Shop ‘Til You Drop (From Low Blood Pressure and Mental Anguish) in Seoul

  • Photo by Illustrations by Dami Lee for Seoulist

    Illustrations by Dami Lee for Seoulist

After a year of ill-fitting clothes and overzealous sales clerks, shopping in Korea has definitely replaced “Being trapped at a Kenny G concert” as my #1 personal nightmare.

Take, for example, this exchange when my mom dragged me out shopping one weekend.

Saleslady: I can tell your daughter is from America.
My mom: (Astonished) How could you tell??
Saleslady: I’ve never seen anyone look so uninterested in shopping!
Saleslady & my mom: Hahaha!! *High fives all around, instantly becoming Best Ajummas Fo’ Life (BAFL)*
Me: (Sulking in the background, unsuccessfully trying to watch Pororo on some neighboring toddler’s iPhone)

It’s not my fault that I automatically know to not even bother trying to buy clothes in Korea. This country is clearly not ready for my 5’ 8” frame, size 255mm feet and wide hips courtesy of the new Doritos Loco Tacos at Taco Bell.

A close examination of the differences between me and the average Korean female reveals the following:

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

Browsing through the clothing racks, you’ll come across some of the world’s most bold and edgy fashions. Want a cat-eared hoodie with “ALL I DO IS WIN” encrusted in rhinestones on the back? You got it! An oxymoronic hybrid tank top that is both camouflaged and sequined? Why not? The problem is that most of these gems are only available in One-Size-Fits-All, and I am not included in that All.

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

Never has a tag instilled so much fear and heartbreak.

I have gone on many a five-hour shopping quest determined to find something that fit, only to give up and be reduced to eating street food by the mall while all the beautiful, fashionable people with limbs proportional to their bodies walked by. If you happened to see a girl on the sidewalk wiping her tears away with a half-eaten hotteok, that was me!

However, the most anxiety-inducing part of shopping in Korea can be credited to sales clerks who are more stalker-like than helpful. The second you enter a store, the stalkerclerk will follow you around, watching your every move. It’s like having someone unhealthily obsessed with you but they literally want nothing from you except for you to look your absolute best.

In the unfortunate event that I am noticed by a stalkerclerk, my body immediately shuts down, I get cold sweats and my inner monologue turns into that of a person gone insane.

“Oh god. I’ve been spotted. Now she’s walking over. Oh no. Is it hot in here? Why is it so hot in here??

The next thing I know, I’m going home with five identical pairs of studded jeggings made for doll people because I’m not good with pressure or general human interaction.

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

There are two types of salesclerks I’ve encountered here. Ones who are either lying through their teeth, determined to make a sale…

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

…or have decided I am a lost cause and give up on me as a customer altogether.

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

The worst offender was this shady dude at a shoe stall in Myeongdong. Having spotted a pair of beautiful black boots, I cautiously asked Shady Dude if they came in my size. He went inside his shop and emerged with the boots, showing me the size sticker on the bottom, which, sure enough, said 255!

I tried on the boots. They were a little snug, but Shady Dude insisted he had a shoe stretching machine.

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

The machine turned out to be his pair of feet, which he jammed into my boots and violently slammed against the ground. Shaken, I paid for my shoes before he could abuse them any further, or possibly set fire to them.

It didn’t matter though. I had finally found shoes in my size! I chuckled and patted myself on the back for my resilience in overcoming adversity.
Feeling smug, I took off the size sticker on the bottom of the boots only to be in for a rude surprise…

Illustration by Dami Lee for Seoulist

It was like a slap in the face, K-drama style. If I had been wearing pearls, they would have been clutched. THIS WAS AN OUTRAGE.

After that whole debacle, I was a changed woman. Wiser. Colder. Less willing to let others try on my shoes lest they try stretching them out with unconventional methods. I had learned my lesson the hard way.

My closet is empty, much like my heart. Position for Personal Shopping Coach is available, and responsibilities include making my lazy-ass try things on and being my emotional rock in case some stalkerclerk monster put a Small in the Large rack and all hell breaks loose. In the meantime, I’ll be huddled in a corner eating hotteok if anyone needs me.

Dami Lee

About Dami Lee

Dami draws comics at As Per Usual, and tweets unsolicited advice at @dami_lee as Korean Oprah, or 'Koprah'. She loves 90's jams, terrible movies and animals who think they're people.

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