In Seoul, everyone dresses well. It's important. Even on the subway, you won't see ripped jeans or unwashed jumpers. Guys have super-styled hair, clean crisp shirts and man-bags, while girls have high heels, short skirts and fresh salon manicures. You can see them checking themselves, even posing to take sel-ca (photos of themselves) with their expensive smart phones. Having the latest smart phone in hand is an accessory must, and a trendy-coloured bridge camera or compact DSLR hanging from the neck always gets bonus style points.
While Seoulites are trendy and up-to-date when it comes to fashion, there's a very Korean 'uniformity' that makes Seoul style less interesting on an international level. There's a lot of trend-following, a lot of similar looking outfits and haircuts, sometimes even the same plastic surgery done on people's faces, in search of a generic ideal beauty. Finding anyone with a little bit of individuality or a unique flair when it comes to style can therefore be quite difficult in Seoul. This, I think, is what lets Korean fashion down.
Friends coordinate with each other, whether intentionally or not. Teenage girls march arm-in-arm along the street with the same backpacks, trainers or polo shirts. And young couples take coordination to a new level, in carefully matched 'couple outfits' - something I've never seen outside of Asia.
Nevertheless, Seoul provides a great feast for the eyes for fashion lovers, not to mention of course a paradise for shopping addicts.
1. Hongdae 홍대
An obvious choice, Hongdae is the area around Hongik university, packed with art and design students. Day and night, boutique fashion stores sell cheap, Korean-made clothes and accessories, and Seoul's perfectly groomed youth cram into the coffee shops, bars and clubs. Don't miss the neighbouring districts of Shinchon (신촌) and Idae (이대), also busy university areas.
Hang-out pick: Hongdae playground (홍대 어린이 공원), near the university. Buzzing atmosphere on weekends, with craft markets in the daytime and live music at night.
2. Myeongdong 명동
A well-known area for tourists, Myeongdong is a shopper's heaven - or hell, if you can't deal with crowds - and has all the international brand high street fashion stores. Here you'll find many shoppers from Japan and China, and there is often a much wider diversity of personal style than anywhere else in the city.
Fashion store pick: A land, corner of Myeongdong 8-gil and 6-gil, next to American Apparel. Small designer labels, outlandish accessories, cool clubbing gear and an extensive vintage floor.
3. Apgujeong 압구정 and Shinsa 신사
Central to this up-market area is Garosu-gil (가로수길), a long street of expensive cafe bars and classy boutiques. Elsewhere in the area find some good vintage stores.
Cafe pick: Mug for Rabbit, Garosu-gil. Great cakes and great people-watching. If they're full, ask for directions to their quieter second location, hidden a couple of streets back.