Somehow, the left sleeve of my black knit sweater had grown while the right had shrunk. The waist of my brown dress pants was so stretched out that they were only staying on because I had folded and safety pinned the sides (I hadn’t had the foresight to pack dress pants with belt loops).
Trying to make everything look better I put on a pair of shiny new heels and some big flashy earrings, but was pretty sure that the saggy bum of my pants and the stretched out sleeve of my sweater would not go unnoticed by the extremely appearance conscious Korean women that I worked with.
Since taking it all off and crawling back into bed wasn’t an option, all I could do was sigh and resign myself to the fact that what I was looking at in the mirror really was as good as it was going to get.
The main culprit behind my ill-fitting wardrobe was my washing machine, a large basin filled with spiky plastic balls that banged the dirt out of my clothing as it was spun around at breakneck speed. Clothing always emerged looking like it had fought a war and lost… badly. With no dryer available to nicely shrink my cotton back into shape (dryers are not commonly found in South Korean apartments), I was forced to line dry and hope for the best.
Why didn’t I just buy new clothes, you ask?
Most hot-blooded women would jump at the chance to have an excuse to buy new clothing, but the idea of shopping in South Korea brought with it a feeling of dread rather than euphoria. My reluctance arose from the fact that I knew it could take weeks, even months to find a store containing clothing that would actually fit me.
I will never forget the first time that I walked into a clothing store in Seoul. It was a small boutique and, from the display in the window, looked like it was full of unique blouses and accessories.
The saleswoman met me at the door, looked my size 6 frame up and down, wrinkled her nose, shook her head and raising her hand told me “no big size”. Shocked and turning red as I realized that all the other salespeople in the store were watching us, I could do nothing but utter an embarrassed “ok”, turn and walk out of the store.
After that scarring first shopping experience, it became pretty obvious that in South Korea, the land of few womanly curves, mine did not fit in.
o make clothing shopping even more difficult for me, a lot of stores only sold items in one size and wouldn’t let me try anything on. Unless I shopped at a large, overpriced chain store or played the ‘dumb foreigner’ and slipped something on when a salesperson wasn’t looking (which actually worked really well most of the time), clothing shopping was mostly guesswork.
Eventually, so that I didn’t loose my mind and shatter what was left of my healthy body image, I had to give up on shopping for clothes, buy more safety pins, and turn my attention to accessories instead.
I may have overcompensated… when I left South Korea I had 14 pairs of shoes…