‘Peter Pan’ generation seeks to stay young
They’re the typical Korean couple, with a very un-Korean twist: Their goal is to stay in their 20s for as long as possible. They dress casually (though they do admit to wearing nice clothes to church). They jokingly tell their daughter to call them “uncle” and “auntie.”
In Confucian Korea, where age is virtually the only determinant of social status, that kind of American Peter Pan lifestyle is a new thing. According to a recent report by the Samsung Fashion Institute, the couple is a growing number of “Grup tribes.”
New York Magazine defined “Grup” in a recent article as referring to a rising breed of adult “who walks around with an iPod plugged into his ears at all times, listening to the latest from [British rock group] Bloc Party; regularly buys his clothes at Urban Outfitters; takes her toddler to a Mommy’s Happy Hour at a Brooklyn bar; stays out till 4 a.m. and spend $250 on a pair of jeans that are artfully shredded to look like they just fell through a wheat thresher.”
The list went on.
The moniker comes from an episode of “Star Trek,” in which Captain Kirk lands on a planet of children known as Grups ― all the adults died from a virus that also slowed the aging process.
That’s a pretty good description of the Lee-Hwang couple.
“I still don’t fold my collar down when I wear shirts,” says Mr. Lee. “That’s how I used to dress when I was at college.”
“There’s nothing wrong with buying $250 jeans if you want them,” Ms. Hwang says.
Seo Jeong-mi, a director of the Samsung Fashion Institute, explains that the origin of “Grup tribes” dates back to the 1990s, when upscale brands for blue jeans were first introduced in the market.
“People went berserk at designer brand jeans that cost up to $100 a pair,” she says. “Fashion labels mixed the practicality of jeans with luxury concepts. The concept of jeans changed entirely.”
The phenomenon is also related to the trend for Korean offices to adopt more casual dress codes, particulary venture companies founded by young Koreans.
As most critics will quickly point out, however, wanting to stay young ― or at least look it ― is a universal trait.
The generation of Korean Grups aspiring to a youthful lifestyle have grown to wield economic power. Instead of wearing casual knitwear, they have turned to cashmere garments by luxury brands.
Korea’s fashion merchandisers have taken notice.
“For our brands, we are trying to divide our products into sports lines and vintage lines,” said Kim Hyo-jin, a designer at Fubu. “Our target age is widening, because the consumers who used to buy our clothes from their college years have stayed on. Our vintage line is targeted specifically at those groups. We are trying to maintain our casual take, but on the consensus of making it look ‘not too cheap’ or ‘not too young’.”
Ms. Seo, however, said Grups can’t be divided by generation.
“Basically, Grups are a group of strongly individualistic people,” she said. “Even as they reach the age of 40 or 50, they won’t give up their youthful freedom.”
by Jo Do-yeon