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What a North Face jacket means in South Korea
Puffy down outdoor jackets are increasingly becoming symbols of class division and targets of school violence
Consider the North Face jacket.
Originally designed for wilderness travelers, mountain climbers and winter sports athletes, this American outdoor jacket is more akin to a sleeping bag than it is a fashion statement.
Sure, it’s had its share of headlines in its home country, having been the subject of rampant reselling, counterfeiting--even armed robbery.
Recently in Korea, however, the explosive popularity of the puffy down jacket has brought about a string of controversy, throwing a light on the specifics of bullying in Korean schools.
Losers and backbreakers
According to a Korean blog post that made the rounds late last month, North Face jacket wearers can be immediately classified according to the type of North Face jacket they wear. This is apparently a common phenomenon in elementary and middle schools in particular, where the jackets are so popular they have been dubbed "the uniform worn over the uniform," or "backbreakers," (thus called for the work put in by parents in order to afford the jackets for their children).
The rankings also specify what type of student should be wearing which specific type of North Face jacket.
At the bottom of the scale is the North Face Nuptse 2, cost ₩250,000 (approximately US$220), which is generally worn by “losers" (찌질이).
Next on the list is the “common” Nuptse 1, worn both by “losers” and “gang members” (일진).
Two categories up is the Dry Loft, ₩470,000. "Losers don't wear the jackets starting from this category because they're afraid of having them swiped by gang members."
At the top, priced at ₩700,000 is the “rare” Himalayan Down Parka, the most expensive model worn by “the boss.”
As laughable as this list may seem, according to some students it simply puts into words what remains unspoken in school halls.
“You can definitely label people according to what North Face jackets they wear,” says Park Jin, 14, who is the class president of his middle school in western Seoul.
“If you wear a really expensive one, then the iljin (gang members) in school come and take it from you.”
In the news
Although the blog post was nationally forwarded, discussed with outrage and amusement, then promptly forgotten in the manner of most issues on the Internet in Korea, the controversy was brought back in the headlines this week when five Busan middle school students went on a North Face jacket rampage, beating four students for their North Face jackets, which they then took from their victims.
“I wanted a North Face jacket,” was the explanation that was given to the Busan police by one of the apprehended students.
We're still not entirely sure why such bland wilderness travel clothing would prompt such devotion and desire, but we're sure it'll come to us eventually.
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