“Fashion knows no age”: Seoul’s stylish seniors | South Korea
Ppots and pans, piles of shirts and shoes, tables laden with jewelry and boxes overflowing with bric-a-brac. In the tangle of streets near Seoul’s Dongmyo Station Exit 3, hundreds of vendors sell everything from old Instamatic cameras to books, bags and vinyl records.
Located in the historic district of Dongdaemun, the South Korean capital, the bustling Dongmyo Flea Market is scattered around a shrine built in honor of a former Chinese military commander. But there’s more to the neighborhood than bargains, vintage clothes and retro treasures. It also serves as a cultural hub for the city’s seniors to shop, socialize, and show off their unique style.
“One day, I noticed an elderly gentleman looking for clothes like me. His style blew me away,” recalls 29-year-old Seoul-based photographer Kim Dong-hyun, who spends his days documenting the the city’s vibrant senior street fashion scene, much of which he shares on instagram.
Over the years, Dongmyo has undergone many changes, becoming a destination for young people’s new appreciation for vintage clothes on a budget. However, Dongmyo has always been a playground for the city’s elderly population.
“I’ve met people who have been going there every week for 30 years,” Kim says, based on the many conversations he’s had with the people he’s photographed. South Korea is a rapidly aging society. By 2050, the number of elderly people could represent nearly 44% of the country’s population. While many seniors feel healthier than ever and do not consider themselves old, the loneliness of the elderly is a important problem.
“In Korea, there aren’t many places where old people can go to have fun. But in Dongmyo, they can shop, they can play, meet friends and drink. makgeolli [rice wine]. It’s their domain, and they don’t need to worry about what other people think.
“From their hairstyles to their glasses and shoes, they know how to look good and take care of themselves. They pursue their own unique styles and ways of expressing their individuality. Many of us believe that connected people are just young people, a message that is further amplified by the media. But fashion has no age,” he says.
Among the elderly people hanging out in Dongdaemun is Lee Seok-ki, a member of a group known as “the military crew.” The group consists of three men whose styles are different from each other: Lee prefers a minimalist traditional military look, while his friends like to reinterpret the military style in a modern way, decorating the clothes with colorful embroidered patches and badges.
On the contrary, senior fashion is more refined, says Kim. “It’s like wine. At 20 you taste everything, but at 70 your taste is sharper – you know what you like.
As a child, 74-year-old Chae Myung-hee developed a passion for fashion that led her to work as a women’s clothing designer for 40 years. Even during the pandemic, when some people dressed up and avoided makeup, she says she strived to always look good whether she was wearing a mask or not. “It’s always been a part of me,” Chae says.
In her upcoming book, Mut – Street Fashion of Seoul, Kim provides insight into the world of senior fashion. He hopes the book will provide a fresh perspective on a demographic that is often overlooked or underestimated. Kim says older people should be recognized for their composure and flair, known as to meet in Korean, or as Kim likes to style it online and in her book – mut.
“It’s more than the English word ‘cool’,” he says. “Sometimes it can mean something is wonderful, sometimes it can mean nice, sometimes it’s beautiful or fabulous. I can’t express it differently or translate the word, and I don’t see the need for it.
The images offer hope, he says, and a new way of looking at aging. “I think some people have hope when they see my photos. They can see that they too can continue to be fashionable as they get older.
“When a title uses the word ‘grandpa’, we automatically assume something negative…I want to show that seniors have individual personalities, that they too can have their own.” to meet.”