I’m forever stumped by sizes in other countries. I’m quite sure it is the same vice-versa. What I find the most baffling is how X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large is completely different wherever I go. I’m an M or L in Korean size, yet at times I find myself swimming in an American S. I had to squeeze into a Japanese L (and give up) but found a European M too big.
It’s not only about country, either. Every brand seems to have a different idea of what those sizes should be. And we shouldn’t ignore build. Even if you’re the same weight and height as another person, depending on what your body shape is and where your measurements lie, you might be wearing a totally different size altogether.
But luckily, general guidelines exist. Most brands (and non-brands) more or less follow these guidelines and don’t stray too much from them, so here’s a quick introduction:
The “standard” Korean size for women is 55. This is the size that is most produced and also the most desired, although the current marketing ploy is pushing for 44. Unfortunately, most of the young, hip, and trendy Korean brands do not make sizes larger than 66. Women is also the category where sizes fluctuate the most by brand, so always try the clothes on before purchase.
Men’s sizes are more straightforward. Apparently guys are less finicky about sizes and looking smaller so there isn’t too much difference in sizes between brands. But to be on the safe side, again, try on the clothes!
Shoes are pretty easy because most of the time you’ll be trying them on before purchase, but it’s still nice to know what your size is, right? Of course, with the exception of sports shoes, if you’re buying shoes from a major Korean brand and your size is not available, you can have them custom-made. Generally there shouldn’t be any extra-charge (because you will be waiting for them and making customers wait is just not good Korean service), unless you’re a giant who needs a whole lot of extra material. Even then there shouldn’t be a huge extra-charge. For people with little feet, custom-made shoes are the way to go. Definitely no extra-charge there. There might be delivery charges depending on store, though.
The most difficult sizes to decipher. It’s not often an option to try them on, nor is it easy to guess just looking at them. Advice for the ladies: if you have a prominent bust size and plan to live in Korea for a while, stock up on your brassiere before you come. It’s very, very difficult to find brassiere that will fit. The stores that carry large sizes are few, most of the larger sizes are imported brands (and thus expensive/overpriced), or the designs will be of the “special” variety (all lacy and dolled up) with very few basic designs.
For the guys, if you are on the heavy side, finding boxers will be much easier than finding briefs. The following chart applies to both tops and bottoms.
Kids are tricky, because they all grow at different rates. Most kids’ clothes have an indication of height and weight so instead of age, you can base the sizes on the actual size of the child.
And then, in all of the categories, there’s the ever confusing “free” size. In the traditional markets, online shopping malls, or places like Dongdaemun where there are no established brands, you’ll find many products whose sizes are simply listed “free”.
If you’re at an actual store whose only option is a “free” size, just try on the item before purchase. If that is not an option, trust the salesperson to give you advice.
If you’re shopping online, most of the online shops with “free” sizes will have an accompanying chart explaining the exact measurements of the item. The measurements will not be your body measurements but those of the garment, so if you’re buying a t-shirt you can compare the measurements of the potential purchase item with those of the t-shirt you actually have at home (and fits).
Remember: not all the sizes are accurate equivalents of their foreign counterparts, it’s just a guideline. Hope this helps in your next shopping experience.