While this article will (eventually) get to COEX, it may take a bit. If you want to skip the part about fashion tips and the general view on fashion and culture in Korea copy and paste [COEX] into the”Find Bar”(ctrl+F) and skip ahead.
I arrived in Korea wearing slightly baggy pants and, what I then considered, to be reasonably loose fitting clothes. It took 3 days, two shopping trips with relatives and about 3 hours of television for me to realize that I had just stepped into a whole new ball game.
You may as well know from the start that working any where in Korea at least semi-professionally, which means as a tutor or office worker or especially a teacher, requires you to look the part. And in general, the part is that of a well dressed well groomed individual. For the first few months in Korea, I did what all foreigners do and laughed at the locals. I’d seen friends who had arrived fresh Korea dress this way but never had I been surrounded by such a trendy crowd. The only problem with this, is that secretly they were laughing at us. Outward appearance determines a lot in Korea, it can determine whether you get a job at an interview or whether you make friends quickly in a new area.
Being overweight is an issue in Korea. I don’t mean that lots of people are overweight, but compared to skinny Asians (as is the stereotype) some foreigners appear large even if they aren’t really so back home. The issue becomes that clothing is harder to find, especially nicer clothes. While back home we have large, x-large, and further on the scale; in Korea the sizes rarely get past x-large and even I have a hard time fitting into a large (I’m a skinny Asian guy). At this point you have two choices if you want to stay; either order the clothes from abroad (I’ve heard of people doing this) or join a gym and lose some weight.
At first foreigners consider this superficial and somewhat insulting as we’re taught otherwise in some countries, but we’re also taught to put our best foot forward. The only difference in Korea is that they’re taught to only use the “best foot”.
So while many foreigners simply scoff and ignore the customs here, many of us try to compromise and simply draw a line where we see fit. For example, I will never dye my hair. I’ve had it permanently straightened (which lasted 5 months and resulted in a few burns to my ear) and styled, but I draw the line at dying my hair and everything that lies beyond.
But if you do decide to change your fashion sense and try to blend in, COEX is a good place to start.
COEX is one of the few western styled malls in Korea. By western styled I mean that the stores are separated out, while that may not be clear to you just eneter a Shinsegae or Hyundai mall and you’ll get a feel for what I mean.
Found at Samsung Station(삼성역) on the #2 Green Line, just follow the signs and you’ll end up in a large open courtyard usually dominated with ads for a store called UNIQLO. Follow the crowd and you’ll end up in COEX.
The first few times I came here I would get lost at the end of the day looking for the exit and simply wander around until I found my way out. While that works too, there are touchscreen maps scattered around the mall (English, Korea, Japanese and Chinese) which can help you make your way around.
Located in the deeper recesses of the mall, this store carries a wide variety of casual clothes. With a decent selection of graphic tees and button ups, this japanese import is a good start for anyone trying to get a handle of the fashion here.
One of my favorite stores when I first got here, I spent about $200 on some clothes to set up my wardrobe. If you don’t know what kind of clothes to get, the plain casual clothes here are a good start. Since most of the clothes here are made of solid colors, pick a few darks and a few lights and you’ll be fine. With sales this place is awesome, without you might drop $100 only to pick up 3 shirts and a belt.
A relatively new addition, this store doesn’t have very many locations but the ones they do are usually mobbed with people looking to update their fashion. I’ve found a few items here but nothing too great to write about. Take a look if you’re curious, be warned that there are quite a few items that may be… questionable?
the Totoro Store
I have no idea what this place is actually called but they have lots of Studio Ghibli stuff as well as other interesting trinkets. I have yet to find another store in Korea like it. They don’t actually sell anime but more anime related items.
COEX is home to a pretty impressive aquarium with a wide variety of sea life. While you won’t find whales or great white sharks, you’ll see otters and manatees as well as a two headed turtle. One great spot holds a large school of shiny fish like the one found in “Finding Nemo” while they won’t play charades with you they are quite impressive to behold.
There are many other stores and shops worth visiting in the mall including the bookstore which sells US graphic novels or the Apple certified retailer. It’s definitely a good stop for anyone visiting or living in Korea.
The COEX mall isn’t the only mall here, attached to it is the shopping center for the Intercontinental and the Hyundai shopping mall. While the Intercontinental has a few boutiques worth visiting, the Hyundai mall is priced way out of my range. I rarely venture there unless I really have to but if you’ve got the money to spend, they’ve got some nice clothes there as well. You might do better if you visit COEX first though as the sales there can be better.