Idol Wave on Fashion: How the Kpop Idol Scene Influences K-Fashion and 5 Male Idol Fashionistas

It was 2012 when I started college and I distinctly remember getting close with my freshman roommate after we watched a few of her kpop recommendations. First of which was Taeyang’s Wedding Dress (which was honestly a tearjerker!). 

But I didn’t get hooked until a year later during my sophomore year when I got introduced to the first boys who would turn out to change my life forever. You’ve probably heard this in all kpop anecdotes but it’s true. It wasn’t some monumental change in preference because I’ve been watching kdrama for years. Nor was it a grand gesture of high scooping me from my lows, lulling me of pain and giving me comfort. It was just casual yet over time I realized it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in life and laughingly, I have only made a few bests in my twenty-five years of existence. 

EXO was my first dive into kpop and I literally learned how to sing Don’t Go in Korean – my favorite XOXO B-side track. After them, I’ve learned to explore more into kpop and found myself addicted to BTS which has become my main bias group, Seventeen, Twice, Red Velvet, and Mamamoo to name a few more.  And the more I got into kpop, not only did they influence my music and perspective, so did my fashion style. 

When people think about Korean music videos, they simply jump to an image of “bubble-gum aesthetic” with bright coloured, mismatched, and highly eccentric outfits – a product of South Korea’s expressive and unique fashion. And they’re not wrong. Back when I started “stanning” them, I was introduced to their loud and boisterous music video and fashion aesthetics. 

I remember watching Girls’ Generation’s (SNSD) I Got A Boy music video which featured colorful outfits with each member having an individual style that leaves an impact image on your mind just like Sunny’s mint green curly hair dressed up with an oversized denim jacket with leopard print, denim shorts, printed leggings, and boots. There’s also GOT7’s Just Right in 2015, a true bubble-gum music and aesthetic. One of the most memorable outfits back then for me was Mark’s yellow hoodie with printed donuts with his blonde hair and pink bangs highlight. This was the music video that has attracted a lot of fans and formed the strong fanbase of ahgasses. 

But if you’ve ever watched and explored more kpop music videos or paid a bit of attention to the “Hallyu Wave” as people would like to call it, you’d know that kpop has always been known for its unique take on fashion and haven’t shied away from different genres. And as a major industry in Korea’s entertainment, they have influenced a lot of fashion styles and even set trends!

Case in point, F(x) wore the tennis skirt style during their promotions for “First Love” and after two years in 2016, a tennis skirt craze overcame Korea. Fans were quick to point and agree that this was the impact of F(x). Another style that trended from a music video was the iconic colored pants from SHINee’s Juliette. You must have probably bought a pair or two of these colored skinny jeans dubbed by Korean media as “SHINee’s trend”. 

KPop is also known for its artistic take on revolutionary social change shown through the usage of military concepts in their music videos – that is, camo, elaborate trench coats, and combat boots. 

Brown Eyed Girls donned the urban fit with a twist ditching the usual all army green ensemble to a style closer to their sexy signature. In their music video for “Sixth Sense”, the girls wore plastic-y burgundy trench coats, thigh-high boots, hot pants, and tops with gold tassels – a fashion statement that calls for freedom of speech by “shaking the norms and reinterpreting set concepts”. 

In the boy group arena, B.A.P. shows off the same level of revolutionary vibe with their music video, “Power”. They were dressed in “camo cargo pants and jackets, tag necklaces, wheat Timberland boots, and black suspenders labeled ‘army’ ” as they sang about justice and revolt against the system. 

BTS, the most popular boy group in South Korea and internationally-acclaimed music artists, has also shown different shades of the Korean male fashion with their music videos. They started with “No More Dream” branding themselves with a hip-hop rebel concept talking about dreaming out of the box. A first of their dark and wild vibe. 

The group also featured the schoolboy concept with their Boy in Luv music video and then transitioned to more pastel aesthetics with Boy with Luv coupled with denim. They also repped in pink – BTS Jin’s signature color – putting together different shades and textures which perfectly conveyed their message. 

They also picked up the streetwear style using it to depict the ‘effortless yet cool’ vibe who called out on the haters and the naysayers with their famous “Mic Drop” music video teasing “Did you see my bag?”.  And who can ever forget their sexy suits in Blood, Sweat, and Tears with BTS Jimin and JHope’s iconic choker and v-necked style? They put in a regal look in lustful undertones – a simple yet elegant take for a suit. 

The KPop industry has set precedent for trends and boundary-breaking fashion. They have always been bold in a fashion-forward movement and have helped Seoul solidify its position in the fashion arena aligning with major cities like Paris and Milan. 

What is the personal role of idols in influencing Korean fashion?

KPop is considered South Korea’s number one cultural export. After the popularity peak of the culture of dramas, beauty and skincare, Kpop is becoming the next trend. This trend development was termed as the “Hallyu wave” coined in the 1990s by a Chinese newspaper used to encompass the influence of Korea in many different aspects across the globe. It cemented its global influence with the catchy “Gangnam Style”  in 2012 by Psy which has overtaken local and international music and has put people in a “Last Song Syndrome” or LSS. 

Now highly influenced by Korean idols, South Korea has become South Asia’s leading fashion capital championing expression and individuality in style. Though most idols have curated styles banking on capital consumerism which encourages fans to purchase what they wear or to put forth the brands that they are endorsing for public exposure, not everything they wear is a “forced” fashion choice. Just like what we see in a growing trend of “airport fashion” made popular by idols traveling for their concerts and tours, this trend has realized the personal taste and fashion sense of each member of a group and has made the fashionistas stand out – though I dare say that Kpop idols generally have good fashion sense. 

Some idols and idol groups have been credited with the moniker of “Golden Touch”, a phenomenon wherein they trend and sell out clothing items they just wear and products they use even without official endorsement. That is how powerful they can get and has shown how they can influence fashion with their daily “uncurated” outfits. 

Top 5 Male Idol Fashionistas: Breaking Boundaries and Stereotypes

Korea has a very conservative type of culture and values and sometimes change is an unwelcome concept especially with the fashion culture. This is kind of surprising though since Korea champions personality and individuality through style but over time it has been more accepting and embracing of more eccentric and risky styles. 

This list features the old and new era of male fashionistas who have stepped forward to break through boundaries to create their unique styles.  

Big Bang’s GDragon (GD) aka Kwon Jiyong: The Rebellious Fashion Staple Name

I think no fashionista list is ever complete without GD at the forefront and it can even be counted as blatant disrespect to South Korea’s fashion culture to not include him. 

“Don’t be afraid. There’s no right answer in fashion.” 

That was GD’s take when asked about his rebellious trendsetting style. Even as new generations of idol groups come and go and with younger male idols trending for their fashion style, GD remains a style icon and unbeatable in the fashion arena. 

In 2017, he was named by the Business of Fashion in their “500 People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry” alongside high-end fashion names. He has forged his way through the global fashion circle and formed a close friendship with Karl Lagerfeld even becoming the Chanel’s muse way before the luxury brand ambassadorships of Korean idols trended. According to Vogue, GDragon is “one of the biggest Asian fashion moguls”. He was the first idol to be invited in Paris Fashion Week and has close associations with other luxury brands such as Givenchy and Louis Vuitton. It was even reported that LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) has invested $50 million to YG Entertainment – the entertainment agency handling GD and Big Bang – in 2014. 

GD’s style is often described as unisex in beauty and temptation with his heavy eyeliner, slim figure, and feminine dressing style. Throughout his KPop career which started from 2006, he has experimented with a lot of styles ranging from dramatic, edgy, and dark to military, eclectic punk, denim on denim casual style, to color craze. 

He has sported different hair colors – one of the many iconic KPop characteristics – and has labelled him as the ‘iguana idol’. He has never been one to be afraid of experimenting and getting out of his comfort zone. One of many fan favorite hairstyles of his was his 2012 cotton candy fluff during his “Crayon” promotions. Another one that stamps its position on the fan-favorite list is his platinum faux hawk which he rocked in 2013 with his “Crooked” promotions. Though even as a style icon, GD had also headlined the bad hair days with his dubbed ‘tamago hair’ during the 2013 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) which he acknowledged through a tweet

Aside from being a luxury brand ambassador, he is also associated with streetwear fashion through brands like Ambush and KTZ. He has also made his footprint as a fashion icon with his brand PeaceMinusOne in 2016 run with his stylist Gee Eun which featured caps with long straps and clips. 

SHINee’s Key aka Kim Kibum: The Genderless Avant-Garde Fairy 

Key has been one of the “key” names in South Korean fashion culture following his debut with SHINee in 2008. He flaunts avant-garde style – a combination of high fashion and function – in his daily outfits and is known for styling designer brands to a comfortable and casual look. 

In a youtube collaboration with JAYKEEOUT x VWVB in 2018, Key shared his perspective on content creation and his role as an “ambassador of genderless fashion”. He expressed that at first, he wasn’t always comfortable promoting genderless fashion and noted that it wasn’t in his stylistic preference. As mentioned before, Korea is yet to break through old conservative boundaries and embracing new concepts such as genderless fashion. Yet, he realized how this style suits him well and makes him stand out which is why he decided to embrace it and push the acceptance of genderless fashion in society. 

“So in summary, I want to break the boundary of sex among the consumers in these types of fields.” He also said, “Usually, men endorse men’s cosmetic products and women do theirs. Or when a male celebrity endorses a female cosmetic brand, the angle is usually like men wanting to see women in that certain product. But I want both men and women to simply see me and then feel the need to buy that product.”

Key is also one of the few artists during his time who is personally involved with the style that he shows on stage. As he said in one interview with SHINee that he discusses what he wears with his stylists. His popular daily style includes a “shorts suit” and a variety of caps and hats. 

Like GD, Key is also one who never shied away in trying different hair colors and styles. And when it comes to iconic hairstyles, Shawols will approve that Key’s eccentric half-shaved hair during the “Lucifer” era may top the list. 

BTS’ JHope aka Jung Hoseok: The King of Oversized and Risk Fashion

BTS is one of the many male groups who has no blackhole in terms of fashion. These gents have been on the forefront of fashion and unlike many idols, they do not have official links with luxury brands. What you see them wearing – in music videos or just hashtag ootd – are brands that the members have picked for themselves though they have a few clothing brand endorsements under their name.  

As members have pointed out, JHope has a luxurious taste when it comes to fashion and sports an eccentric streetwear style with his above the knee shorts and bucket hats. His ensemble is usually a combination of Balenciaga, OFF WHITE, and Vetements which are popular streetwear brands in South Korea.

In an interview of BTS with Billboard in 2018, JHope expressed what fashion means to him. He said, 

“Your attitude changes. As we try to express ourselves and perform. It feels very different depending on the clothing. So fashion is an important part of us.” 

What makes JHope a part of this list is his knack for risky fashion – a combination of unconventional clothing pieces which turn out looking like a fabulously and flawlessly matched outfit. He is only one of the few who can effortlessly walk this kind of outfit which is a fashion statement in itself. JHope is also one of the few idols who can rock oversize in style, able to turn it up or dial down as necessary. 

GOT7’s  BamBam aka Kunpimook Bhuwakul: The Icon of Glitz and Glamor 

One of the many emerging idol names in fashion is GOT7’s BamBam who debuted with his group in 2014. BamBam is a Thai rapper whose fashion statement has definitely evolved from cute to sexy and mature. His style is often described as unique and chic and always goes by the theme of “subtlety is overrated” wherein he is always confident to sport his eccentric style even on a daily outfit. 

Like most fashion icons, BamBam is also a style experimenter and has an arsenal of hairstyle looks to suit his fabulous personality. As many fans and even nonfans have noted, BamBam can make anything look good. One of his many iconic hairstyles is his fresh cut white hair which has left fans wild and attacked. 

He is also very experimentative on accessories and is one of the few idols who delve into this specific category in fashion. 

Seventeen’s The8 aka Xu Minghao: The Fashion Artist 

If you’d ask Carats (Seventeen’s fandom name) who is the fashionista in the team, you’d get a majority of votes for The8 followed closely by Mingyu. Though undeniably all Seventeen members are good fashionistas, The8 takes it to a notch higher by merging his style with art. He personalized his fashion style with the use of his own art which makes him a fashion artist. 

Casual styling wise, The8 is known in incorporating utilitarian details in his outfits to ease movement and up the functionality of the clothes. He is also popular with “fashion extremes” once sporting a bright neon green outfit with a trendy pair of Yeezy Boots that have gone viral in social media. 

Fans have also been in conflict whether his taste is just eccentric or borderline fashion terrorist/genius when he cut holes at the bottom of his denim pants for his shoe tag for a better fit. The8 has also sported a variety of hair colors and styles from simple brown hair to highlights to mullets and iconic red hair which have all been fan favorites. 

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