Fashion Tribe

Seoul's Namdaemun Market

October 2nd, 2015
PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comColorful socks sell for about $1 to $1.50 per pair at Seoul's Nam Dae Mun Market.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Colorful socks sell for about $1 to $1.50 per pair at Seoul's Nam Dae Mun Market.

While Dongdaemun may be the largest market area in South Korea, Namdaemun Market is the oldest traditional market, launched during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when the government built and rented out the shops to merchants.

The marketplace now encompasses 10,000 stores that line the streets around Namdaemun, the main southern gate of old Seoul. The scope of the market allows shoppers to comparison shop for the lowest prices on goods, that is if you have the stamina to go backtracking and have the kind of inner GPS that allows you to find your way back to the good deals.

If you read my last post, you know I was searching for shoes because of my size 3 Cinderella feet, which means few adult shoes in the west fit me. Just when I thought I was getting a deal on one pair of shoes I wanted, going from $4,500 won to $2,500 — a close equivalent to $45 and $25 — and striking a deal for three pairs of shoes at $110, I found another vendor selling my shoe for $1,900 won, a little less than $19!

Those who love the art of the deal can go crazy negotiating prices, but sometimes it's so unnecessary. I was buying one pair of socks for $1,000 won, a dollar, when a friend tried to get them for 500 won, or less than 50 cents. The guy was telling us there was no profit margin, and I was like, it's just a dollar. But later on, when I headed to Dongdaemun and found them for 500 won I felt so cheated. But where in the U.S. can you find fun socks for 50 cents? In Japan I didn't hesitate paying $30 for one elaborate pair in a cut-out, lace-up style not seen here at home.

The market's narrow streets are home to a mix of storefronts and street vendors.

The market's narrow streets are home to a mix of storefronts and street vendors.

Nature Republic has an outpost there, with discount prices on its cosmetics.

Nature Republic has an outpost there, with discount prices on its cosmetics.

The market is home to inexpensive clothing; tech, hair and other accessories; footwear; and Korea's vaunted red ginseng.

The market is home to inexpensive clothing; tech, hair and other accessories; footwear; and Korea's vaunted red ginseng.

I bought a lot of socks, not these though, the cutesy kind.

I bought a lot of socks, not these though, the cutesy kind.

Namdaemun sock3

My shiny silver Korean shoes! I have another pair in black sole with pewter upper.

My shiny silver Korean shoes! I have another pair in black sole with pewter upper.

My over-the-top Korean boot, $45: lace, bling, faux skin, metal, peep-toe. Someone said I should get a more toned down style. I was like, "You don't know me."

My over-the-top Korean boot, $45: lace, bling, faux skin, metal, peep-toe. Someone said I should get a more toned down style. I was like, "You don't know me."

Namdaemun is open day and night, with 24 blocks of shopping. Naturally, the clothing zone is the largest, encompassing 6,000 shops. Other areas focus on electronics, produce, vitamins and there are plenty of restaurants and food vendors around when you need to get a bite to eat.

One of the limitations of shopping is the availability of potties. Signs indicating restrooms here are sometimes decades old, failing to correspond to current tenants. One merchant was kind enough to take me to a building with a restroom, but alas, what I heard as "first" floor was really the fourth floor, and after a steep climb, I found it was one of the ground-set toilets. I was not in the mood for that, so I just carried on, knowing I could not shop much longer because my suitcase wasn't large enough to handle more than four pairs of shoes.

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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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