The Korean capital’s aesthetic is unapologetically cool, androgynous, and vintage-inspired. Oversized blazers and baggy trousers hang on the shoulders and hips of every member of the fresh-faced and chunky-sneakered cool crowd. Seoul style has infiltrated the closets of fashionistas all over the world, from hypebeast statement pieces to more demure, feminine threads, or a cacophonic mix of both that weaves a pleasing dissonance. Vintage pieces are favoured by Seoul trendsetters, not only for their uniqueness but also for their often superior quality, craftsmanship, and low environmental impact—a mitigating factor for shopaholics with a conscience. Given fashion’s penchant for nostalgia, old is now the new new. Here are some of the best places to go vintage shopping in Seoul, from one vintage lover to another.
In the dizzying shopping district of Myeongdong, you can find a cornucopia of fried things on sticks, beauty products promising results that are no less miraculous than the elixir of life, and Aland, a local multi-brand concept store stocking emerging Korean designers for men and women. Affordable basics and trendy accessories make Aland one of the most popular and well-known Korean brands with tourists and locals alike.
What may be less well known is that the top floor houses a well-curated vintage section from a variety of designer brands. Silver-buckled belts and silk scarves are seen nestling in dusty leather suitcases (also for sale), and funkily-striped ties swing above purses, finding kindred neighbours beside floral tea dresses and your grandpa’s sweaters.
Hongdae, near Hongik University, is the epicentre of indie youth culture in Seoul. Students and buskers merrily intermingle; fortune-tellers and vintage shops jostle for attention along the brightly lit streets. Vintage Santa is one of the first vintage stores you’ll spot along the Hongdae shopping street and one of the more well-known ones. They stock a lot of collared shirts a la Ralph Lauren, Tommy pullovers, and designer digs by Supreme and Burberry.
Vintage Crew is a newcomer on the scene, hiding treasures behind its vermillion walls. Vintage Brother is another one to hit, differentiating itself by using a different paint colour, this time a ruby red. Againuse has a lot of 1940s to 1980s American sports jackets, jerseys, and Hawaiian shirts, while Vintage Plus specialises in American workwear—think jumpsuits and overalls. Hantage is a retro wonderland of blazers and vintage cameras for serious and aspiring collectors.
For those looking for something a bit more luxurious, Belle & Nouveau in Gangnam is a glittering emporium of floor-to-ceiling racks of vintage designer purses and accessories by big names like Chanel, Dior, Fendi, and so on. Close by, Bborok Vintage is a hidden gem where you can find Cavalli skirts and Etro blouses for a steal.
With pre-loved fashion gaining popularity and market share, clean and curated bricks and mortar locations have become the go-to for vintage shopping. However, the appeal of a good ol’ flea market is still strong. Dongmyo flea market is a local favourite and models’ haunt, where ajummas (Korean ladies) and fashion bloggers literally rub shoulders as they dig through small hills of clothing piled unceremoniously on plastic sheets. Aside from clothing, stalls peddling miscellaneous antiques and electronic goods can also be found in the alleys. It’s dusty work, but immensely satisfying when you find a diamond in the rough for a mere ₩2000. Dozens of vintage boutiques and outlets are also available for those who would rather peruse items that have been washed and pressed beforehand, if you just walk further along the road where the main market is.
The idea of buying vintage, or second-hand, used to be vastly unappealing; it signified the old, the worn-out, the discarded. After the original subcultures embraced vintage elements as part of their uniforms, perceptions slowly began to evolve until ‘vintage’ was virtually synonymous with ‘cool’ and ‘one of a kind’. As environmental emergencies pile up and institutional change seems to be moving at a pre-global warming glacial pace, we as consumers need to shoulder the responsibility of stemming the tide by making more sustainable choices on top of bringing our own straws.
In this consumerist era where fashion is voraciously inhaled and exhaled, spurred on by the lightning production speeds of fast fashion behemoths, every little decision counts. The United Nations and socially-responsible enterprises routinely release reports and studies detailing the apocalyptic consequences of neglecting the environmental cost of the textile and fashion industry, but these scare tactics prove ineffective in the long run. Perhaps what people need is a clearer, more immediate incentive, preferably monetary. And vintage shopping can be very easy on the wallet if you know where to look.
So do your part: recycle, reduce your carbon footprint, and shop vintage.
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