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[Pressure points] Wearing hair rollers in public: Breach of social etiquette?

By No Kyung-min

Published : April 9, 2024 - 14:46

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In South Korea these days, it is not unusual to come across young women styling their bangs with hair rollers outside of their homes or hair salons, in offices, subways, buses or classrooms.

While some onlookers deem this style inappropriate for public settings, one might even wonder whether it has become a fashion statement among younger women in Korea, transcending its original purpose of achieving voluminous bangs.

Indeed, there have been numerous online discussions about whether donning this hair styling tool reflects proper decorum.

For one, an anonymous user of the online discussion forum platform Nate Pann sought others' opinions on the hair roller look, asking, "Am I being a 'kkondae' (a condescending older person) for disliking it?"

‘Do it at home’

The author of the post specifically described a female coworker who wears curled bangs secured with a cylinder hair roller throughout the day at work.

One online user agreed with the author, saying it's hard to comprehend why some people wear hair curlers even on the subway.

"Doing it at home should suffice," remarked the user. Some speculated that the motivation behind wearing them is tied to a desire to appear "cute."

For many here, displaying one’s personal hairstyling process in public is seen as crossing a line, as observing a particular public dress code is seen as an important part of basic etiquette.

With respect to basic etiquette, one comment suggested that using a hair roller during lunchtime or breaks would be more appropriate.

Another user added, “Especially at work, someone sitting with hair rollers on their forehead gives the impression that they are not fully prepared for work and do not take their responsibilities seriously.”

Others believe there is an age-appropriate aspect to hair rolling in public, and that it's socially acceptable only for teenagers who may be a bit rebellious and who are aiming for a cute look.

"Adults sporting pink hair rollers seem to be acting thoughtlessly,” one comment reads.

For Choi Min-ho, a Seoul resident in his 20s, using hair rollers is akin to wearing pajamas in public places.

"There's no specific rule against wearing anything in public, but there are societal expectations about behavior and attire in places like the subway, the workplace and school," he argued.

'Mind your own business'

On the other hand, many young Korean women feel that using hair rollers in public falls within their personal rights.

Kim Ji-young, a 20-something office worker, emphasized the importance of being able to use her Velcro hair care tool to maintain the volume of her bangs. Without it, she claimed she couldn't bear to see her bangs go flat.

“It's understandable to a certain extent that some might be offended to see people wearing hair rollers in public places,” she remarked. “However, they have no right to comment on it in my private space," presumably referring to when she is sitting at her desk in the office.

Some users expressed discomfort with those who concern themselves excessively about what other people do.

“Please stop paying attention to others. If you want to meddle in other people's business, put a mirror on your desk and reflect on yourself,” reads one comment. Echoing this sentiment, another user voiced that people should mind their own business since those with hair rollers are not causing any public nuisance.

One’s hair type might require the use of hair rollers consistently to maintain a voluminous hairstyle.

"I have no intention of looking cute by wearing hair rollers," one commenter stated. "Neither using a curling iron nor getting a perm is effective in creating volume for my bangs."

The issue has also invited slightly differing perspectives in other English-language media, evolving into discussions about gender and beauty.

A few years ago, The New York Times reported on the matter, attributing the trend of publicly displaying hair rollers not only to a generational gap but also to changing views on how women should be allowed to behave in public.

Another article carried by New York-based Business Insider said wearing a hair roller may be a subtle expression of resistance specifically by Generation Z women to pressures to conform to Korea's strict beauty standards.

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