Koreans take that “clothes make the man” saying to the next level. The style of outfits you wear at work can actually shape your destiny.
This post covers everything you need to know about Korean office fashion and dress codes.
I’ll explain which outfits are appropriate for men and women and what to avoid.
I learned about dress codes during my first corporate gig in South Korea.
Let’s dive right in!
Appearances are a big deal in Korea.
We even have an old saying that goes, “there’s no handsome man in shabby clothes and there’s no ugly man in nice clothes”(못 입어 잘난 놈 없고 잘 입어 못난 놈 없다).
As you can imagine, this rings even truer in the workplace. And dressing well can make your office experience or business meeting a lot easier.
Things to know
The Korean version of the “clothes make the man” is “옷이 날개다”. Literally, “clothes are your wings”, which is commonly used today.
For example, IT companies will be relaxed compared to, say, finance companies.
When in doubt, “단정해 보이는 룩” is the goal. This means “neat and tidy”.
Korean male business casual is a bit more formal and conservative than it is in western countries.
Standards are becoming more relaxed as time passes, but this will depend on the boss.
The dress code applies on business trips too, since key contacts could potentially be met at the airport.
I committed the faux pas of not wearing makeup one time and the team was very uncomfortable.
Team building exercises allow for more casual dress depending on the location.
For example, a hiking trip will allow you to wear hiking clothes.
Things to avoid
- Wrinkled or messy clothing.
- Hats, sunglasses, shorts and sandals.
- Overly flashy or loud colors.
- Visible tattoos, facial hair, hoop earrings, informal hair styles (pompadours, beehives, mohawks and other styles that attract attention) or anything else that expresses excessive individuality are not recommended.
- T-shirts, jeans and old sneakers will not win you any favors, unless you work for Google or Apple.
Tips for women
Korean office wear for ladies allows for some flexibility.
Dark colors aren’t mandatory for women. A bright pastel tone is a safe choice.
Clothes for Women
Korean women buy a lot of clothes specifically for work.
Blouses with knee length skirts are a good look.
Dress can be short, but not at public companies, including government offices and banks.
Pants suits and skirt suits are common enough to be acceptable.
Women can also wear slacks, which are nice and comfortable too.
A nice jacket can make you look more formal and respectable.
Accessories for Women
Accessories should be subtle and understated.
A small watch is the perfect accessory at work.
Shoes and Bags for Women
Formal flats work for most places where you don’t directly interact with customers.
High heels should be moderate height (no 6 inch stilettos).
Chanel bags will only bring jealousy if it’s your first day at work. Try Coach or more affordable brands.
Hair and Makeup for Women
Nude makeup is recommended over smokey makeup, unless you work at a cosmetic company.
Korean women have many options for hairstyles.
Most of my friends either have short hair or a perm.
But the rule of looking neat and calm still applies, so, nothing too bright like blonde or ombre hair is recommended since most Koreans have black hair. Unless of course it’s your natural hair color.
Tips for men
Korean business attire for men is pretty straightforward. Think Mad Men without the fedoras.
Dark colors like gray or navy are safe choices.
Clothes for Men
Suits are the default. This includes button up shirts, jackets and slacks.
Slacks are common in most office settings.
Khakis are not common and might not be appropriate.
Korean summers can be quite hot, so short sleeved button up shirts are acceptable in some office environments. But never wear shorts.
Korean winters are cold, so long sleeved sweaters are ok to be worn over dress shirts. Also, thick black long coats will help you keep warm.
Dark jeans are not acceptable unless you work in the arts.
Polo shirts are considered a bit informal and are better left for team building exercises.
Accessories for Men
A nice watch is a good choice. Not too expensive if you’re just starting out.
Swiss watches are great if you’re manager level.
Also cuff links add a nice touch if you’re working at a finance company.
Koreans try to avoid wearing ties, but still they’re mandatory for formal events or at more conventional companies.
Shoes and Bags for Men
Dress shoes or loafer are fine for footwear.
Just make sure to put on quiet-looking socks, no loud colors or bold patterns.
Every Korean male carries a bag.
A black or brown color briefcase is a must in Korea.
Hair and Makeup for Men
Men’s hair should skew a bit shorter. Think military haircuts, because your boss will have served in it.
Koreans are more conservative when it comes to men’s hair color. Try to avoid bright colors.
Make sure to always shave before work.
Many Korean men put on light makeup nowadays, but this is by no means mandatory. Just don’t be surprised if you see them do it.
BB cream or clean eyebrows will make a good impression.
Did we miss anything?
Dressing well in Korea is always a good idea and will improve the way you’re viewed.
I was always impressed with the high level of decorum in Seoul. It made me step my game up a lot to fit in.
You don’t have to break the bank to dress well. There are many affordable options.
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