What you wear lets people know who you are. And in South Korea, appearances are more important than in most places. Clothes set the tone for conversations and any form of interaction. But if there’s one instance in which they unarguably excel, that’s Korean office fashion.
Of course, dress codes vary from workplace to workplace. You cannot expect a tech start-up employee to be dressed like a bank teller or how a teacher would. Still, what you can expect from every Korean worker is to always be looking their best, regardless of what position they hold. And that’s because everyone makes a minimal effort to look clean and put together.
When it comes to business workers, you might find that Korean men dress slightly more formally than their western counterparts. Women, on the other end, go more subtle with make-up and manage to incorporate clothes that they would wear on any given day.
As fashion is evolving, the rules for workplace dress codes are constantly changing. But if you would like to learn how to dress for any position, it’s worth looking into Korean office fashion for inspiration:
Korean Office Fashion for Women
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a professional appearance. Our work environment is crucial in establishing our dress code. And Korean office fashion allows for ladies to get a bit creative. One should always consider the company they work for, and dress according to the collective image.
South Korean women spend small fortunes just in their professional wardrobe. Although societal norms allow for some flexibility, there are a few patterns we’ve noticed when it comes to office fashion.
Blouses and button-up shirts are popular picks, especially in pale tones. As for bottoms, knee-length skirts or formal slacks allow for a variety of outfits. In some cases, a nice slim-fit or boot-cut jeans can work, provided that the top half of the look is a bit more formal.
Semi-formal dresses and matching sets are new favorites, as they are a quick and put-together solution for any workplace environment.
When it comes to accessories, Korean women prefer to keep them very minimal. A small watch and a dainty pair of earrings are usually enough. As for footwear, heels are a good option only if they’re not too high. Plenty of ladies wear sneakers to work, especially if they expect to be moving around or standing for long periods of time. As for bags, there seemingly aren’t rules, just as long as they fit the outfit and are elegant enough.
Hair & Makeup
When it comes to makeup, most Korean ladies tend to favor natural, nude looks. And if their daily makeup routines are quite understated, their office makeup is even more so. Unless, of course, they’re in the beauty industry.
When it comes to hair, there are several options that are considered appropriate. Most prefer to wear their hair down, slightly permed or straight. Others might opt for updos and neat ponytails. As for hair colors, Korean women tend to favor natural tones, such as brown or black. But then again, that will depend on what industry they work in.
Things to avoid:
- Wrinkled or torn clothing
- Exposed tattoos
- Revealing clothing
- Large earrings or accessories
- Unruly or brightly dyed hair
Korean Office Fashion for Men
Dressing well can be a catalyst to a man’s success. And similarly to women, the collective image of the company needs to be considered when curating the professional wardrobe. Suits and ties aren’t always a staple, but most workplaces still favor the classic combo.
A man can never go wrong with a sharp suit. Especially if it is in a darker color, such as navy, grey, or black. For most workplaces, suits are optional but greatly favored due to the convenience. Those who prefer to stray away from the traditional image will resort to button-up shirts, slacks, blazers, and anything else that would still be deemed elegant.
Men can more easily layer vests or sweaters over button-ups for warmth. And in the colder winter months, long coats can be a valuable asset. As for the usage of jeans, unless they work at a very relaxed start-up, in the entertainment industry, or menial jobs, you can expect Korean men to only wear those on their personal time.
A suited look is never complete without a tasteful tie and a nice watch. Besides, watches are one of the most functional accessories as they can help any professional get to their next meeting on time. Speaking of functional, a pair of reading or UV filtered glasses and a leather briefcase can also come quite handy.
Hair & Makeup
Koreans are still very conservative when it comes to men’s hair colors. Most men will keep their hair naturally black, with only a few choosing to dye it brown. When it comes to hairstyles, the most popular for the workplace are a neat, pushed-back style, or a lightly groomed bowl cut. Also, clean-shaven faces are expected in nearly all industries.
Although Korean men tend to have an extensive skincare routine, very few actually use makeup. And those who do, tend to stick to a BB cream or a lightly tinted moisturizer.
Things to avoid:
- Jeans, in most workplaces
- Facial hair
- Bright colors
- Visible tattoos
- Unruly hair
- Casual footwear
Office Fashion Inspo From Kdramas
Smart casual officewear is popular among young professionals, typical in the technological or entertainment industries. It allows for brighter color palettes and a wider variety of pieces. Ideally, it should represent an approachable yet respectable individual.
Examples of this aesthetic are the styles worn in the dramas ‘Start Up‘ or ‘Her Private Life‘, with the first being set in a tech start-up and the latter in an art gallery.
What defines business casual as an aesthetic is a cohesive formality. Anyone can definitely tell that this is workplace fashion and most people wouldn’t wear such things in leisurely activities. There is still some room for comfort and creativity, though. Ties are optional and women tend to resort to soft colors.
You can get a better sense of this category through dramas like ‘While You Were Sleeping‘ and ‘Radiant Office‘.
At last, we have the business category. It’s the crème de la crème of professional wardrobes and the typical dress code for executive roles in large corporations. It is also the ideal dress code for most formal occasions or instances in which a company must be represented externally.
Perfect examples of this wardrobe may be found in dramas such as ‘What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim?‘ or ‘Stranger‘.
We hope you now have a better sense of what Korean office fashion is truly like and that we helped you get inspired for the workplace.
If you are a fan of Korean dramas and Kdrama fashion in general, we recommend you read our deep-dives into Penthouse and Crash Landing Into You fashion. Alternatively, if you would like to stay up to date with Korean fashion, you might want to take a look at our seasonal trends articles.