I went shopping in Dondaemun a few days ago with another international student named Sara. We knew that this was going to be a challenge, but there were definitely moments that afternoon when we wondered why we had even bothered at all.
A US size 8 seems to be a sort of magic number in Korea. It is very hard to find shoes or clothing above that size. We wandered around with our 90 pound Korean friends feeling disillusioned about all the adorable styles that surrounded us.
“”Let’s go look at those scarves,” Sara said wistfully after we had pawed through racks of smalls and mediums–the feminine gauzy lace dresses and adorable printed blouses ranging from sizes 2 to 6. The dresses that were more flowing and forgiving in shape were often super short. They come up scandalously high on girls barely over five foot tall. I would have to color coordinate my underwear if I tried to wear them.
Curiously, in Korea they are very open about showing a ton of leg. I have been flashed by girls’ underwear on occasion because their skirt is so tiny. However, deep v-necks or anything that shows a lot of collarbone, or shoulder, or any cleavage is shocking. Most of the blouses they sell have very conservative necklines.
Sara finally found a dress at a big department store in a size “L” that fit like a glove and looks really sexy on her. When we made our way over to the H&M I let myself hope that maybe I too would find something cute. I finally found 3 blouses all in a very rare size 12, and stole away to the dressing room. The first blouse fit, but was too short for my 5’7″ frame. The second fit rather awkwardly, but the third, the third was perfect. Being a few inches shorter than me, Sara adopted the too short first blouse and we both felt a little better.
After a quick search of the lingerie department it became clear that A and B were the only sizes available in bras. Perhaps, tucked in the back you might find a C. Sara and I are both bigger than a C cup. Sara is even bigger on top than I am which gives her many challenges for fitting clothes in Korea. I am still apparently rather busty for Korea, but I have very wide hips, and carry my extra weight there. Goodbye any hope of finding pants in Korea ever.
I have seen some larger Korean people around Seoul, not everyone is tiny. I think the bigger issue Sara and I face is the shape difference. Most larger people in Korea seem to carry their weight solely around their middle. The loose tunic style shirts I kept finding accommodate that well. I found plenty of blouses like that which fit me, but they don’t look good on my shape.
Boutiques and smaller shops are absolutely not the place to shop if you have any kind of curve. These have even less size selection. Most of the shirts and dresses are “Free” size. This means they fit from an extra small to maybe a medium. This is to cater to the teen and early twenty shoppers who want fast fashion. Pants usually only come up to a size 6 in such places.
When Korean friends drag me into a boutique to shop with them, I often feel awkward. There is really nothing for me to do but see what they are going to try on. Sometimes the shop keepers even look at me with a sort of puzzled, “why are you in here?” expression.
The funny thing is, my Korean friends rarely seem to register that I am much bigger than them. Sometimes they are even surprised when I don’t find anything at a shop.
So I now know that the only clothing I will be able to buy in Korea are tunics and maybe some sweaters. This definitely informs I will pack for my year here. I will basically have an entire suitcase of shoes, bras, and jeans set aside. And perhaps some belts to wear over those shapeless tunics.