Opinion: Unpacking the South Korean couple-twinning phenomenon / i-D

Opinion: Unpacking the South Korean couple-twinning phenomenon / i-D

The daily spectacle of street style orbiting Seoul Fashion Week is worth the journey alone. There are the toddlers popping and locking in Balenciaga, forcing you into a moral dilemma of “so cute!” versus, “if I start taking pictures of them, will I get handcuffed?” There’s the arrival of a K-pop star, accompanied by a chorus of breathless screams and a lighting storm of camera flashes worthy of an Oscars red carpet. But the most inescapable craze is the phenomenon of ‘twinning’, which you’re just as likely to see outside a fashion show as you are on any given day in the buzzing streets of university neighbourhood Hongdae.

This twinning trend is referred to locally as the “couple look”, said in Koreanised English, or for those Seoulites not willing to go the full hog, the “similar look”. Quite where the trend was born, nobody is sure — it’s been suggested that inspiration came from popular Korean dramas such asHeirs and Secret Garden — but since it first took hold in 2012, it’s seen a meteoric rise in popularity largely thanks to Instagram, as a quick glance at the #couplelook tag reveals. Word is there’s even matching underwear for those looking to take things to the next level.

No other culture is as fixated with dating and romance as South Korea. Relationship milestones are typically celebrated every 100 days with gifts and promise rings, and there’s a Valentine’s Day-equivalent every month. Even more telling is April’s Black Day, where singletons wear head-to-toe black and are obliged to eat jjajangmyun , a noodle dish with black bean paste — all of this being a very subtle reference to their dark, loveless hearts, presumably.

You could view the “couple look” as just another symptom of the broader South Korean obsession with appearance: it goes without saying that Seoul is an international style capital, but the country also has the highest rate of plastic surgery procedures per capita globally. In a society with mandated school uniforms and two years compulsory military service for every young male, it further speaks of a cultural fixation with both uniform as garment and uniformity more generally.

Then there’s the story of a younger generation trying to find room for manoeuvre within the conservative family dynamics of traditional Korean society. Crystal Tai, a Chinese-Canadian journalist based in Seoul, notes the difficulty many young South Koreans face to experience proper intimacy, both emotionally and sexually. “If you look at the vending machines located next to the toilets inside the subway stations, they often sell condoms and other sex-related supplies.” Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, where do they go to make the magic happen? “Love hotels! I’m convinced that aside from the high rate of marital affairs due to taboos surrounding divorce, younger couples infuse new life into the love hotel economy, as they’re still living at home with their families.”