Korean Kicks: Stylish Footwear in the ROK

Written by on January 3, 2013 in Brands & Products

Everyone needs shoes, right? Some shoes are stylish, while others are more functional. What about you? Do you just wear any old pair of kicks or are you what my students call a “shoeholic”? Korea seems to have its share of so-called shoeholics, and they aren’t just women. High-heeled, low-heeled, sneakers and flats – there are shoes of every style here, and don’t even get me started on the fancy socks and tights you wear with them! From shoe alleys to mega box stores, Koreans just gotta get their shoe fix.

Well, hello there!

Walk down any shopping street and you’ll see them – store after store filled with shoes! If you’re lucky, you’ll find some shoes outside the front door; lined up on tables, on sale and waiting for you. If there aren’t any shoes outside, you’ll have to squeeze your way in. The average shoe store is no bigger than a large walk-in closet or the interior of a small to medium-sized bathroom! Shoes are stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves, organized by style and colour, and sub-categorized by size. If you don’t see your size, you have to ask for it, and likely the spares are wrapped in clear plastic bags and crammed into a cubby under the shoe racks. Sizes run in millimeters but without differentiation for gender or age, meaning that an American size 8 ladies’ shoe will be 240 millimetres and a men’s size 10 will be 280. Unfortunately for some of us myself included, shoe sizes tend to run a little… small. I live in a veritable shoe heaven, surrounded by shoes, but none of them fit me – oh, what shame and horror! I feel like I’m in some kind of bizarre expat version of Cinderella, but I digress. If you’ve got Korean-sized feet (between 225 and 245 for ladies, 255 and 275 for men) then you’re in luck! Korea is the place for you and your shoe fantasies too!

I know what they’re thinking – “Shoes!”

What kind of style should you choose? Boots are eternally in fashion, be they low or high-cut. Do you prefer a heel or flat? Even men’s shoes have a little heel on them, helping to achieve that tall, long-legged look that’s popular in nearly every country around the world. This season guys and gals are sporting flat ankle lace-up boots in faux suede or patent leather finish, while the ladies are rocking the sexy yet oh-so-impractical peep-toe boot in a wedge or high-heel. Faux fur-trimmed booties with stiletto heels also fall into that chic-but-inconvenient category of footwear favoured by young women. On the somewhat more practical side, knee-high riding boots are also in season. As for details on the boots? Anything goes! Metallic or glitter finishes, studs, rivets, cap-toes, buttons and more! I’ll take lots of buckles, please!

Boots, eternally stylish for men and women 

Athletic trainers are another unisex hit, but don’t be mistaken – not all of these shoes are actually for running! Most of the time, they’re simply to look cool. Bright contrasting colours and textured soles or funky patterns draw attention to your look, and limited edition or custom sneakers ensure that your kicks are one-of-a-kind! Accessories are also a big feature, such as laces, clips, and even wings, like I saw on one young woman’s sneakers. While one-of-a-kind shoes are definitely desirable, two-of-a-kind ain’t so bad either! Couples love to sport matching trainers, and the brighter the better! Matching high-tops are also popular with the preference leaning toward solid patterns in a rainbow of colours.

Stylish sneakers are bright with unique accessories

Another practical choice is the oxford flat. The rounded toe and wing-tip details are flattering on stylish men and women of all ages, not to mention comfortable. One thing I love about Korea is the fashion sense, and it’s not limited to the women! Many young Korean men love to dress up, and shoes are key accessory to any well-planned outfit. Right now, super-flat dress shoes like the oxford flat are en vogue, but you’ll find the more daring men sporting low platforms or heels too. In the summer, men wear cropped pants with or without socks to show off the shoes and during the winter months, socks become part of the look in solid pastel colours or office-prints like argyle and check. In Korea the sock colour doesn’t need to match the shoe – no black on black here! Men put their right foot forward with brightly coloured shoes and socks.

Fashionable footwear is the key to completing your look

Meanwhile ladies love, love, LOVE their high heels here, and you’ll see women young and old in heels day and night. Stilettos at 7:00 a.m.? No problem! I don’t know how they do it. On beaches, boardwalks, sidewalks, and the catwalk, you’ll see that Korean women adore their high heels. I’ve even seen women hiking in them! Of course when you enter a home or sit-down restaurant in Korea, you remove your shoes at the door, so heels are practical in the sense that they only take a moment to slip on and off… right? Fortunately there are so many stylish options that you never get stuck in the same pair of (uncomfortable) shoes for long! So if shoes are your thing, or you have a thirst for constant change in your wardrobe, look no further than Korea’s shoe stores – you’ll be clicking your heels in no time!

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About the Author

Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly four years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.