Are you an ajumma (아줌마)? Ajumma is the familiar term for “married woman”, but also the general moniker in calling an older woman, regardless of marital status. It’s not just a name, though. It’s much more than that; it’s a title, a state of mind, a complete lifestyle. All Korean women seem to be born with the ajumma gene which surfaces naturally after 3 months of becoming one, and whose traits become stronger and stronger as time goes by.
Ajummas have their own distinctive style, something that also seems to be automatically released upon marriage, but if you’re an ajumma who just isn’t fitting in, or in need of some extra oomph, here are a few tips to make your outer (and inner) ajumma shine!
Rock that perm
A mass of tight round curls ppogeuri (뽀글이). The pyramid. The wavy bob. Or soft curls cradling the face. Make a selection. The trademark of the ajumma, you gotta get the ajumma perm. Korean kids grow up wondering whether ajummas are allowed to have straight or longer-than-shoulder-length hair and you don’t want to crush that illusion, do you? Head to the closest neighborhood beauty salon and ask for an ‘ajumma pama’ (아줌마 파마) and you can’t go wrong.
Be vibrant, very vibrant
So you’ve got the hair. Now for the clothes. When dressing down it’s the blouse with loose “stomach pants” (low waistlines are definitely not in), maybe a cardigan or sports jacket to fend off the chill, matched with ultra-comfy shoes, whether slippers or moccasins.
For dressing up? Ajummas are never wallflowers. They’re beautiful flowers in full bloom that radiate and shine in the sun, blinding everyone within their presence. Never wear drab colors. Unless you’re going to a funeral. Also, always match your colors. The brighter, the better. Red is good, for lipstick, too. Go for prints and patterns, boldly mix and match. Patterned twin sets are always an excellent choice. Finish off the look with standard pumps and a luxury brand (or faux luxury brand) handbag.
Be the Chungdam-dong daughter-in-Law
Maybe you’re not sure of this ajumma thing, not quite yet, because you’re newly married. You’re well-educated, from a good family and married into a wealthy family living in Seoul’s ritzy Chungdam-dong, or at least would like to think you are. You want to look poised and demure and most of all, expensive. A socialite with standards, that’s what you want to be.
Wear luxury brands that aren’t so obvious (no large logo prints for you), clothes from young designers with a classic touch, accessorize with understated yet real jewels, and be sure to have a clean sophisticated hairstyle. After all, you not only represent yourself, but your husband’s family. You’re the perfect daughter-in-law.
Or the Seongbuk-dong Mother-in-Law
Okay, so you’re not a newlywed anymore; it’s been a while since you’ve been an ajumma. But you don’t want to be the standard ajumma, you still want to look as expensive as you did when younger. You’d like to be a mother-in-law from] a blue-blood old money family living in Seoul’s Seongbuk-dong. Soften that ajumma perm or upgrade it to an updo, tone down on the prints, wear simpler designs with expensive fabrics, don’t scrimp on accessories, say goodbye to the red lipstick and always, always wear immaculate makeup.
She’s a little bit country
Ah, who cares about looking like an ajumma from a trendy K-drama? You’re an ajumma who works with the soil, who breathes in the country air, who is in touch with nature. You need to be practical; fashion is for the frivolous, you have style, country ajumma style. Be sure to wear loose billowing pattern harem pants that allow you to sit and kneel in the fields, boots to tread the earth, a brimmed hat to avoid the sun and a towel draped on your neck to wipe the sweat of your labor. City ajummas try to copy and fail miserably; not everyone can pull off this look.
So ajumma, you have to keep in shape! Country ajummas acquire flair and style while moving about all day, but city ajummas have to do some serious exercising to catch up. You don’t want to do anything too heavy, though. You might get *gasp* muscles. Therefore, you walk. “Power-walk”, that is. Take a brisk, arm-pumping walk around your neighborhood park. And remember, the sun is your enemy. You’ll get *gasp* age spots and *double gasp* wrinkles. Avoid the sun like the plague. Drown yourself in sunblock. Cover up all the body parts that can be exposed: wear a “Darth Vader” sun visor, long sleeves (or short sleeves and separate arm wraps), long pants (the non-ajummas exercising in shorts are just plain clueless), gloves and face mask if necessary. When in doubt of coverage, carry a UV coated parasol.
Ajumma groups are the best
When power-walking, you’ll probably meet a lot of fellow ajummas. Ajummas have herding qualities. Ajummas of a feather flock together, especially on trips or taking hikes in the mountains. Always travel in groups, coordinate your fashion, and carry identical travel bags and/or fanny packs to enhance the group spirit. Excursions to museums and galleries are also group activities, make sure to show off your camaraderie by talking loudly and gaily amongst yourselves.
Hone the attitude
Come on, let’s face it. It’s not just about style; you really need the attitude, too. “Ajumma force”. Such as showing who’s boss on public transportation. Throwing your handbag as a placeholder as soon as an empty seat shows up on the subway or bus? Do it with panache! Push and shove anyone in your way to that empty seat, glare and growl at anyone who dares to say anything or get in your way. Become the Queen Ajumma by flying across to an empty seat while simultaneously throwing your bag to other empty seats for your friends. Squeeze your way bottom first when the slightest gap occurs between people. And of course, admit defeat when a more skilled ajumma beats you and while admiring her mad skills, pay that ajumma deep respect from the bottom of your heart.
Everyone’s business is your business
It’s not being nosy, it’s being helpful and considerate; you’re worrying on the behalf of others, for others. You’re not asking personal questions just for the sake of asking personal questions; you’re gathering necessary information to use when giving that person the needed advice. (And you know that person needs advice!) Of course, the acquired information should be shared with as many other people as possible, because you need to be open to many other opinions, right?
And other people should be aware of your opinion, too, whether they know you or not. You most definitely should tell the young businesswoman trying on a suit at the department store that it does not suit her at all, despite what the salesgirl says. (What salesgirl is going to be honest with a potential customer?) Oh, and those noisy kids running around in the restaurant? They deserve a sound scolding. Unless it’s your kids. Your kids are just being kids, and well, the other kids are being brats.
Shopping is as shopping does
Only the best for your family. Your husband is breaking his back trying to provide for the family, the kids are being shuttled from school to hagwon (private academies) non-stop, the least you can do is to feed them well (and endlessly) on a smart budget. That doesn’t mean you have to restrain yourself when the announcer at the local mart blasts over the loudspeaker the latest discount and 1+1 deals. (Buy one, get one free.) Rush and get the deals, even if that means you buy enough meat to feed an army. After all, that’s what the freezer is for. A freezer isn’t worth having unless it’s chockfull of food, right?
Oh, yes. You deserve to get that silk dress 50% off, although even its sale price is way over your budget. It’s not as if you buy dresses all the time. By the way, you’re definitely worth it, and it’s not as if your husband needs to know.
Fierce mother and wonder woman
“Woman may be weak, but mother is great.” Ajummas are usually mothers, fierce protectors of their families. Most sacrifice their hopes and dreams in favor of their family’s wishes. They bear the weight of their family, their parents, their siblings, and their in-laws.
They say Korea is maintained by the power of ajummas, that ajummas are the driving force behind the success this country has achieved. No matter what you think of ajummas, you take the good with the bad, and the good overwhelmingly wins over the bad. What ajummas can do is astonishing, so it’s not surprising that they are referred to as a “super woman” or a “wonder woman”.
So, be proud you’re an ajumma. Rock that ajumma style and do wondrous things. Ajumma power all the way!