Korean Wedding Guest Dress Code & Etiquette - Illustration

Despite having gotten married in Korea, I'd never been a guest at a wedding myself. On top of that, my own wedding was a traditional Korean one, so both me, my husband and pretty much all the female guests came wearing Hanbok.

So when the wedding of a close friend came around I wasn't too sure of what would be appropriate when it came to wardrobe. Especially since I knew the event would take place in on of the most luxurious wedding halls of Seoul - I was expecting evening dresses and lots of colors. A bit of research quickly showed how wrong I was...

In general, Korean weddings are over quickly and aren't - to my European sensitivities - very festive. The dress code for guests could best be described as business or business-casual, partly stemming from the fact that a large part of the guests is comprised of co-workers.  

More Korea...

Since I love drawing outfits and makeup illustrations, this was the perfect occasion to document some of the fashion choices I saw on other female guests. Of course, there are differences depending on the size of the event, the general level of luxury of the location, and the season. For example, I didn't even get to remove my coat! Luckily I'd gone with a dark charcoal one instead of my cream colored jacket which would have looked too much like white in pictures. 

General outfit tips: 

  • Subdued colors. The wedding is all about having the bride shine brightest! 
  • Choose an outfit you could wear to a business meeting or formal event during the day. A lot of Korean weddings don't take place late in the evening, so evening gowns or festive dresses aren't usual.
  • Men basically wear suits or a nice jacket, though ties are definitely optional. Like mentioned, business-casual is the order of the day. I've seen my fair share of jeans-wearing guests, too. 
  • Keep in mind that there will probably be no place to put down bags, jackets or coats and you'll have to carry/wear them all the time.

A "Korean Wedding" How To: 

1. Arrive early  

... so you can take a picture with the bride. She'll be sitting in a room exclusively for that purpose, so especially if you're a guest from the bride's friend circle, that's probably your best chance to see her up close and give her your best wishes (but fast, other people are waiting in line!).  

2. Gifts

Bring an envelope (or use one of the envelopes provided somewhere near the entrance) with money. This is your gift - you're essentially helping to pay for the wedding venue, food etc. 
The amount varies depending on how close your relationship is, so try asking some friends or colleagues from the same circle on how much they give.

There'll be two tables to chose from - one for the bride's guests and one for the groom's - where you'll be able to hand over your envelope (with your name written on it) and sign the guest book in exchange for a buffet coupon. You'll probably be able to greet the couple's parents there, too.

I added a little extra drawing as a wedding gift for the couple.

I added a little extra drawing as a wedding gift for the couple.

3. Ceremony  

The ceremony hall was inspired by a church when it came to design and layout. The benches on the right side of the aisle were for family, the left side for friends and co-workers, but we chose to stand to see better.
The actual ceremony is usually short. A ceremony master guides through the process, which is opened by the two mothers. Their part of the ceremony is based in Korean traditional weddings, so they'll be lighting candles and greet each other with bows while wearing traditional Hanbok. Then, the ceremony master introduces first the groom and then the bride, who'll be led down the aisle by her father.

For traditional Korean weddings, the exchange of symbolic food between the to-be married couple, as well as between the two families, is very important. Traditional Hanbok are worn and, among other elements, lavishly decorated dishes and lots of bowing dominate the ceremony. 

For traditional Korean weddings, the exchange of symbolic food between the to-be married couple, as well as between the two families, is very important. Traditional Hanbok are worn and, among other elements, lavishly decorated dishes and lots of bowing dominate the ceremony. 

A note on traditional Korean weddings: 

While there are lots of elements from Korean traditional weddings sprinkled through-out the modern version, the actual thing isn't that common anymore. For a true traditional ceremony, the bride and groom (as well as close relatives) would all be in Hanbok - with traditional wedding adornments on top! - and instead of exchanged vows or rings, it involves a lot of greetings and gifts between the families in form of symbolic food. 
I actually got married in a traditional Korean ceremony and will blog about that in the future!

Wedding illustration for an invitation card to a traditional Korean ceremony. The elaborate Hanbok for weddings are colorful, covered in intricate embroidery, and surprisingly heavy!  This wedding invitation portrait was a custom order. 

Wedding illustration for an invitation card to a traditional Korean ceremony. The elaborate Hanbok for weddings are colorful, covered in intricate embroidery, and surprisingly heavy!
This wedding invitation portrait was a custom order. 


The groom has to do a lot of bowing through-out the ceremony! Where the bride has a dress (and a flurry of professional ceremony assistants assuring it always looks perfect) that limits her movements to half-bows, the groom will do the traditional full bow on his hands and knees in front of the parents to ask for their blessings. 

The couple will also read out their vows, and the fathers or a very close friend will hold a short speech. Depending on the couple's background, there might be other short interludes (my friend had a singer duo sing for her since both she and her husband work in the music industry) but generally, the ceremony will be over in about 20-30 minutes.  

4. More pictures! 

Then, it's immediately time for some group pictures. At this particular wedding, the large number of guests made them take the group picture with friends before the family ones so that the largest chunk of people would be out of the ceremony hall. The bride will also throw her bouquet to an (already decided on) girlfriend. 

5. Buffet

While group pictures are still being taken, you can head over to the dining hall. Some guests don't even watch the ceremony, just hand over their gift envelopes, eat and leave. With the number of guest at this particular ceremony being well over 700, that was the only way to have the wedding hall and even dining hall not be completely overcrowded. 

Grab food and an empty table (only chairs for the couple's closest relatives come labeled), enjoy the music and make sure to eat noodles! Noodle soup or any noodle dish brings luck for the married couple, with the length of the noodles symbolizing a long and happy marriage.

Is it over...? 

The now married couple will change outfits after the ceremony and join the guests in the dining hall.
On this particular occasion, the bride went from wedding dress to evening gown (by the way, none of the guests or even bridesmaids wore anything even close to a gown. Like mentioned: Business-casual) and went around the hall to greet everyone and, since they're musicians, sang a duet. After that, another outfit change into the traditional Korean hanbok was in order. I believe the couple didn't get a single bite to eat! 

That is pretty much the end of all official parts.

At one point, the married couple and closest relatives will go into another room to complete the traditional Korean part of the wedding ceremony, but at that time, most of the other guests will have left already.

It can be a bit hard to tell when it's time to leave since guests trickle in and out constantly.


But don't be surprised if you feel like you're leaving early - as mentioned, Korean weddings don't take very long, and as far as I know, there is no dancing involved. In fact, when we had our own 'second' wedding in Switzerland to celebrate with my Swiss relatives and friends, my husband was petrified when he found out we'd have to dance a little bit of a wedding waltz! 

Just leave after you've at least once congratulated the married couple and eaten your share of the buffet!

free printable paperdoll inspired outfit stickers - Korean wedding guest dresses - watercolor illustration, makeup and handbags, sticker printables for scrapbooks, filofax, planners and journals.

If you - like me - love to decorate your journals and stationery with outfit stickers, you can download the printable file for these illustrations here. Just print them on sticker paper of your choice (or normal paper - a good old glue stick does the trick!), cut them with scissors and put them in your journal, planner, Filofax, or scrapbook. The files are 300 dpi on half a US letter page, making for some cute, small outfit stickers. 

Some of the drawings are from my 'OOTD Seoul' post here.

OOTD Sketch Diary - Going to Seoul Daily Look

Short Trip To Seoul - MOTD & OOTD

Second try for this blog post! It went online a couple of days ago but then disappeared from the face of the internet for yet unknown reasons. Fingers crossed for this one!

My illustrated outfit of the day and Korean makeup favorites for a short trip to Seoul. Korea has its very own etiquette and rules when it comes to clothes, so I've added a couple of tips to navigate daily outfits in Korea. :)

I love going on short trips - the feeling of packing the bare minimum and using products that normally get ignored because they're just a tad too fancy or time-consuming to use in daily life. 

Seoul is a bit of special case since the metropolis is full of fun fashion, shopping opportunities, pretty coffee houses, with exhibitions and museums galore!

But at the same time, whenever we leave Jeju Island to visit Korea's capital, I have to squeeze in business meetings (I do design work for a local music label), quiet hours to actually draw and catch up on work time lost during the flight - and we're staying at our in-laws a good 90-minute drive away from Seoul's center, so our time is filled with family events, cooking and babysitting the cutest nephews in the world.

That means my wardrobe has to be flexible and minimal enough to fit into a tiny backpack, squeezed in around my laptop, graphic tablet and external hard drives. Clothes that fit all occasions are key.

Minimalist outfit for a winter day in Seoul, Korea. OOTD Sketches & Illustrations on the blog. 

There are some basic tips for choosing outfits in Korea.

1. Beware the Kimchi

And all other spicy red food. If you're not totally confident in your chopstick skills, white blouses are your enemy. So if you'll be eating out a lot it's safer to stick with darker tops. 

2. Down to Earth

Or rather down to the floor. Depending on what sort of restaurant you visit, having to sit on the floor is a possibility. For that reason, I prefer wearing dresses or loose clothing in general to skinny jeans and short skirts. Especially if you'll be eating traditional Korean food a lot.


3. Shoes are made for walking...  

It depends on your pain tolerance, of course, but personally, I hate wearing high heels in Seoul. Taking the metro and generally walking long distances can quickly get uncomfortable and I always underestimate just how much time I'll be spending on my feet.

Also, again, depending on the restaurant you'll have to remove your shoes on entering. Koreans seem to have some supernatural speed skills when it comes to putting on and taking off shoes, so to keep up I make sure to wear nothing that requires binding shoe laces. Best are ones you can put on without the help of your hands.

4. Clothing Etiquette in Korea

While skirts can be as short as you can imagine (and shorter), Korean fashion tends to be more conservative when it comes to chest and shoulders. While shoulder-free blouses were a trend last summer, I rarely see low cuts or tank tops, even at the beach. It's perceived as sexy or sensual where exposed legs aren't. You can, of course, wear whatever you want! Just be aware that outside of clubs and bars you'll probably attract looks.

On that note: While some looks are timeless, Korea has been moving away from cute clothes towards more shabby chic or vintage styles over the last five years. There were a lot more pastel blouses, flared short skirts and lace to be seen when I first came to Korea, but maxi and midi skirts, loose fits and darker colors have taken over since then.

Simple Korean makeup look for a day on the move. Moisturizing foundation and a long-lasting lip tint are key for dry plane air, and stick eye shadow is a quick solution for busy mornings. K-Beauty in Seoul, Innisfree & Aritaum makeup favorites.

Korean Travel Makeup

For the actual trip from Jeju to Seoul (including not only the short flight but several hours of driving and metro), I went with a simple look, especially since the morning was hectic enough without elaborate blending.

  • Innisfree Ampoule Intense Foundation in #13
    This foundation is cheap, my perfect shade (in winter at least) and most importantly very moisturizing - ideal for dry airplane air!
  • Aritaum Micro Eye Liner Brush
    Precision is key - and this brush liner is really easy to use even for beginners.
  • Innisfree Mineral Cream Blusher in #3 Peach
    ... Since powder blush can look overly dry when contrasted with that glowy foundation.
  • Innisfree Vivid Tint Rouge in #6 Summer Sun Red
    As a staining base to make sure my lipstick won't fade unevenly even after eating. 
  • Innisfree Cream Mellow Lipstick in #8
    This red color is surprisingly wearable even during the day, and a nice mix between moisturizing and well-adhering. 
  • Innisfree Eye Contouring Stick Round in #5
    For a super quick attempt at both eyeliner and eyeshadow. 
  • Aritaum Mono Eyes Shadow Palette
    This palette is the sturdiest I own, so I feel perfectly comfortable just throwing it into my bag. For simple eye makeup, I love the shade 'Earth' and 'Ginger Powder'.

That's it for my first day in Seoul! I'll be doing quick diary drawings and food logs for the following five days - but those will have to wait until I'm back at my calm, wifi-equipped desk. 

Have you been to Korea? It's a paradise for shopping, but my personal preference when it comes to clothes is on the boring side (lots of black and white - and most of all cheap!) so I keep it simple. :)

MOTD and OOTD illustrations for a day in Seoul. Simple, minimalist daily outfit for mild winter days, and Korean makeup favorites for a quick, flight-appropriate makeup. Fashion illustration & Daily Look Sketch Diary on the blog.