A thin line between sexy and trashy
By Jung Min-ho, Kim Bo-eun, Bahk Eun-ji
As the temperature gets higher, the layers of clothes get thinner. A lot of young women strut the streets in overly revealing clothes as extremely short skirts or see-through tops are in vogue this summer.
As skirt hems rise and shirts are open to show more cleavage, some wonder where the line between sexy and trashy is when it comes to exposing flesh in public.
It’s true that Korean society has become more open to women who dress provocatively, however many people, especially older generations, still frown at the sight of women in skimpy outfits.
While some are still coy about showing a lot of flesh in public, more and more young women think it makes them look cool to wear revealing clothes in public.
“I think showing your body means confidence and there is nothing wrong with it,” said 21-year-old Bang Su-won. “I don’t see any problem with women wearing revealing clothes on the street. What they wear is entirely up to them.”
Breaking social pressure
The 1970s was a turning point for Korea in terms of women’s bodies and their clothes, following singer Yoon Bok-hee’s “shocking” public appearance in a miniskirt.
The fashion soon swept across the country in no time. Women started wearing miniskirts and tight-fitting dresses in public. Showing skin was not perceived as “promiscuity” to the same level it used to be.
Furthermore, people started to believe that wearing a miniskirt symbolized women’s free will to choose what to wear and females started to recognize it as a means of expressing themselves.
“I want to celebrate my body,” said Rho Sun-yung, a 29-year-old lawyer. “Of course I know there is still social pressure that suppresses women from showing skin in public here, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with showing my body.”
Yoo Sang-hee, a 26-year-old private bank manager, said it is a matter of personal liberty.
“It is basically my decision what I wear. If I want to wear an extremely short skirt or pants, I wear that. If I want to wear a mesh top that shows my underwear, I wear it,” Yoo said. “I don’t mind much about what others think when it comes to what to wear.”
She said that Koreans tend to care too much about other people’s views. Thus, they become reluctant to do what they want, worrying about how others will see them, pointing out that revealing their bodies in public is part of the issue.
Yoo said nobody can keep others from wearing what they want.
“That’s why Koreans have little individuality and blindly follow trends, such as getting the same look through plastic surgery and purchasing the same fashion items. If you look at people on the street in Tokyo or the U.S. you’ll see how different their views are.”
She saw many women wear see-through tops years ago, but at that time, people were looking them as sluttish women and even spoke ill of them in their presence. But it became trendy after some celebrities took the bold step to wear those clothes and people gradually became more accepting of them.
Becoming more open-minded
“It’s summer. It’s fairly hot these days. I would feel sorry for my wife if she couldn’t wear short pants or a thin shirt,” said Song Jung-rok, a 32-year-old software engineer.
Many men used to have an ambivalent attitude towards women in revealing clothes; it’s OK for those they don’t know on the street but not for their girlfriend because they don’t like other guys glancing at their girlfriend’s body.
“You know what? I would be very proud of my wife, if other guys looked at her because that means she is gorgeous.” Song said.
But some people obviously cross the line.
Kim Yu-lan, 24, encountered an unpleasant scene a few days ago in Apgujeong, an upscale southern Seoul district. She came across a young woman who was wearing an aqua-colored spaghetti strap dress with an unbalanced hem which was so short on one side that her buttocks almost showed.
“It was just downright ugly,” said Kim. “My boyfriend next to me at the time was also appalled at the sight.”
And with Korean society frowning on skimpy clothes, Kim finds herself avoiding wearing outfits that may attract too much unwanted attention.
“When I wear a sundress I slip on a cardigan before heading out,” she said. “I also hate the way old men stare at women in revealing clothes.”
Many people in older generations have conservative views on the issue, expressing concerns about problems that could be triggered by skimpy garments.
Chung, a 51-yearold housewife said, “My daughter had a pair of hot pants that she enjoyed wearing. But they were so short and tight that I told her to stop wearing them. And when she heads out wearing a short skirt, I hand her a scarf so she can cover her legs when she sits down.”
The first reason was as a mother, it concerned her that skimpy outfits would endanger her daughter’s safety.
Chung also said that growing up she had been taught that a woman of virtue should dress properly, and that she is still affected by that thought.
“Wearing revealing clothes has become very common nowadays, but as far as my daughters are concerned, I caution them not to go too far.”
As for guys, while some glue their eyes to the women in revealing outfits, others find it uncomfortable.
“When I was on the subway the other day, there was a woman wearing a short skirt, I looked away because I didn’t want her to think I’m a pervert,” said Koh, a 26-year-old college student. “It’s actually quite annoying that I have to consciously look somewhere else because of women wearing revealing clothes.
“Once when I was going up the stairs out of the subway station, a woman in front of me who was wearing a short skirt turned around and gave me a dirty look, because she thought I was looking up her skirt,” said Koh. “I felt wronged because I was just looking ahead to go up the stairs.”
More is not necessarily better when it comes to showing skin, Koh said.
“The line between skimpy and trashy is really unclear. But when women show too much flesh, the sexiness becomes distasteful.”
Kathleen B. Nigro, a gender studies professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says norms, mostly set by male-dominant societies, on appropriate outfits for women is a form of suppression.
She also said female objectification underlies the issue concerning women’s body exposure in public.
“This type of suppression is even more insidious than blatant sexism because of its subtlety and its pretense to support women while encouraging females to accept their own objectification,” she said. “Therefore, showing the body is not the entire issue in itself; it carries a whole host of other cultural issues that have to be examined beneath that surface.”