A wrap-up on proper neckwear

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A wrap-up on proper neckwear

While all cultures around the world get swept by fads with some regularity, the phenomenon seems to strike Koreans extra-hard. Perhaps it is the public school propaganda everyone on the peninsula receives about how Korea is a racially homogeneous nation, but when a new trend strikes the land of the morning calm, everyone must get the exact same thing. When folding cellular phones caught on, everyone switched quickly to the new design, even though their old flip phones were still working just fine.

But surely no single fashion symbol of the Korean people is greater than the tartan scarf - especially beige.

Come winter, the division between Koreans and Westerners grows greater than ever as all Koreans wrap themselves in plaid scarves, tied invariably in either a hacking knot (doubled in half, wrapped once around the neck, the ends threaded through the loop) or an ascot-like fold. This ubiquitous neckwear even has a special term - babari chekeu-muneui mokdori, (that's "Burberry tartan scarf"). No, the scarves, at least most of them, are not real Burberry imported from England. But if it is tartan and it circles your neck, it gets the name nonetheless.

Some Korean traders are exceptionally good at imitating luxury items and for them, those plaid mufflers are the easiest to make and bring in lots of money. At this time of year, the scarves are everywhere, especially in shops around Dongdaemun, a major buying area in Seoul. Even street vendors sell scarves bearing the names of Burberry, Ralph Lauren and more, at distinctly non-Burberry and non-Ralph Lauren prices. It is common to find these scarves going for as little as 2,500 won ($2). In the Burberry Shop at the Hyundai Department Store in Apgujeong-dong, a real Burberry tartan scarf goes for 250,000 won to 300,000 won.

When one of the vendors in an underground walkway was asked whether his scarves were "real originals," he gave an evil look and said, "Almost." But then he took out a box from a black vinyl bag and displayed a classic, deep-blue scarf with red and white stripes, perfectly packaged with an exact Burberry logo. The proud street vendor said, "This special package is a bit more expensive, 20,000 won, but even a Burberry worker could not tell it from the original." And he was not lying. Kim Jun-hyung, manager of legal affairs at Burberry, said that he cannot tell an impostor babari mokdori from an original Burberry scarf.

One shopkeeper, Kim Jae-hee, in Yeonsinnae, northern Seoul, suggests that the most popular design this season is pink. Ms. Kim says, "High school girls love pink scarves with white stripes, while young women in their 20s prefer the more classic style, especially the beige one with the black, red and white stripes." Ms. Kim's shop, called Ha Lee's Fancy, is a sea of scarves, dominated not surprisingly by beige tartan numbers.

Lee Ha-jeong, 24, a college student and a big fan of genuine Burberry scarves, is often irritated by the knock-offs. That is why she only wears only originals with the most recent and exotic designs: "It takes time for imitated goods to come out, at least a month." These days, her favorite is yellow with red and white stripes. But when asked about it, Ms. Kim said that her store would be getting that design within a couple of weeks.

by Chun Su-jin

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