How do you show off your affiliation with Korea through what you wear? For women, a nice silk scarf – though inevitably this restricts you to formal wear and non-summer months. For men, maybe an understated way is through your necktie – but who wears ties nowadays? Plenty of ties and scarves are available in the gift shops of Seoul’s museums, or in the accessory boutiques in places like Insadong. My own favourites are Lee Geon Maan‘s stores, and the shop in the National Museum of Korea.
But if you want something more casual, or something lightweight for the summer, the obvious choice is a T-shirt. There must be a wide range of designs on offer in the street markets of Asia, and online. But you don’t have to go to Seoul, or brave one of those intimidating Korean websites with all those dodgy Active X controls in order to get your piece of Korea-themed clothing.
Short of printing your own T-shirt, which is always an option, there’s Funky Koreatown, an online store based in the US, with a range of T-shirts. They carefully steer clear of images of individual stars, wary of copyright issues. This is a shame (who wouldn’t want a top with a nice picture of Hyolee or T.O.P on it?) but it’s understandable. Instead, they have some humorous and classic slogans – and some rude ones – which cater for a range of tastes. Being, shall we say, no longer in my 20s, my own favourite is a restrained print of the design on the Presidential Seal – Daehan Minguk in a script which almost looks as if it could be a maze and on a nice faded grey colour they call asphalt. It takes a while for Koreans to recognise what they are seeing when I wear it, but when they do, they are always intrigued.
My other Korean T-shirt came as a bit of a surprise. As I staggered out of the Old Justice Pub having had rather too much Doom Bar and soju with my pajeon and bulgogi (it was the last day before the commencement of Lenten abstinence, after all), Chef Kim thrust a souvenir T-shirt into my hands: apparently a little loyalty gift (I’ve taken my work colleagues there a number of times, and they love it). Advertising what must be the only pub in the world where you can get decent draught bitter with freshly-cooked Korean food, I’m happy to wear it anywhere.
In the interests of full disclosure, my T-shirt from Funky Koreatown was a promotional copy. But I’m happy to share a link to their site because the shirt is good quality.