My father just told me over lunch today that when he recently went back to research stories about his mother’s life in Korea, a former neighbor of hers told him that my grandmother was very fashionable and one of the first women in the neighborhood to wear high heels. I wish we had photos! So that explains my addiction to heels! It runs in the family and so I can attribute my psychological weakness to shoe-inclined genes (or so I’ll tell my future mate when the credit card bills roll around…)
Thinking about Korean shoes made me want to write about them. Here are some traditional Korean shoes, now mostly used for ceremonies. Arirang, a Korean TV website, says that the shoes, also known as “Hwahye,” or “flower shoes,” were worn mostly for special occasions. “By just taking a glance at the traditional Korean shoes worn by people in the Joseon Era, you were able to tell the age, social class, and gender of the people who wore them.” The world isn’t much different now, is it?
They are generally silk with embroidery:
Aren’t they pretty? I had some as a child to wear with my traditional Korean dresses, which looked basically like this but were pink:
This is what the queen wore in the Joseon Dynasty, which I think is quite lovely, even the very obvious braided wigs they wore (sadly, shoes are not visible):
(Via Wikimedia Commons)
I was amused to find this post by a Canadian living in Korea where she remarks on how Korean women wear great shoes (true) and how she thinks it’s funny that Koreans remove their shoes to enter a home (makes perfect sense to me). It’s been natural to me my whole life to remove my shoes upon entering a home, but I remember being shocked as a child to gradually discover that most Americans wear their outside shoes inside the home as well. What about tracking mud and dirt and outside germs in?
Koreans seem to switch between different functionality modes, and shoes follow suit. My parents seem to get visibly upset if I wear my “outside” clothes inside the house for longer than two seconds. Why don’t you change into your comfortable indoor clothes, they will urge me. There are fancy clothes and work clothes and home clothes, they’re not the same, and that’s that.
The whole inside-outside dilemma made me think of the Sex and the City episode where Carrie is superreluctant when asked to take off her Manolos at a friend’s party and then they get stolen. Shoes are so much a color- and style-coordinated part of our outfits in the West, but it’s true that in Korea it’s ill-mannered if you don’t take your shoes off when you enter the home. There are even various shoes provided by the house for you to wear instead.
Here are one type of wherever-it-may-be-wet rubber slippers you’d be offered in many Asian countries for bathroom areas (if you go to a Korean spa in America like Flushing, Queens’ SpaCastle, you’ll get these to wear) or for the courtyard or backyard of a housing complex (though I wouldn’t wear the same pair in the bathroom and outside, I guess it depends on the house):
Here are the kinds of fabric slippers you would wear indoors in non-bathroom areas (i.e. for the living room, at a hotel, in the karaoke room, etc.; even if you are a man, you may end up wearing something frou-frou with little pink bunnies on them, so be ready for that):
When they ARE wearing shoes, Korean ladies tend toward either tomboyish, preppy, hip-hop, sophisticated or ULTRA girly. There isn’t as much of a hipster, crazy, experimental style (in my opinion, Japan would be the place to find more of that). From what I hear, the hipster boot has caught on a bit but was much slower to come around.
Below are some examples of the seemingly everlasting feminine Korean styles, most of which seem to follow the narrow shapes of Choos and Blahniks (and I didn’t see nearly as many platforms). When I was in Korea, it was not uncommon to wear frilly, rhinestoney, bow-adorned shoes with a large, rhinestone, blingy bow barette in your hair, and I even saw one gal wearing a pink anti-pollution mask over her mouth and nose to match her entirely pink head-to-toe ensemble — so my rockergirl styles stood out just a wee teensy bit. From what I have seen in friends’ Chinese women’s magazines, ultra-femmey shoes are also consistently popular in China, but in different colors, including bolder reds.
If you don’t believe me that they really wear sparkly, girly shoes like these, check out this alarming photo of a shoe store in the popular Seoul shopping district of Myeong-Dong and you’ll understand why a tough, punky, experimental shoeista like yours truly would have a hard time finding shoes I liked in Seoul!