padding jacket

Winter Uniform(ity): South Korea’s Latest Padding Craze

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South Korea’s winter is now in full-swing. With temperatures now hovering in sub-zero readings and reports of first snow falls, it’s time to whip out this year’s latest fashion accessory: the long padded jacket.

Especially popular among students, the (often) black-colored goose down knee-length coats are now an omnipresent sight on many busy streets nationwide.

A few years back, the craze was for North Face jackets. At the time, they were sometimes referred to as “spine breakers” as they ‘broke’ their parents financial backs so that their children could keep up with the latest trends. The jackets were seen as markers of social status and began determining playground hierarchies according to their prices. The fad reportedly brought problems at school including theft, bullying and even money extortion.

This time round, all the rage seems to be for a longer version of the goose-down jacket, now dubbed the “new spine breakers,” with jackets from popular brands such as North Face fetching as much as 650,000 won (590 dollars).

In an unscientific street survey, seven students revealed to Korea Exposé two simple reasons for purchasing the jackets: “It’s cold” and “They’re trendy.”

Two Japanese exchange students clad in the long black coats in the streets of Seoul’s Daehak-ro noted that these jackets were already a thing in Japan last year. Another common theme among high school girls was that the jacket shielded their legs from the cold when wearing their skirt uniform.

Some students also confessed to wearing cheap versions. While branded jacket prices can run into the hundreds of thousands of won (several hundred dollars), some non-goose artificial filler alternatives, such as Wellon, cost only a fraction of this amount.

Celebrities, too, have been caught adorning this year’s must-have look, but perhaps the biggest booster of this padding uniform(ity) in South Korea came from none other than the Pyeongchang Olympics — criticized earlier this month for hosting games in spaces that may be ‘too cold.’

With an affordable price-tag of 149,000 won (136 dollars), only 30,000 pieces of the limited edition official Pyeongchang Olympics jackets were produced, but jackets sold out on the official online store. Local media also reported a sales frenzy over the weekend when a batch went on sale in several Lotte Department Stores nationwide, causing soaring demand for long jackets from other brands. The remaining 7,000 jackets are set to hit the shelves in Lotte Department Stores on Nov. 22.

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Scenes from Lotte Department Store in Suwon over the weekend.


Cover image: School pupils wearing long padded jackets in the streets of Seoul. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

Raphael is a freelance journalist and fixer. He has an MA in Korean Studies from Korea University, and worked at Edelman Korea for three years representing some of South Korea's biggest conglomerates.