Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Survival Tip: Shopping in Korea (Clothes)

So you're here, you're settled, and you've come to the realization that you cannot survive on what you brought from home, no matter how appetizing your socks may appear. That's right, it's time to go SHOPPING!

Today I'm going to go over the three types of shopping you're going to have to do in Korea. I'm going to start with the stuff everyone needs to know (even tourists) and move on to the more day-to-day things needed for life as an expat. So, let's begin with my most hated adventure...

Shopping for Clothes/ Accessories

The reason I HATE shopping for clothes is that, until recently, I didn't even fit into a Korean XL (an American L) and most stores don't carry anything over L (American M) and, because of the shape of my body (hourglass with a much larger rack than your average Korean, most Korean women are pear-shaped or stick figures). As such, most things I tried on were all...

And the things that did fit me were like...

BUT, there are places to find clothes in Korea to fit any size (Koreans come in all shapes and sizes, don'tchaknow). You just need to look a little harder and travel a little further to get things in special sizes. Lets start with the easy stuff, though and talk about the general clothes shopping districts in Seoul:


Dongdaemun (located on lines 4, 1, 2, and 5, this place be BIG, yo!) is essentially the Korean clothing Mecca. There are an INSANE number of stores in this area. So many that most of them aren't in actual shops. Most of the stores in Dongdaemun are inside these massive warehouses where clothing vendors set up booths to hock their wears (see what I did there? ^_^ ). You can get clothes in ANY price range. For cheaper goods, go into the generic "Clothing Market" warehouses. Most of them are pretty clearly labeled. In these cheaper places you can haggle to your heart's content and, if you find something you like, chances are there are at least three other vendors (if not 15) selling the same thing, so you can wander around looking for the best price. Dongdaemun is also THE best place to get your accessorizing on. There are a crazy number of absolutely freaking adorable accessory and purse vendors, there's really no better place to go in Seoul.

Insider tip: If you ask a vendor for a price ("ii-ge ol-ma-ye-yoh" or "이게 얼마예요?") and then go to his neighbor and ask for the price on the same product he'll normally quote you less. Sometimes if you go back to the first guy after that he'll offer you a discount. If you want to just straight up ask for a reduction in price say "kka-kka joo-sae-yoh" or "깎아 주세요" which means "discount, please" and they'll normally quote you a lower price.

For middle to higher-end goods I suggest getting completely lost inside of the Miglione or Doota warehouses. These are set up slightly more like department stores, so I wouldn't recommend asking for a discount. I know the Doota has a "Big Size" ("빅 사이즈," literally "big sah-ii-jeu") department. I haven't browsed it yet, but I think it'd be a good place to start if you're looking to fully embrace Korean fashion as a fuller sized woman.

Apgujeong/Sinsa (Shinsa)

If you are read to be all...

Then look no further than this area of excess south of the Han River. Apgujeong and Sinsa (pronounced "Shinsa") are both on subway line 3 and are considered part of the Gangnam borough of Seoul.

Apgujeong and Sinsa are, to me, pretty interchangeable, seeing as they're right freaking next to each other. The only real difference I've seen is that Apgujeong has more super high-end department stores (or just really big versions of high-end stores) and the stores in Sinsa are smaller... really the only difference. I, personally  prefer Sinsa because it has more boutique-y style stores and a LOT of very nice cafes (Koreans gotta get their coffee on). Apgujeong has a lot of very nice restaurants, though. I think Sinsa might be more manageable on a smaller budget. And OH MY GOD THEY HAVE A FOSSIL as well as a few other more hard-to-find international brand stores (random side note: there's totally a Yankee Candle store at Hak-dong Station, line 7, still in Gangnam).

Seriously, though, these places are DAMN EXPENSIVE. Don't believe me? Look at this:

Members of the big KPop band INFINITE looking insanely sexy while shopping at a department store in Apgujeong
Acting heavyweight Hyun Bin browsing in Apgujeong
Jessica Alba and Korean rappers Mighty Mouth before going to a club in Hak-Dong (Gangnam)
I wouldn't recommend trying to find big-size clothing in these areas. Most stores are designer and, ya know, designers dislike making big size clothes no matter what country they're in.

Me in awe of how amazing Myeongdong is
Myeongdong (line 4) is, for me, where it's at. There are two H&Ms, an American Apparel, a Forever21, a Gap, an ENORMOUS Uniqlo (the Korean version of H&M), hundreds of make-up shops, a few cute boutiques, some pretty good restaurants, and a few very nice cafes (one where you get cake FREE with your coffee!). This is also the spot to go if you want the ultimate "Lost In Neon" Asian experience. This place is lit up, every store is blaring music, and every cosmetics shop is begging you to come in and buy stuff (hint: go in, take the basket, take out the free samples, and leave, they seriously won't mind).

The atmosphere in Myeongdong is effing CRAZY! The shopping center is a series of pedestrian streets with vendors selling accessories, clothes, and food, making the already people-filled avenues even more crowded. This is THE shopping center of Seoul so it's FILLED with Koreans and foreigners alike. It's a really uniquely Korean experience.

Myeongdong also has some very awesome Christmas light displays this time of year, and I'll take my Christmas cheer anywhere I can get it in Korea!

I know that H&M, American Apparel, and Forever21 carry the same sizes that they carry in the States. I've been told that MIXXO and ZARA have bigger sizes, but I haven't felt confident enough to check them out. The largest any of these places sell is XL, so if you are bigger than that I'd really suggest...


If you are a bigger size Itaewon (line 6) is really the only place for you outside of having clothes tailored (but it's also a really good pace to have things tailor-made). Itaewon is, as I have said before a few times, the foreigner district of Seoul. In Itaewon you can find clothes in any size and in any style. Sadly, ladies, it appears to be marketed more towards men. The chain shoe stores (ABC Mart, Nike, New Balance) normally still only offer the typical Korean women's shoe sizes while offering up to "Shaq Size" in mens shoes, but you can find some nicer shoes here in your size (places like Aldo and the shoe boutiques along the street). Itaewon is also a good place to go for your typical kitschy Korean souvenirs. But more on where to shop for that stuff later.

So there you have it, a semi-comprehensive guide to the major clothes shopping areas in Seoul. If there's anything I've missed, please feel free to write about it in the comments section and I'll include it in my next post on shopping (which I plan to have focus on buying general household goods and souvenirs/gifts).

Until then... shop on!


  1. Tips on Korean Online Shopping provided by you are very great. Next time when i went to shopping i will use these tips.

  2. Thanks for such a informative article. I am seeking this topic for one month.
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  3. Replies
    1. Yeah, it's not Korean, but there are Uniqlo stores in most of the shopping districts throughout Korea.

  4. Thanks for his I will be going to Seoul in February and I was worried that the weather will ruin the trip but there is still so much i Can do thanks

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