The Power of Fashion: How K-Pop Incorporates Fashion to Create Visual Identity

K Pop Fashion image collage

Fashion plays a significant role in K-pop, and it is one of the elements that contributes to its visual appeal. MA Luxury Brand Management student, Iman Zahid Hafeez, discusses how K-pop groups utilise fashion to create strong visual identities.


Beyond the Music


Over recent years, the global phenomenon of South Korean popular music (K-pop) has taken the industry by storm. From catchy melodies, synchronised choreographies and visually striking music videos, the genre has captured a diverse global fanbase. 


K-pop’s influence goes beyond the music industry, with fashion being a fundamental role in defining the visual identity of a group. K-pop artists, commonly referred to as “idols”, transcend cultural and language barriers, to introduce elements of South Korean culture to the global fashion scene. From vibrant, eclectic outfits to meticulously curated styles, fashion has become a vital way for K-pop groups to convey their unique aesthetics and attract a worldwide audience. This article will explore the importance of fashion in shaping a K-pop group’s visual identity and its role in their global success.

Defining the Concept

Before a K-pop group’s debut, entertainment companies work closely with stylists and designers to develop a concept aligning with the group’s music and image. This concept serves as the foundation for their fashion, assisting to create a visually appealing and consistent identity. The concept sets the tone for the group’s fashion journey, whether it’s a retro-inspired look, a futuristic aesthetic, or a blend of various styles. South Korean entertainment companies often showcase these concepts first hand through trailers and teaser images, giving fans a sneak peek into the style and concept of the upcoming release, effectively sparking interest. For example, the girl group NewJeans, which debuted in 2022, stands out from other K-pop girl groups with their girl-next-door and colourful Y2K aesthetic. In an interview with British Vogue NewJeans’ stylist, Choi Yumi, explained that she blends nostalgic elements with pieces from contemporary houses, such as Kiko Kostadinov, Martine Rose, Paolina Russo, Marine Serre, Fidan Novruzova, and Comme des Garçons, resulting in a distinctive style. 

Creating Iconic Outfits

Iconic outfits are a signature feature of K-pop groups, often defining their brand. These outfits are thoughtfully designed or curated to make a statement and leave a lasting impression on fans. Stylists work meticulously to construct visually captivating ensembles that embody the group’s image and connect with their target audience. These outfits typically feature bold colours, distinctive patterns, and innovative designs, pushing boundaries and setting trends. During Red Velvet’s 2017 comeback, group member Joy wore an Ashish rainbow-striped sequin-embellished mini dress. Although it only made a brief appearance in the group’s music video “Peek-A-Boo”, the outfit became a viral sensation. Its iconic status led people to search for “K-pop girl in the rainbow dress”, further increasing the group’s popularity. To this day, it remains one of the most recognisable K-pop stage outfits among the K-pop community. 


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Symbolism and Storytelling

Fashion in K-pop goes beyond aesthetics, serving as a significant tool for storytelling and symbolism. It can convey messages, depict themes, or narrate a story through subtle details such as accessories and colour choices. This aids K-pop groups to express their artistic vision and foster connections with their communities. For example, aespa is a metaverse girl group, comprised of four virtual and four real-world members, with a strong emphasis on integrating virtual technology. Their concept is focused on innovative activities driven by the theme of encountering a new world an ‘avatar’ – an alternate version of yourself. According to the Korea Times, prior to the group’s debut, haute couture designer Kay Kim was brought on board to create aespa’s image. Kim successfully depicted each member as stylish, sleek, and futuristic to portray them as next-generation warriors dedicated to saving the world from a fictional villain through fashion.


Individuality and Group Dynamics

K-pop groups maintain a cohesive concept while allowing individuality among members through fashion. Each member’s unique style is reflected in their outfits, showcasing their distinct personalities. This enhances the group’s visual identity and enables fans to form personal connections with specific members. For instance, K-pop boy group ATEEZ effectively established their visual identity with their pirate chic aesthetic. The group’s signature style, which includes wide-legged trousers, dark colour palettes, and layered accessories harmoniously blends with all eight members’ distinct styles. ATEEZ member, Seonghwa, explained in a Teen Vogue interview, “Every album is a different concept so what we do is get opinions from within ourselves first and then consult with everyone else in the team, the hair designers and the makeup artists. We try to communicate and find a way to match both opinions”.  This has resulted in the creation of various fan pages dedicated to ATEEZ’s style archiving their best looks and tracking the pieces in their wardrobes, both as an individual and as a group.


Influence on Fans and Pop Culture

K-pop fashion significantly influences fan and pop culture trends. Fans look forward to each comeback to see the group’s new fashion outfits and use them as a source of inspiration for their own style. Over the last few years, K-pop fashion has gained global recognition, as designers and luxury brands partner with K-pop groups to create unique marketing campaigns. The K-pop boy group, BTS, has achieved worldwide success not only through their music but also their unique sense of style. Their fashion ranges from suits and streetwear to traditional hanbok. Luxury houses like Louis Vuitton have seen their impact and announced in 2023 with J-Hope as their official brand ambassador. The BTS member also appeared in the Keepall campaign. The house stated, “With a positive on-and-off-stage presence, J-Hope continues to push artistic boundaries and inspire international audiences”. This cross-cultural exchange further strengthens the influence of K-pop fashion on the fashion industry.


Fashion plays a significant role in K-pop, serving not only as a tool for visual appeal but also as a medium for conveying a group’s identity, story, and artistic vision. It allows individual members to express themselves within a cohesive group dynamic and influences fan culture in addition to global fashion trends. As the genre continues to grow in global popularity, its influence on the fashion industry is expected to become progressively significant – making it a fascinating area for cultural exchange and creativity.


Words by Iman Zahid Hafeez – MA Luxury Brand Management student