PLAYING IT (SAFE) BY EAR: the Influence of Music on Fashion and Choices

When I was 11 years old, I stumbled on the But It’s Better If You Do music video by Panic at the Disco. For the next four years, I would stammer into Hot Topic, buy band merchandise online (with whatever money I was allotted from my parents), and attend any concert I could find. This was back when indie band shows were a simple $15 cover charge, and All Time Low wasn’t playing on the radio.

I thought I found my “scene” or whatever it was called.

When I hit 16, I dated a dancer, and my taste in music suddenly changed. I listened to more hip-hop and R&B. I looked at expensive sneakers, bought varsity jackets, and followed the long, layered hair trend most Asian girls wanted back in high school. I attended b-boy cyphers and became the supporting “dancer girlfriend.” It was whatever the scene followed. This was the first time I had an inkling that something about the music was making me change how I saw myself – and how I wanted people to see me.

I started to listen to KPOP when I was 14, but the real effect did not show up until I was at the edge of 17. I wanted the long hair, so I could style it like them. I bought BB cream, and I tried to dress cuter. What even was the style back then circa 2010? Curls and bright colors, puppy-eye makeup, and the “anti-edge.” I wanted to tear away the “tough” visual I had even though it ultimately did not reflect who as I was – post high school drama, post puberty.

The influence of Korean media kept it’s hold up until now – at the prime age of 23, on the line of 24.

Once a year, I would take a mental break from KPOP. When this happened, I pulled up the old bands I used to listen to when I was 11. I still remembered the words, and the nostalgia made me feel comfortable. Those $15 concerts were no longer easy to come by, so listening to them without anyone noticing was the best I could do.

That necessary cleanse came around again in this past February, but this time around, I realized some things. I noticed I started to dress differently again. My makeup changed, and I wasn’t paying any mind to the trends around me. I unfollowed numerous Korean fashion bloggers on Instagram, and I started to simply look in my closet and wear what I wanted. I liked this style. This style of city/neo-grunge aesthetic was something that came easily to me. This wasn’t something I had to aim for or exert more effort than I possessed just to achieve it. I had all the pieces, my clothes that I had tucked away. I knew how to dress, how to act because – ultimately – this was who I was beneath the KPOP scene.

How could something as simple as the way I dressed change as soon as I switched the song I kept on repeat? What exactly was I aiming for? Was it acceptance or was this really who I was?

Whether we notice it or not, the influence of music on how you act and how you dress is far more powerful than we realize. Specifically, the pull that KPOP has on its listeners reaches beyond simply changing what your Top Played song choices are on Spotify.

What exactly happens when I stop listening to Twice and NCT and switch over to One OK Rock and Crown the Empire?

I think it’d be easy to say that anyone who gets into KPOP will venture out into the internet to find Korean beauty or KPOP fashion. It’s so accessible now. With online stores like YesStyle or the numerous websites that distribute the latest Korean makeup trends, anyone who falls into that lifestyle can indulge in what they want to find without any hassle. Have you ever stopped to think if it goes too far?



If you need to know about the latest Korean fashion trends, all you need to do is follow any of the notable fashion and beauty bloggers on Instagram. Strappy, platform sandals, pastel, and simple makeup is an image every Korean fashion follower can attest to. Even when I went to South Korea, I bought those sandals because I knew they were in style. In that area, whatever is in style can be found at almost every clothing vendor in every shopping district you can find. It isn’t just being sold; it’s being showcased by the people walking around. Trends are not something you need to actively search for; they’re something you can just open your door to.

Whatever the current big item is will be showcased by media via KPOP, and this is usually how the trends are started and continuously shown until they are irrelevant. By the time the rest of the public is caught up with that trend, it is placed into the archives and a new trend is birthed.

Unlike American fashion trends, Korean style is constantly revolutionizing the way we perceive what is fashionable. This is the wheel that keeps turning, and it’s honestly difficult to keep up. Has anyone ever considered that something that requires so much effort to follow is something you should take at face value? For the average consumer indulging in foreign fashion, this stuff is pricey, and it isn’t as easy as going to the mall to find what you want. We spend so much more trying to stay in touch with trends that fade faster than they flourish.

There’s a reason why the KPOP listener sticks out like a beacon in a room full of people who don’t. Either you pull it off or you don’t, and if you don’t – it gives off an entirely different vibe.

The reality of this scene is to accept who you are because if your effort goes too far, it can cause you to crash down. There isn’t an entirely positive stigma for people who love KPOP. I still love it, but I’m not nearly as vocal as I was before. I was attracting the wrong people, and they weren’t worth keeping. That isn’t to say other scenes are safer – just a little more forgiving.
The Hallyu scene is a platform that bases your relevance on your ability to adhere to the trends in the most accurate way possible. If you miss your mark, you stand out, and it isn’t in the good way.

Popular fashion blogger Kayla (@floralbleu on Instagram) is a longtime friend, and we’ve experienced our individual revolutions in terms of how we styled ourselves and finding what scenes we belonged to.

As someone who loves alternative/indie music (which is what sparked my friendship with Lesley), I definitely see how my music preference has shaped who I am and how I present myself. Looking back, I realize how I’ve unintentionally emulated the people I’ve seen at shows, from their mannerisms to their sense of style. If I go to a show now, I’m just one of many people in the crowd wearing a band tee, jean jacket, mom jeans, vans or Dr. Martens, and/or oversized flannel.

Actually, I rarely see people in attendance who deviate from this type of image at indie shows. An even more interesting note that I picked up is that this alt/indie aesthetic isn’t just executed by the outfit you choose to wear to the venue, but is further implemented by the time the last encore is finished… At the end of the show, the crowd further conforms to this collective persona in their ritualistic march over to the merch table to buy t-shirts.

As a lover of fashion, I always bought t-shirts at shows because I felt it showed my appreciation for the band and helped to express my interests pretty explicitly. Considering the topic of this article though, I wonder if I bought some merchandise as a result of subscribing to this alt/indie kid aesthetic.

However, even if I am unknowingly buying into this image, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because when I buy a band t-shirt, I’m certain that I’m supporting something I genuinely like and I’m not pretending. I think that if it feels like you’re putting effort into fitting into a music fandom, it’s not fun and it isn’t you being yourself or liking what you really like.

An example of this for me would be when I went to my first (and probably only) rave. I was excited to try something new and actually liked the artists we went to see (Porter Robinson and Madeon), but somehow I felt like a fraud. EDM culture never appealed to me and I felt embarrassed because a lot of my friends loved it. So, when the night of the show arrived, I didn’t try to put together a rave outfit. I just wore what I wore that day: a flannel and mom jeans. This made me feel a little out of place, but I was still comfortable in my own skin. As for the rave, I had a fun time overall, but I know myself and I simply resonate more with indie artists and the culture fans have created. I just feel more welcome and comfortable at an indie show and I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy the music I like with people who also like it.
There is an overbearing and ever-present problem that sticks with every avid music listener.

Why do I like this kind of music?
Should I associate with other people who like this music, too?
Do I belong to the scene around this music?
If I don’t, should I change?

But why are we trying to associate the image around our playlists with our identity?

There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by something you love, but letting it consume your personality – and your funds – can be damaging because it can disappear as soon as you decide to leave. There are so many trends that I tried to follow, and, while I tried, it just wasn’t me. It’s easy to say that I kept losing myself just by even attempting to keep up.

Lesson learned and lesson shared: figure out who you are. What do you want the world to see? Do you want the people around you to know who you are as an individual – your thoughts, beliefs, your fears, your dreams – or do you want them to know your place in the music scene you identify with? There isn’t anything wrong with either, but there is a problem if you push away the things you truly love by following something as arbitrary as music.

The music you listen to is part of you, but don’t let it change you.

At the end of the day, it’s something you turn off to let the world back in.


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