A growing community of fans are hunting down each and every outfit worn by BTS, TWICE, BLACKPINK, and more
Though we’re not even halfway through, 2019 has already been a massive year for K-pop – with BLACKPINK becoming the first Korean girl group to perform at Coachella, and it being confirmed that BTS are basically bigger than the Beatles. But what exactly is it that has people obsessed with the genre? For many, it’s the stylised, perfectly polished beats and the sometimes relatable, often cute, and always catchy lyrics. For others, the charismatic personas and performances of its multi-hyphenate idols that draw them in. And then there are the people that are all about the bonafide looks served up on the scene.
It goes without saying that music and fashion are inextricably linked, with K-pop having a long and well-documented relationship with the industry. Pioneering acts including S.E.S, Fin.K.L, Baby V.O.X and BoA epitomised the 90s and early 00s aesthetic, blazing the trail for the coordinated looks that still dominate today: with the influence of their matching, monochromatic skirt and cami sets, silk-co-ords, oversized suits, and crop-top and low cut trouser combos still felt throughout IG feeds everywhere.
SECHSKIES, g.o.d, Seo Taiji & Boys, and H.O.T, meanwhile, kick-started the trend for bigger, bolder, hip-hop inspired clothing, as they switched between baggy tracksuits, sportswear, and voluminous tailored styles, with many of their looks infused with futuristic elements.
“What exactly is is that has so many people obsessed with K-pop? For many, it’s all about the bonafide looks served up on the scene”
Fast forward two decades and K-pop is more connected to fashion than ever. Recognising the commercial viability of the genre’s audience – given K-pop as an industry is now estimated to have a value of $4.7billion – a multitude of brands are lining up to collaborate with its biggest stars. From BLACKPINK as front-row fixtures at Coach and Chanel, and members of EXO in regular attendance at Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, and Louis Vuitton, to BTS and HyunA’s partnerships with the likes of Puma and Stylenanda, thanks to social media and the fact we’re now more connected than ever before, labels are reaching a whole new generation of fans eager to support and emulate their favourite stars.
Pushing this forward is a growing community of K-pop fashion obsessives, who are dedicated to tirelessly tracking down exactly what some of the scene’s biggest – and most stylish – figures are wearing, either when they’re on-stage, off-duty, or demonstrating their perfectly choreographed dance routines in their latest music videos. Tasking themselves with sourcing all outfit details, right down to the smallest accessories, the results are documented across Instagram and Twitter, ready for each accounts’ legions of fans to discover (in some cases, follower counts reach into the hundreds of thousands).
Here, we meet some of the people behind these accounts to discuss their love of K-pop, how they go about tracking down and documenting such a huge amount of looks, and, most importantly, what they’ve gained from it.
Eighteen-year-old Elaine from Malaysia is behind @jypetwiceclothess, which documents the outfits worn by the nine members of TWICE – whose debut song “Like Ooh-Ahh” (released in 2015) she credits for reigniting an former interest in K-pop. Becoming a fan of the girl-group almost immediately, Elaine started her IG account in July 2017, “mainly for fun, and because I’m really interested in fashion,” she explains.
Much like their music, TWICE’s style is fun, youthful and colourful. With bright colours and prints, and brands including Gucci, Alexander Wang, Chanel, Sandro, and Vivienne Westwood, the group strikes a balance between outfits that are cohesive yet individual to each member. They’re also big on customisation, making it even harder for Elaine to track down their looks.
Describing keeping the account up to date as “pretty full on”, finding the girls’ outfits takes anything between five to ten minutes and a whole day. Describing her process, she explains that she has tried and true websites to make finding TWICE’s outfits easier. “I find their outfits using fashion websites such as Farfetch, Matches Fashion, Forward, Neiman Marcus, and Net-a-Porter. For Korean brands I use W Concept and for Japanese brands, I use ZOZOTOWN. Sometimes I can recognise the brand because there's special detailing on each piece of clothing. It’s much harder when it comes to their casual outfits, though.”
Elaine cites one of the best things about starting the account is the friends she’s made, and the fact she’s now part of a community of people like herself: K-pop fans and fellow fashion account founders. “We always help each other out,” she says, dispelling any idea there might be rivalry on the scene. She’s also built a relationship with those close to the group, getting some special help from their stylists to track down particularly hard-to-find pieces. “I got in contact with their current stylist, Choi Kyung Won, and she was really nice – she gave me lots of information about what I was looking for.”
When fellow K-pop fan Lee thinks back to how she first got into the genre, she remembers that it all happened after hearing “Nobody” by Wonder Girls. “It was a big hit in Malaysia and everyone was singing it.” Soon after, she laid claim to the IG handle @fashion_sunmi and began documenting the looks worn by former member and current solo artist Sunmi.
The 17-year-old student was inspired to create her own account after seeing the ones that already existed, launching it in late 2017. Since then, she’s been chronicling Sunmi’s every look, from those worn to perform, through to red carpet gowns, and casual, off-duty clothing. Running the account has also influenced what she’s adding to her own wardrobe, she claims: “ I love her daily style so much.”
Onstage, Sunmi’s style can only be described as fashion-forward and bold. Wearing statement pieces from Balenciaga, Versace, Balmain, Yeha Leung, and Vetements, Sunmi mixes up blouses with exaggerated shoulders and shorts, structured mini-dresses, over-the-knee boots, and embellished jumpsuits. Standout looks include the custom-made Creepyyeha pieces incorporated into the music video for “Gashina”, the Versace and Off-White dresses worn in “Heroine”, and the customised Halston jumpsuit with the Maison Margiela “High Priority” luggage tag seen in “Siren”.
The fact that Sunmi tags a lot of the brands she wears makes things much easier for Lee, meaning managing the account doesn’t take up that much of her time. Because of this, she’s able to spend much more time engaging with her community or studying for her exams. The best thing about owning the fashion account is that Sunmi herself has seen the account and likes many of Lee’s posts on Instagram. “Thinking about it now still makes me happy.”
“I’m not the kind of person who can just passively be interested in things. I wanted to actually do something,” explains Alex, the founder of Twitter-based BTS style account @getonswag.“K-pop wasn't popular when I was growing up, so I wasn’t able to share my interest with someone IRL. I decided that I’d find their clothes and become an active part of the fandom. I just wanted to share my passion.”
Four years and countless outfit posts later, the account has grown to over 337k followers (and is so popular that BTS’s fandom, otherwise known as the ARMY, asked Alex to make an Instagram, which currently has 16k followers). “I never thought I could be so dedicated to something before I started @getonswag, but here I am celebrating its fourth anniversary,” Alex confesses.
It’s not without its difficulties, though. With seven members’ outfits to find – not to mention their pets’ looks – Alex has an established list of around 50 places to hit up in their search. “Vogue Runway, W Concept, ShopStyle, Browns, SSENSE, and some Japanese webstores,” are just a few of them. “There’s no magic in it. I’ve always been good at finding things, and I know fashion really well.”
This helps when you’re looking for outfits worn by BTS, who are known for wearing looks straight off the runway. Switching between monochromatic, streamlined tailoring to bold printed suits, silk shirts and embroidered blazers, contrasted with bright and bold streetwear, the seven members have pieces from the likes of Versace, Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten, Y/Project, and Comme des Garçons on rotation.
“It’s so hard to pick a favourite look,” explains Alex. “As someone who’s pretty deep in fashion, I try to have an objective view of their choices and perceive their outfits as part of their individuality (when it comes to their personal style) which I respect. I love to look at how people represent themselves when they don’t talk – their posture, their fashion, everything.”
When Rose decided to create @styleby_redvelvet in honour of five-member girl-group Red Velvet, she already had experience of running an account. “I was already documenting the fashion of SNSD’s Taeyeon, and I was wondering if there was one for Red Velvet. During that time they had started promotions for their Summer Magic comeback. I was interested in their outfit choices so I decided to make an account for them too,” she explains. Now, she manages both archives simultaneously.
Known for their dynamic style and high-concept looks – with early outfits centring around light-up fur jackets and coloured one-leg tights – the group switch backwards and forwards between edgy and out-and-out, avant-garde wildness, with stand-out looks including the Ignasi Monreal Gucci printed t-shirts paired with fishnets worn in the “Bad Boy” music video, and the rainbow striped pieces from Ashish as seen as part of “Peek-A-Boo”. The group are all about high-end mixed in with high street, wearing Miu Miu, Alexander Wang, and Prada alongside bargain buys from Zara.
According to Rose, detailed searches help her find specific pieces worn by the members with greater ease. “If I only search ‘white sweater’ instead of a specific description like ‘angora string knit sweater (ivory)’, the search results would be endless,” she explains. If all else fails when it comes to her search, though, she can usually get a bit of help from stylists Lee Bo Ram and Ellena Yim via Instagram. “I only ask on very rare occasions though as I don't want to be a bother to them,” she says, noting how exciting it is when she gets a response. “I feel like I’m one person away from my favourite girls.”
Despite it being hard at times, Rose finds running the account and searching for clothes therapeutic. “Sometimes I do think 'is it weird that this is my hobby?' I know I won't have this much time on my hands forever, so while I still have time to spare, I spare the time.”
Megan* – who documents the style of new girl-group on the scene ITZY – had been waiting for the group to make their debut for a while, after initially setting up her account @itzyfashion in December 2018. “One of the members, Yeji, started appearing on this show called The Fan to raise her profile before the group officially launched,” she explains. “It wasn’t for another two months that ITZY actually debuted on the K-pop scene.”
Since then, she’s been busy documenting the outfits of the group that describes their aesthetic as teen crush-worthy. Just like the title of their debut album IT’z Different, the girl group play by different style rules, mixing sportswear elements including cargo trousers, crop tops, and repurposed swimsuits with conceptual pieces from labels including Fendi, Off-White, Heron Preston, Moschino, and Nike.
Mostly, Megan uses Google, ShopStyle and Lyst to find their outfit details, and often relies on her ability to recognise brands but admits that there can be a language barrier at times. “Even though I can read and understand a bit of Korean, the barrier really shows when one of the members wears something from a Korean brand, making it harder to find,” she explains.
Megan explains that the amount of time she spends on the account all depends on the group’s promotional activities. “It all depends on whether or not ITZY are releasing a new song or not,” she says. “During their debut promotions, I spent about a quarter of my time awake working on the account, but since they finished I don’t spend that much time on it.”
And, just like Rose, Alex, Lee, and Elaine, Megan explains that, while she has found it easier to emulate ITZY’s fashion since starting the account, adding affordable pieces from Zara to her wardrobe, the most rewarding thing about it has been watching her community grow and the friends she’s made along the way.
*Name changed for privacy.