[HOT ITEM]A winter wrap-up: duffling your pleasure

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[HOT ITEM]A winter wrap-up: duffling your pleasure

Granted, the upscale shopping districts Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong have the haute couture. But if you want to clue in to what the younger, more spirited crowd is hip to, go to Seoul's northern action centers like Myeongdong and Sinchon. On Saturdays, Myeongdong bustles with young people; you don't walk as much as get swept along, as if you're jammed in the subway at rush hour. With its innumerable department stores and shops, Myeongdong has been favored by Korea's not-so-well-heeled but carefree youngsters since the 1970s.

A recent look around Myeongdong and Sinchon indicates that the outerwear attire this winter is the duffle coat, a thick wooly jacket, often with a hood, two big pockets and four toggle buttons. The garment was quite popular in the 1960s and '70s in the United States and Europe, when it was called a loden coat for the cloth it was cut from. Since then, duffle/loden coat sightings have dwindled in the West, but the fashion has become ubiquitous here on the peninsula; the local trendsetters even gave the coats a new name - tteokbokgi coats, because the buttons are shaped like the rice cakes used in tteokbokgi, everybody's favorite late-night street food.

The duffle coat first arrived in Korea in the early 1990s, worn by the fashion-conscious in Cheongdam-dong. Men, especially, took up the look, accessorized with preppie trappings like cross-bags and loafers. At the time this was a distinctive look that only the fashion elite could pull off. These days, however, almost every casual shop catering to young people carries duffle coats.

On a recent Saturday afternoon the Joong-Ang Ilbo English Edition went to Myeongdong to check out the duffle-coat phenomenon. Wearing matching beige duffle coats, two teenage lovebirds, Kim Min-ju and Lee Ji-hun, agreed to expound on the trend.

Mr. Lee, whose wardrobe was completed with dark blue jeans and white sneakers, said of his duffle: "I like it because it's affordable and fashionable at the same time." He added that he has the same design in two other colors, gray and brown, which elicited a surprised look from his girlfriend. After composing herself, Miss Kim said, "I like the nickname, tteokbokgi fashion. It's cute."

The fad began when high-range brands like Polo and Bean Pole began selling the coats. Second-tier names like Giordano, Maru and Eigenpost followed with similar designs at more affordable prices - about 100,000 won ($75). Now the coats are everywhere. A shopkeeper at a casual wear shop affirmed that the coats were selling quickly, and that the nation's favorite color is still beige.

In the big discount fashion emporiums inhabited by hundreds of individual vendors, more versions of tteokbokgi fashions are available. Duffle coats in fluffy artificial fur have become popular for those who want to project a flashier, bolder persona, though they cost a bit more. Another "jumper" style, similar in materials and thickness to down jackets, sells for about 50,000 won. One shop owner in the Migliore building, Lee Yeong-ju, said, "The jumper style has been quite popular with high school girls this winter."

After the street interview, the young sweethearts strode off to be swallowed up by the crowd. But Miss Kim's voice rang out above the hubbub; clearly her boyfriend was in hot water: "So, what's this? You have two other girlfriends for the gray and brown jackets? Give me back that Valentine's chocolate basket!"

by Chun Su-jin

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