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The Takeover: East Asian Beauty and Fashion in the West by Jane Lee

LANIEGE, Dr. Jart, COSRX, Peripera, and 3CE. You’ve probably both seen and heard of these popular Korean Skincare and makeup brands. However, just ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a single Asian beauty product on Sephora or Ulta’s shelves. To get your hands on a product, you’d have to order it through Asian beauty and fashion websites, or go to Asia yourself to buy them. With the increased popularity of Asian culture in the west, especially in the United States, Asian beauty products are now taking over the shelves and the fashion trends are taking over social media.

How K-Pop Gave K-Beauty Exposure

If you’re a beauty lover, you’ve probably already looked into South Korea’s innovative skincare products and makeup trends. From the popular facemasks to the glowing glass skin trend, K-Beauty has begun to take over the western beauty industry. These products made their first appearances with large South Korean skincare and beauty brands landing in popular Western stores, such as Urban Outfitters. Of course, landing in retail stores led to more exposure, but that wasn’t what caused the surge in popularity.

K-Pop, or Korean Pop, began gaining popularity in other Asian countries back in the mid 2000s. However, K-Pop eventually started to make its way to the west with the release of Gangnam Style by Psy in July of 2012. With almost 4 billion views to this day, the release of this song and music video led to the exposure of Korean pop culture in the west.

In Korean pop culture, netizens look to K-Idols and anyone within the entertainment industry for new makeup and fashion trends. Through K-Pop music videos, many Asian makeup artists ‘copy’ these original looks to post on their social media and Youtube channels. With so many people watching these makeup artists, they are also able to showcase Korean makeup styles, trends, and brands. A couple of these trends include Chung Ha’s crystal tears in her “Snapping” music video, ulzzang (or “Best Face” in English) makeup styles, and aegyo sal (or the “baby face” trend).

(Source: Instagram @chungha_official_)

One K-Beauty trend that took the western beauty industry by storm is the glass skin trend. This trend holds an emphasis on cleansing and layering lightweight, hydrating skin care products to help create the appearance of bouncy, glowing, dewy skin. In order to achieve this look, people will follow 10 step Korean skincare routines, which consist of products such as toner, serum, and sheet masks. This helps give the illusion of a “no makeup makeup look”, which utilizes minimal makeup products.

(Source: The Chicsta Blog)

With the increase in popularity of Korean skincare and cosmetics, Sephora has even launched their own K-Beauty inspired brand with MBX called Kaja Beauty (pronounced "kah-jah", meaning "let's go" in Korean). The theme of this brand is portable, bite-sized, on the go makeup (hence the name) that utilizes the latest Korean technology and formulations. The brand also incorporates cute packaging, which is a staple in Korean beauty products. Almost all Korean cosmetics have eye-catching packaging, which is what differentiates them from American beauty products.

Chinese Street Fashion Takes Over TikTok

Any TikTok user has seen at least one video compilation of Chinese models and citizens walking down the streets of Shanghai and Beijing, going about their day. These clips show the models walking, sometimes by themselves and other times with a friend, while they stare directly at the camera, immediately captivating the viewer behind the screen.

While many of these videos go viral due to the model’s looks, their street fashion influences many users to buy similar apparel through popular Chinese websites, such as YesStyle (which is a Hong Kong based company). These outfits vary from bold prints to cool and sophisticated all-black outfits, often involving tech wear. Street fashion brands are very popular in Chinese fashion and these models will often sport looks from labels such as Balenciaga, Misbhv, and Vetements, all of which are well known brands.

(Source: Esquire Singapore)

You’ve also probably seen a couple videos of Chinese models longboarding or walking through the city wearing long, silk like robes and dresses. They accessorize with paper fans and umbrellas, all while sporting traditional Chinese hairstyles. This fashion, which is original to China, is the Hanfu street style. Hanfus are ancient Chinese clothes that were traditionally worn by ethnic-majority Han Chinese before the Qing dynasty. The “Hanfu” movement, which began in the early 2000s, started out as a fringe subculture on online forums and websites. Now, this subculture has taken to the streets of major Chinese cities. However, what makes Hanfu street style so popular is the lack of a singular style, as Han Chinese wore all types of clothing throughout the dynasties; this further allows models to wear different varieties of clothing that is best suited for their individual styles.

Next Stop: Harajuku and Cosplay

With Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls and Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty music videos, you’ve probably already had a peek into Japanese fashion. The outfits you saw in those music videos come from one style of fashion that is original to Japan: Harajuku. Existing since the early 1980s, this style began expanding into the west in the early 2000s. Harajuku fashion is an extremely broad style that covers many well known Japanese sub-styles, such as Lolita, Gothic Lolita, Visual Kei, Cosplay, Decora, Gyaru, Cutesy Fairy Kei and punk rock clothing. Oftentimes, secondhand or retro/vintage clothes are utilized as well. Similarly to Chinese Hanfu street style, Harajuku fashion incorporates traditional Japanese garments like kimonos and wooden sandals.

Named after Harajuku Station in Tokyo, local teens would often walk through the streets wearing colorful and unique outfits that mixed Japanese attire with Western attire. Harajuku fashion began as a movement that went against strict societal rules and the pressure to fit the norm. Basically, these teens wanted to send the message that they didn’t want to follow mainstream fashion and could dress as they wish. While Harajuku fashion may not have necessarily influenced or gained popularity in the west, the message behind the fashion has definitely made its mark in history. Harajuku fashion isn’t limited to one style and encourages people to play around with clothing and accessories to see what they like. It promotes individuality and creativity, which is a mindset that is just starting to cross over into other Asian countries, as well as the west.

Harajuku fashion isn’t the only style gaining recognition from Japan. Through TikTok, you’ve probably seen the huge amount of e-girls/e-boys and cosplayers dominating your For You Page. While e-girl fashion may not hail from Japan, there is a very clear and obvious influence of Japanese culture in the style. With the intention of resembling an anime character, e-girls will often create dark yet cute makeup looks. These looks often consist of heavy, black winged eyeliner, bright blush that sweeps across the nose and cheeks, cute drawings, heart adornations, and cute accessories stuck to the face (such as bandaids).

Cosplaying, which is the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, usually from Japanese genres of manga and anime, has gained significant popularity in recent years. Originally popularized in the 1990s, cosplayers are shifting away from the norm of anime characters, and moving towards cosplaying as video game characters, which is the trend today. Specifically, the video game Among Us has received a lot of attention within the past year among the cosplaying community. Overall, this attention gained by cosplaying has resulted in conventions, such as Anime Expo and Comic Con, which in turn also has contributed to an increase in popularity as well.

All in all, it is no secret that East Asian beauty and fashion is taking the west by storm. From K-Beauty to Chinese and Harajuku Fashion to Cosplay, there are countless ways in which our culture in the United States is impacted by East Asian culture. No matter how much you knew about these influences before, now you’ll leave with an even better understanding of the East Asian fashion and beauty takeover of the west!

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