A weed in a city of color

By Matt Payne

I have to be honest. Korean street fashion has always baffled me. Alright… Bothered me. Especially men’s fashion. Loud skull printed shirts with scarves. Dyed and carefully arranged hair. Eye liner. Thick framed (often glassless) fashion glasses. The males, if not in designer suits (which during the day, most are) Urban Korean fashion is a cataclysmic explosion of tight techno-bright, Jersey Shore inspired, pulsing, bejeweled fabrics and metals designed accessories to ensure that no matter what, if there is a God, no one on the planet, or even any other planet  for that matter, will look like you. Even in the fashion conscious Los Angeles, this aggressive form of Gangnam-style, hyper-peacocking stands out in the trendiest of crowds.

In contrast, I am notoriously a simple dresser. Solid colored tees and jeans is the normal and on a Friday night I may dazzle with a collar and some blue stripes. I make every effort to appear as though I don’t give a shit (though occasionally I’ve been known to drop $60 bucks on a white tee shirt because I like the cut).

While I’m certain that such simple style of dress may conjure a snarky glance at a yacht club or golf course, and probably would make it even more challenging for me to get into (god forbid I would ever have to go) a night club, it is, at the very least, non-offensive. So, per usual, when I travel, I toss in a couple of tees (black, green,  blue… purple for crazy days), a couple of long sleeve tees (also black and blue), a pair of khakis, a pair of jeans and head to Seoul.

When I arrived to Bradley International Terminal at LAX  for a midnight flight, I was sandwiched by fashion. Ahead of me, a guy in tight reddish jeans, giant black frame glasses, a shirt that sparkled, and a scarf. His bag had what I could only describe as Stegasaurian metal notches along its back. Behind me, a variation of this man, albeit different colors, jewels, cuts, etc., of the guy ahead of me, only this guy had on eye-liner and his hair was at least three different shades of red and going in several different directions. Keep in mind… This is what these guys are wearing for a thirteen-hour flight leaving at midnight and arriving on the other side of the world at 5am. The ticket line was peppered with these types of fashion savvy youth, leaving me, a weed in comparison, scratching my head.

Recently, I was in Costa Rica and was floored by the birds. Much like the colorful fish that make their homes on elaborately colored coral reefs, these birds have evolved into brilliant reds, cobalt blues, and rich greens with epic plumage suitable only for royalty, not because of a divinely appointed lineage but because they match their landscape. It wasn’t until after my plane landed and I set foot into the immaculate, neon, radiant city of Seoul did the otherwise flamboyant style of dress begin to make sense.

In a word, Seoul is ebullient. The architecture is so other-worldly that one finds it hard to believe that the valet isn’t parking flying cars. The city is mirrored and glowing, exploding with combustible color and this chromatic fervor extends beyond its buildings to the cuisine, its temples, and is ultimately and primarily expressed through its people. There isn’t a crayon box large enough to contain the hues of this exuberant expression of urbanity. And suddenly, in this techno-garden that is East Asia, I find myself walking down Meyong-Dong, the epi-center of this cacophony, and feel like dusty sparrow in a world of macaws and toucan.

The sidewalks and streets are lined with vendors selling elaborate cell phone cases, bejeweled hats, hooded sweat shirts with animal ears and bunny tails, glasses of impossible shapes and sizes and even anime-covered socks. Even on a Wednesday night, stores bustle with colorfully clad teenagers looking for that next great piece of apparel. It is a virtual sea of electric humanity and despite what I had always believed, in this environment, I love it.

The city and its people have a pulse. It is superlative. It is clean, the people are kind, and if ever were an urban hub where hyperbole infectiously reigns, this is it. It is a grand expression and while I don’t find myself reaching for a pair of Gangnam-style Psy-inspired socks or non-ironic, over-sized Harry Potter glasses, I do find myself thinking that maybe it is time to add a little color to my wardrobe. Who wants to be a weed anyway? After all… I live in Los Angeles.