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Your Ultimate Guide to Korean Fashion Aesthetics

Here’s everything you need to know about nailing a Korean-inspired ‘fit.
Your Ultimate Guide to Korean Fashion Aesthetics
IMAGE Instagram/bbang_93
Here’s everything you need to know about nailing a Korean-inspired ‘fit.

There’s no denying Korean fashion has become a global phenomenon over the past few years. Blame it on the rise of K-dramas and K-pop (thanks to social media, streaming services, or that fangirl friend who can’t help but share her obsessions), but really, the influence is palpable as seen in the many local brands and shops who have bought into “the look.” But what is this particular look everyone’s been talking about?

As of late, Korean designers and brands have been creeping into mainstream prominence much like their western counterparts. Eyewear brand Gentle Monster and footwear label Yuul Yie are only a few names that have garnered buzz for their distinct aesthetic. But on a retail and street style level, Korean fashion is a lot more nuanced. When you Google “Korean Fashion Aesthetic” a flurry of photos will answer your search. Mostly outfits in muted tones featuring dainty dresses and oversized pieces in either preppy or streetwear iterations. Sure that’s all part of K-Style aesthetic, but don’t forget all the other design influences in between. We’re talking about the clothes you see in K-dramas, on models, and worn by real-life stylephiles in Seoul, i.e. Irene Kim and stylist Soh Soo Koung to name a distinct few.

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In a nutshell, Korean fashion is a contemporary take on the “East meets West” concept. Since Korea actually has close ties with the U.S., they’re more aware of American fashion and design. But unlike simply copying and pasting those style notes, they try to add a bit of their own flavor to each trend. The result is streetwear with a distinct grunge-pop twist, or preppy ‘fits with a pastel retro influx. But to give you a bit of a primer, we’ve rounded up some of the most prominent fashion aesthetics you need to know if you’re going for a more K-Style wardrobe.

8 Korean-Style Fashion Aesthetics You Need to Know Now

Preppy Academia

Think private school uniform meets college sports club athleisure. Tennis skirts, knitted vests, white button-downs, tailored trousers, and loafers with socks define this look to a T. The key is to never go with pieces that hug your body from head to toe. Be sure to balance out a fitted top with a pair of relaxed bottoms or vice versa. Your best accessory? A simple baseball cap or beret will definitely complete the look.

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Retro Femme

If you love midi dresses that cinch at the waist, this aesthetic is for you. This trend is all about modest dressing with silhouettes that were popular back in the ‘40s or ‘60s. Puff-sleeved pieces are a must in muted or pastel hues. A plain frock is alright but opt for A-line or shift dresses in gingham, plaid, checks, or sweet floral patterns. To really nail the vibe, be sure to look out for Peter Pan collars, pussy bows, high-neck ruffles, and square necklines—of course, sleeves are a non-negotiable.

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Oversized Streetwear

K-style streetwear is always fun to dress up in. There are no rules to this aesthetic because it mostly highlights genderless pieces that look good on anyone. At its core we’re looking at sweat pants and tops, beanies and bucket hats, oversized shirts and button-downs, roomy shorts, wide-leg but high-waisted trousers, bralettes, and the coolest sneakers. The trick is to hide that feminine silhouette. When you’re going for something sexy, don’t think of a skin-tight bottom or top, rather show off some skin with a cropped top or play with your beauty look.

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Idol Inspired

Contrary to popular belief, K-pop idols don’t dress like they do on-stage in real life. But there’s no denying their performance outfits have inspired a lot of personal styles. Nailing that “idol-worthy” look is all in the accessories. More is more is more when it comes to ear piercings, necklaces, body chains, and belts. There’s an emphasis on bright-colors, shiny textures, and a lot more show of skin than usual, too.

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Runway Remixed

The street style at Seoul Fashion Week is beyond exhilarating. Compared to their western counterparts like NYFW and PFW, or the zany and distinctly Japanese sensibilities of Tokyo Fashion Week, the fashion at SFW is all about keeping that runway flavor alive with modern maximalism. There’s an emphasis on bold and contemporary silhouettes, sleek black looks with a touch of androgyny, and the clever use of color is prolific.

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Soft Office Core

Inspired by the looks of sweet K-drama leads, there’s also a K-style aesthetic for the office. Here you’ll see a fresh and sophisticated take on neutrals and pastels—less black if you can believe it. This is all about looking chic and smart but not imposing. Of course, that’s what a tailored coat and blazer is for on chilly days! But the point is to opt for feminine ensembles that harp on impeccable tailoring to look like you really mean business.

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Contemporary Suiting

Who doesn’t love a good blazer look? Korean fashion is peppered with stylish ‘fits that involve either an oversized jacket or a sleek and tailored piece you can belt at the waist. The beauty is that you don’t need to look too corporate for this. Rather, it’s about wearing a trouser with a plain tee or a blazer over a sweat top and pants. You can even go for entire button-down, blazer, and trousers outfit combo but finish it off with some chunky sneakers.

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The Feminine Lead

If you can summarize a majority of K-drama leading lady looks, it has to be this. Talk about sweet, casual, not too trendy, romantic, and classic pieces that are undeniably relatable and chic. Though the silhouettes are nothing to loud or out-of-the-box, expect a myriad of luxury designer pieces to make an appearance. The point is to invest in high quality items despite their simplicity. This look is defined by feminine dresses and co-ords that hug the body, sleek footwear (from heels to boots to sneakers), and flattering tops and bottoms that flatter stereotypical curves.

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Casual Cozy Cool

This aesthetic is like a soft-reboot of a typical '90s outfit: a tank top, baggy trousers, and a cardigan. But unlike the beauty look of that heroine chic era, the K-style take on it is sweeter and more juvenile. The trick is to go for pastel colored shirts, jackets, and accessories to pair with your trusty roomy or baggy jeans or corduroys. Last but not the least, don’t forget your tiny purse or baguette bag to complete your look.  
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