Dress For Success: Business Attire in South Korea
South Korea, one of the most developed countries in Asia that has an engrained economic relationship with the west, is very adamant about correct behavior, and this of course includes attire. Should you be taking a business trip to South Korea, be assured that your clothing is a key aspect in making a good first impression. Do your best to conform to the dress code and present yourself in a clean-cut, professional manner to come off as someone colleagues would be pleased to do business with.
Stick with dark colors, no matter what the season. South Korea is very much a conservative country, and in the business world it’s considered a positive trait to blend in with your coworkers and not attempt to exalt yourself. In this case, stick with a business suit—black, dark grey, or navy blue—with long trousers and a good quality tie. Depending on the time of the year, you will want to opt for either a lightweight cotton suit or a wool suit, as winters in South Korea can get pretty cold.
Women can wear business suits or dresses, but again in dark colors so you blend in with the rest of the office. Miniskirts, of course, are taboo, as are revealing or skin-tight outfits. If you happen to have any tattoos, be sure they’re completely hidden while you’re in the business setting. If going out to socialize in a less formal setting, it’s appropriate to wear short-sleeved shirts or bright colors, but it would be wise to wait until you’ve established yourself as reliable and responsible to your coworkers first.
Tasteful accessorizing is smiled upon. If you want to include a few small personal touches in your wardrobe, such as a watch or tie clip for men, or jewelry and scarves for women, this is fine. Just make sure it’s something simple and elegant, and not too attention-grabbing.
Don’t wear flashy shoes. For men, a pair of leather shoes, either black or brown, is appropriate business attire. Like the rest of your wardrobe, your shoes should be of good quality without overtly advertising themselves as such. Women have more freedom with expressing themselves in their footwear, so long as they stick to business-like flats. Traditional meals and social gatherings in South Korea often involve sitting on the floor, so be sure to be wearing shoes that are easy to maneuver on and off.
Pockets are useful for handkerchiefs and business cards. A pocket in your blazer or jacket is an appropriate place to keep your business cards, although colleagues’ cards you receive should be read intently and then respectfully placed in a portfolio or card carrier; the way you treat an associate’s card is interpreted in Korean culture as the way you’ll treat the person. As such, it is good form to have your details translated in Korean on the reverse side of your card.