Why This Korean Trend Won't Work In America

It's hard for me to get embarrassed about what I wear. As someone who prefers my pants saggy and baggy, and print-mixes to a sometimes dizzying degree, I'm used to my share of side-eye. As long as I'm not pissing people off along the way (apologies to the woman whose small children I may have scarred for life with my Ostwald Helgason sweatshirt), I have a pretty good time trying out new trends, silhouettes, and styles. However, upon receiving this assignment to test-run one of the most prevalent fashion trends in Korea, I broke into a cold, miserable sweat. When I told my boyfriend he'd be roped into it, too, he turned a similar shade of gray.
Couples in lookalike outfits are a rising trend in Seoul, as seen in our Style Out There documentary that explored the burgeoning industry that revolves around the tradition of celebrating relationships. Stores cater to this matchy-matchy aesthetic, and dedicated couples can purchase coordinating clothes that act as a real, unavoidable symbol of their union. For many reasons, it's become much more than a fad in Korea. But could it ever work in the United States, where casual dating is the norm?
So, on one fateful Monday, my live-in boyfriend, Nathan Reese, and I pulled on similar moto jackets, cuffed jeans, and button-downs and headed out into the world. (Well, first we laughed so hard we cried, and then left the apartment.) Between the judgment from strangers, grief from our friends, and struggle to find clothes that coordinated between two very disparate closets, we attempted to see if matching our clothes made us feel a new sort of affection for each other…without killing each other first, of course. Here's how it played out.
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Connie: Theory leather jacket, American Apparel button-down, Elizabeth & James jeans, Puma shoes

"Nathan typically goes to work an hour after I do, but in the spirit of really doing this thing right, he graciously agreed to wake up early for this week (muahaha). We collaborated on an outfit, which made getting dressed surprisingly much more fun. Typically, I'll have an idea of what I want to wear, silently go get dressed, and head out the door. With this matchy-matchy project, it was like I had a buddy to make something mundane a little more fun. We went with something that we inadvertently twin in a lot — thick leather jackets. The rest of it came fairly easily: striped blue button-downs, dark-wash jeans with a cuff (though his were skinny, and mine were baggy), and low-top sneakers. I think we even might have high-fived before leaving the house since it was so spot-on. However…that's when the goodwill ended.

"Immediately after we left the apartment, I felt more self-conscious about my outfit than I've ever felt in my life. It was like a joke, and like we were in costume instead of in clothes, and I wanted to hide. I'm pretty sure Nathan felt the same way, since he kept breaking away to walk five feet in front, then behind me. On our short walk to the subway, we passed crowds of high school students walking the other way. Typically, I treat it like an impromptu survey of what people think about my outfit — if there's nods and smiles, the kids like it! Today, I couldn't even make eye contact.

Here's why it's embarrassing. Dressing alike says, "Hey everyone. I really really like my partner, and I'm making it clear to everyone who can see us that he is mine and I am his and please acknowledge our togetherness." It felt as gratuitous as making out in the middle of a subway car. Sure, there's nothing wrong with expressing your love for one another, but there's no need to force everyone else around you to participate in your relationship. If this was the norm, then it'd be one thing. But it's not.

"We had plans to meet up after work for a drink, but we both canceled on each other. Mine partially had to do with the morning's mortification…and I wouldn't be surprised if his was, too."

Nathan: Steven Alan shirt, Schott NYC Perfecto leather jacket, A.P.C. jeans, adidas Stan Smith sneakers

"Getting dressed in the morning was sort of fun: There was definitely some novelty to the experiment on the first day. It was also really easy to coordinate: Jeans, biker jackets, striped shirts, and white sneakers are an easy match, and look pretty normal, all things considered. (It's what I wear two or three days a week anyway.) But as soon as we walked into our hallway, I started getting really nervous about people noticing us. Luckily, we didn't see any neighbors. We walked to the subway together, which takes about eight minutes, during most of which I looked at the ground and avoided eye contact with other people. We didn't end up eating dinner together, so really the only time we were out and about was that awkward subway walk. Maybe people just assumed we were in a band."
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Connie: Aritzia striped shirt, American Eagle jean jacket, FRAME Denim Jeans, Dr. Martens shoes

"I was surprised to see the response to the Instagram photo I posted from the first day, and decided to continue it for the entire week. It's strange how something that's fairly basic — two people wearing their normal clothes, but matching each other — can elicit such a strong reaction from people. Nathan said he had to stay behind this morning (so no coordinating walk to the subway together), but we made plans to get dinner somewhere where we wouldn't bump into one of our friends and have to explain ourselves. We chose a restaurant in Koreatown to see if the reactions to our outfits would be more agreeable, but it was hard to suss out reactions since it was so dark outside. Once we got inside, though, Nathan panicked and took his jacket off immediately. He kept it off for the rest of the evening (even though it was chilly out), and when I made him put it back on to go into a bakery, he kept a 15-foot distance from me. Each time I'd come close, he'd nonchalantly scoot away. Matching outfits was supposed to bring us together, and literally it was pulling us apart."

Nathan: Vintage Levi's denim jacket, Saint James Binic II nautical sweater, A.P.C. jeans, Dr. Martens 3-eyelet shoe

"We avoided walking to the subway together the second morning. Or, I guess I should say, I avoided walking with Connie. I had some work to finish up, so it was a good excuse to avoid our morning walk of shame. As far as the outfits were concerned, this was also a pretty easy one.

"For dinner, we thought it would be fun to go to K-town — maybe we'd see other matching couples? Unfortunately, we did not. Although the waiter at Take31 did seem to think we were pretty funny, he didn't mention anything to our faces. Connie's friend also happened to be at the same restaurant at the same time. Of all the Korean tapas places, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. Our rule was that we only mention the experiment if asked, but she had already heard about it. (Thanks, Instagram!) I still felt mildly awkward, though, but she seemed to think it was cute. Before we went home, we bought some Korean pastries. I was starting to feel pretty comfortable."
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Connie: Iceberg T-shirt, cardigan, Elizabeth & James jeans, Valentino sneakers

"At this point, I had run out of layers in my own closet that could match with Nathan's lineup of sweaters in neutral colors, so I looked into his closet to see if I could find any dupes. We wear about the same size (since I like my clothes baggier), so we were lucky in that sense, and we're also lucky in that we both apparently like to get multiples of each item. I had two of the same free T-shirts from Fashion Week in Milan, and Nathan had two similar cable-knit cardigans. Voilà! Outfits done.

"We went to see a show that evening by one of Nathan's friends' bands at a bar, and when we go out with friends, we're typically fairly independent. We're not the kind of couple that stays glued at the hip all evening, and because of that, it's pretty often that guys will assume that I'm single. However, this night, there was none of that going on. I think a big, slightly holographic iceberg T-shirt is something people remember seeing, and they especially remember seeing it twice. Note to all women who want to avoid being hit on: Dress up in the exact same outfit as one of your male friends. It's like wearing a wedding ring on your entire body."

Nathan: A.P.C. jeans, A.P.C. cardigan, Iceberg shirt, New Balance 996 sneakers

"Connie had been gifted matching shirts at a Fashion Week party in Milan (fancy, right?), so we wore them with similar blue cable-knit cardigans. This may have been the most matchy-matchy outfit all week: There was no hiding matching T-shirts. After spending the day apart, we met at a friend's Prince-cover-band show at Baby's All Right. Luckily, it was a Halloween party, so some people were dressed up. Our friends thought we looked great, but strangers kept asking what we were, which we were allowed to explain, given the rules we set out for ourselves. In some ways, it was more like a costume than any other days, so there was less general awkwardness."
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Connie: The Whitepepper dress, River Island sweater, Converse shoes, Ray Ban glasses

"Nathan had started to really not like his new schedule of waking up an hour early, so he started to become a lot less collaborating in the morning, and there was a lot more of me having to put together two outfits instead of just one. I missed my weird prints and colors. I missed wearing metallics and dresses. I was beginning to develop an aversion to sneakers and the color blue.

"In a color-starved frenzy, I found two maroon sweaters in Nathan's closet that were the closest thing he had to a bright. I had a black-and-white-checked dress that sort of matched with Nathan's black-and-white-checkered button-down. We both wore Clubmaster-style glasses and white high-tops.

"I'm going to be honest. I have no idea what we did that day. I can't remember a single thing. From speaking to some of my Korean friends, I learned that one of the consequences of dressing alike on dates is that you end up creating a stronger memory of what you did and what happened. I guess that only works if you do it discriminatingly, not every day."

Nathan: Thrifted gingham shirt, Vintage Brooks Brothers sweater, Levi's 510 jeans, A.P.C. x Nike sneakers, Moscot Yukel glasses

"Connie forced me out of our blue-and-black routine, which resulted in a look somewhere between '50s dad and liberal arts professor. (The matching Clubmaster-style glasses really put it over the edge.) We went out for drinks, but by this time I had stopped thinking about our outfits and couldn't tell if anyone noticed us. Early on, I was worried about what people would think, but if you do something long enough, it starts to become normal. Maybe this wasn't so bad after all."
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Connie: Alexander Wang for H&M sweatshirt, Uniqlo sweatpants, Puma shoes

"Anyone who's known me during October knows that I love Halloween. Since dating Nathan, I've wrangled him into a couple of matching costumes (last year, we were Maury Povich and Connie Chung; two years ago, we were geriatric gamblers). This year, we decided to — obviously — go as the dancing twin emojis for our evening festivities. However, since leotards probably don't fall within my dress-code guidelines, we changed into Alexander Wang for H&M gear for work (I had scored a set early during an editor's preview the week before). Since the launch wasn't until the following week, I told everyone I came 'from the future,' which was probably one of my lamer costume ideas. I switched gears to 'A double Wang' later in the day, after my coffee had worn off. That was my lamest costume idea.

"The emoji costume was a hit that night, though Halloween might be the only time here in the U.S. where couples are encouraged to match. One person, though, did say that Nathan was 'a good sport' to participate all week, which made me realize for the first time this week that people could be construing that doing something like this was emasculating. But whatever feelings that involves — a loss of identity, acquiescing to another's whims — was something that I was going through as well, and it had nothing to do with whether or not I felt manly. I talked to Nathan about it later, and he agreed. He was getting grief from some of his friends for doing this, but as a writer at a digital publication, he, too, understood the sacrifices you go through for a good story. (Plus, the fact that I'd reward him with dinner at his favorite restaurant the following week was a motivator. Hey, he's a tough negotiator.)"

Nathan: Alexander Wang x H&M sweatshirt, Nike pants, adidas Stan Smith sneakers

"During the day, we went with a supercasual #healthgoth look, complete with some H&M x Alexander Wang sweatshirts. (Connie's last name is also Wang, obviously, so it worked as a double entendre; we were like two members of very fashionable, very unathletic sports teams.) My office is supercasual, but I still got some weird looks in the elevator from people unused to seeing cozyboys in Midtown. I keep hearing that neoprene is trendy, but it sure hasn't made it to the Time & Life building yet. Of course, Friday was Halloween, so we switched up our outfits at night and went as the cabaret-dancer emojis. Tons of other couples were matching, too, so it wasn't any different than other Halloweens. Plus, Connie usually insists we coordinate Halloween outfits anyway, so this was just par for the course."
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Connie: American Apparel chambray top, Zara pants, Valentino sneakers

"By Saturday, we were old pros at this…but we were also running out of clothes. I refused to go shopping for new clothes for this project, so there were slim pickins to choose from.

"We went to grab brunch at our favorite neighborhood joint in matching green-khaki pants, chambray shirts, and sneakers. I might typically wear sneakers every day, but it's usually with something more feminine on top…and not with this week's fare of button-ups and trousers. I felt like a soccer dad all day, so I swiped on some lipstick after brunch to overcompensate. Striving to look 'more feminine' has never been an impulse of mine, only when it's a matter of looking different than the man-twin sitting next to me. I may or may not have worn a new leopard-spotted coat to brunch as an act of defiance. Nathan didn't say anything, though, because A) he's a good boyfriend, and B) it was a great jacket."

Nathan: Gramicci Tokyo G pant, Gitman Bros for Acrimony shirt, New Balance 996 sneakers

"After battling our matching Halloween hangover, we headed to brunch wearing matching green pants and denim shirts. When you have a terrible headache, the last thing you want to think about is matching your girlfriend's outfit, but I think we did an especially good job with these. Our experiment was almost over."
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Connie: Gap sweater, Uniqlo flannel, Madewell jeans, vintage jacket, Dr. Martens shoes

"Last day! Last day! Last day last day! A full, happy life of color and polka-dots lies ahead of me. Red shoes and printed pants and graphic tees are just a day away. For now, we had a trip to Storm King with our other couple friends, who were looking forward to relentlessly making fun of us. Everyone we met who had seen the progress on Instagram had something to say about it — 'I'm obsessed,' or 'It's so funny,' or 'It's the best part of my morning.' And, like everyone else, when I asked whether they'd match, our friends said, 'No way.'

"As the novelty wore off with our friends, the day was like any other day. And, though we might have seen a few people point at us on the grounds in recognition of our matchingness, I stopped caring. For me, that's the point of fashion — clothes should aid you in the pursuit of things, whether it's a certain aesthetic story to tell, announcing that you're here to represent your favorite sports team, or sharing a real connection with another person. If that connection is already there and solid? Well, then we don't really need it. The fun of putting it together on the first couple of days was awesome, and it was fun for many of the reasons I love Halloween so much. But as a regular thing? No, thank you. The only thing I want to match is myself."

Nathan: Vintage Schott leather bomber, Alexandre Plokhov for Uniqlo sweatshirt, Schnayderman's shirt, Levi's 510 jeans, Dr. Martens 3-eyelet shoe

"For our final day, we headed Upstate to Storm King Art Center, an expansive outdoor place for art installations. Because we'd be hiking around, the day was about being practical more than perfectly matching, but I think the similarly toned jackets still gave the right impression. Since we spent the day in nature with friends, looks from strangers were minimal.

"After matching for seven days, and starting off feeling very awkward, I had almost forgotten we were still doing the experiment. I'm a self-conscious guy in general, so my impulse is to over-explain everything. And, to be honest, it's pretty weird for a Jewish dude and his Asian girlfriend to walk around New York matching. I'd be lying if I denied that I was initially worried people would think it was some sort of fetish thing. But as far as I know, people really didn't seem to think twice about it. Aside from some all-in-good-fun jabs from friends, most people just thought it was a fun thing to do. And, by the end of the week, we had almost stopped thinking about it. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I could totally see how other people would. I can't say I liked it, but now I get it."