, which will be imitated by the people of the lower classes. In order to distinguish themselves from the inferior classes, the bourgeoisie will create new fashion styles, which leads to spiraling process of creation and imitation. (Kawamura, 2005: 5) Fashion therefore, is a form of social regulation that distinguishes people according to their roles in society.
Similar to this perspective, Fashion is also viewed as an ideology that is supported by fashion institutions. The fashion institutions create new fashion trends and disseminate them onto the mass population through runways and fashion shows. The people will only continue to consume fashion if they believe in the ideology propagated by these fashion institutes. Hence, fashion is a myth – one that has to be constantly sustained by the larger institutions and supported by the people. (Kawamura, 2005: 43) Cultural Perspective
From the cultural perspective, the fashion industry is an image-producing industry in which the production involves a manufactured process from conception on paper by the designer, creation of the dress, to mass production and dissemination of the dress. At each stage of production, a collective of players in the industry will input their ideas and shape the product for it to be accepted by the players in the next stage of production. Such is the production of Fashion, which involves the creative collaboration and cooperation from different groups and individuals.
Fashion is thus a culturally produced symbol. (Kawamura, 2005: 33-35) Social Identities expressed through Fashion The economic and cultural perspectives of fashion give a macro level analysis of fashion. On the individual level, however, one perspective is that people that to imitate others in the way they dress. This happens out of sympathy or admiration for the person who is imitated. Furthermore, this happens among members of a social group. For instance, a person may imitate someone e or she recognizes as a superior or an equal. (Kawamura, 2005: 20-21) Based on this theory, we can imply that imitation may have stronger effects on societies which are more collectivistic in nature because of the people’s tendency to conform. Combining the macro-level perspectives and micro-level perspectives, there are many motivations for fashion – to express one’s social standing, project a positive image to others or to belong to a social group. Fashion as Form and Content The Introduction of Western-Style Clothing
Prior to westernization in the early 20th century, korea’s everyday form of attire was the hanbok, which is literally translated into ‘Korean clothes. ‘ The hanbok mainly served as a symbol of social class status, constantly undergoing some form of change in each period. For example, in the Joseon period, where Confucianism became popular, the style of clothing also evolved accordingly to espouse Confucian values such as benevolence and propriety. http://www. asianinfo. org/asianinfo/korea/cel/hanbok. htm The first forms of western dress emerged in korea in the early 20th century.
However, it is only during the social change brought by rapid industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s that led to the western dress becoming the predominant standard of dress in korea. The rise of the working class people called for a need for clothes to be more practical and functional for work. The hanbok was relegated into a national symbol of political and national identity. As a result, the hanbok became a traditional attire for special occasions and widely replaced by western-style clothing as a form of everyday wear.
It was also worn mainly by older women, while younger women quickly adopted the western dress for both functional and westernization reasons. However, despite the cannibalization brought by the western dress, the hanbok did not become obsolete but simply retained for its political and cultural purposes. Since industrialization, the hanbok has also evolved in more flexible forms such as shorter skirts and more dark and muted earth tones. However, this is a phenomenon that is not exclusively experienced only by Koreans.
For example, with industrialization, western-style clothes also replaced the Chinese traditional women’s wear, known as the cheongsam. Fashion of the everyday people can reflect the changes in society over time and the changes in the values of a culture. Even though korea allowed the western dress to replace its everyday wear, the underlying cultural value expression became more obscure in the globalization of western fashion trends. The forms of dressing have converged but the symbolic contents may have manifested itself in a subtler manner, perhaps in the way of piecing an outfit together.
Although the western dress is widely adopted in most developed and industrializing countries, there are still different forms of fashion that distinguishes one culture from another. For example, people in general would acknowledge that Japanese fashion is very different from Korean fashion although both adopt the western-style clothing in everyday life. My goal therefore is to pick out these subtle differences that are culturally specific and unique to each country and find out the processes by which they manifest themselves onto western-style clothing. Korea as a Highly Collectivistic Culture (Hofstede)
Research Statement Though style trends are becoming increasingly homogenous due to the proliferation of the Internet, cultural influences have somewhat localized street fashion in such a way that although clothes may look similar across the globe, the way people put things together remain different across different cultures. [ (Berry, 2010 ) ] However, within a culture itself, it is interesting to take note of the similarities and differences in the way the people dress themselves. Since fashion is linked to identity, an area that I am interested to find out s ‘Do the urban women in South Korea dress to conform to society’s standards? ‘ A preliminary observation I made in Seoul was that the most of the street shops in different areas sell the same clothes. The answer to this question may seem straightforward – since South Korea is still a relatively collectivistic culture, its street style would therefore reflect this cultural characteristic. However, there is still a lack of concrete research as to whether this hypothesis is true. I am therefore interested to test this hypothesis by conducting an observation of women’s street styles in Seoul.
Qualitative Study and Analysis To measure this phenomenon is a little tricky because the perception of what is considered a ‘style’ is a subjective experience and it may be hard to quantify the variables. However, despite this limitation, there is still some value in conducting an observation about street style such as common patterns can be detected in the way people dress. A qualitative study will be conducted by observing the way urban women in Korea dress. Subsequently, an analysis of the findings will be conducted to see if there is a pattern in their fashion style.
Because fashion is largely a women dominated field, I am going to focus on women for my study. ‘Street style’ is defined as the way everyday people dress themselves in an urban environment. Conformity is defined as behaviour in accordance to socially accepted conventions or standards. In order to test whether women in Seoul tend to dress more similarly or differently, I will test several variables such as the type of clothing worn, the way the women layer their clothing, the way they accessorize and their hairstyles. Research Design For this research, an observation is conducted in Anam to study the way young women in Seoul dress themselves.
I have chosen Anam because of its proximity to Korea University – where young university students are likely to be around. Since most street style is concentrated on women’s fashion, thus it would be more convenient to observe women as opposed to men’s fashion. The observation was conducted on a weekday in the late afternoon, as there will be more students in the area. A sample size of 20 young females are chosen at random and observation about their styles were recorded according to the categories as follows, the type of clothing worn, the way the clothing is layered, the accessories worn and the type of hairstyle.
In-depth interviews with a small sample of five koreans, all female aged between 19 years old to 25 years old, were also conducted in order to gain a deeper understanding of the respondent’s thought processes and attitudes toward fashion and their perception of their identities in society. The findings were analyzed and themes are drawn from the observations and interviews of which I will discuss in the next chapter. Conclusion Bibliography Berry, J. (2010 ?????? —). Street Style: Fashion photography, weblogs and the urban image.
Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues . (J. -L. F. Fisher, Ed. ) Queensland, Queensland, Australia: inter-disciplinary. net . From Griffith University: http://www. inter-disciplinary. net/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/jessberypaper. pdf Kawamura, Y. (2005). Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. New York: Berg. Ruhlen, R. N. (2003). Korean Alterations: Nationalism, Social Consciousness, and “Traditional” Clothing. In A. M. Sandra Niessen, Re-orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress (p. 117). New York: Berg.