Wearing Hair Rollers in Public Is the Hot Gen Z Look in South Korea

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  • Young Korean women are stepping out of their homes in hair rollers.
  • They say they do it because it’s practical as it keeps their bangs looking voluminous for longer.
  • Experts say that it reflects how they prefer to focus on themselves, rather than please others.

Stepping out of her apartment, Ms. Song Ji-yun is all set for her dinner date: Her make-up is fresh, she’s wearing a new pair of earrings — and is sporting a large purple Velcro hair roller to hold up her bangs.

To some onlookers, it would appear that the 20-year-old had, in a hurry, left the house in the middle of getting ready.

But the South Korean university student will have you know that keeping it there was entirely deliberate.

In fact, having hair rollers in one’s bangs has become an increasingly common sight on the streets of Seoul, particularly among the Gen Z crowd. More than just a trend, the hair roller look indicates shifting attitudes about beauty and subtle resistance to the pressure to always remain picture-perfect when out in public.

Leaving the house with hair rollers has become so ubiquitous that the look has made its way onto Korean


Netflix

shows like “All Of Us Are Dead” and “Hellbound.”

In a “Saturday Night Live Korea” episode last month — the Korean adaptation of the US sketch show — 32-year-old actress Shin Hye-sun impersonated a teenager by spouting internet slang with a hair roller smack in the middle of her forehead.

Despite how pervasive the trend has become, it’s confused older Koreans who say that they would never wear something so seemingly private in public.

Online math tutor Lee Seul-ki, 47, compares it to wearing pajamas outside the house.

“We should always look presentable when we’re out. It’s a mark of respect for other people too,” she told Insider. “If people are using hair rollers to puff up their hair, that’s fine, but why not just do that at home?”

To young women like Song, however, functionality trumps the opinions of strangers.

“I keep it in my hair so that my bangs stay airy and perfect for a longer time — otherwise, they fall flat immediately, especially in the summer,” she said. Song says she’ll typically remove the hair roller right before seeing her boyfriend.

“I’m not trying to make a statement wearing hair rollers in public. It’s just practical.”

The varying opinions signal a shift in how women react to the pressure to look beautiful in a country that places an outsized importance on looks, experts say.

In South Korea, sometimes nicknamed “the world’s plastic surgery capital,” many people believe that looking good can help them advance socially and professionally.

In a 2019 online survey of global beauty standards by market research firm Ipsos, South Koreans ranked physical qualities such as facial appearance and youthfulness as more critical in making a woman beautiful when compared with other attributes such as kindness and intelligence.

But while many young Korean women still want to look good, they’re increasingly doing so to please themselves or the people they care about, according to Jaehee Jung, a consumer behavior expert at the University of Delaware.

“Traditional Korean society was very rigid when it came to gender roles, and when women tried to maintain their beauty, it was always done to please others,” she told Insider.

“But young women in contemporary Korea are a lot more independent and prefer to focus on themselves. They’re not overly conscious about how they are perceived by people they don’t know.”

Asian woman in Seoul

 

Young Korean women still want to look good, but they do it for themselves and not for strangers, experts say.

Getty Images

In recent years, there has also been a move in South Korea among some women to reject traditional beauty norms — corresponding with a burgeoning feminist movement.

In 2018, women started posting pictures online of themselves without make-up in a social media trend known as “escape the corset,” the BBC reported. They did it as a way to express themselves in a conservative country, the outlet said.

Last year, women also shared pictures of themselves with their hair cut short, after Korean archer An San was flooded with criticism for sporting a short haircut at the Summer Olympics.

Korean archer An San pulls back her bow

 

Korean archer An San inspired some women to cut their hair short, following her appearance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

“Korean society is now less confined by group norms on beauty. It values individual looks that are different from others, which is good news since this supports many different styles,” Jung said.

University student Park Chae-rin, 24, has been wearing hair rollers in public for the past five years. But she says that when she does it, it has nothing to do with expressing individuality.

“I keep them on every day on the bus and subway before going to class,” she said. “Koreans have very busy lives, so this is just a way of making the most of my time.”

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