As I have begun to understand it, there's an intense desire to be productive in Korea. There is also a need to always look your best.
Koreans are never sitting around for long. Only to eat.
Not looking presentable also isn't something Koreans do.
If you're retired in Korea, you're still doing something. Sitting around your flat or your home just isn't something they do. There are a lot of older Koreans seen on the metro system in Seoul. Each train has three seats on each side of, and, end of the car (12 total if you're trying to keep up with my math) that are preferred seating for the elderly and pregnant.
The city tries really hard to keep it's public transportation accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
Over the last few years, the average age of retirement in Korea has steadily risen. It's surpassed 61 years old. That doesn't stop the Korean populace from being, as I like to say, "up to something."
Koreans are always on the move. They're always doing their part to contribute to the flow and well being of society.
Something that has become very apparent is the need for Koreans to be looking presentable, no matter what they're doing. Public statements of fashion aren't readily seen in Korea as it is in Japan, but, women are always dressed nicely and can often be spotted in public re-applying make-up.
On too many occasions to count, I've spotted women putting on more make-up on the public transportation. It's clear they already have make-up on, but, they're always making sure it's up to par. Korean women aren't always dressed in extravagant clothes and dressed to impress per se, but, unlike western women running quick chores on a late Sunday morning, having their hair up in a bun, wearing sandals, a sweater and sweatpants or leggings, is never seen.
Leggings don't exist here. I have not consciously seen any Korean women wearing leggings.
Like their female counterparts, the men don't wear athletic clothing. The same applies for baggy attire.
The need for women to look presentable and pretty is quite obvious. The women in advertisements plastered around the city look particularly gorgeous. It's not totally unlike the western world, but it has on a very noticeable level, bled over to everyday life.
Men wearing make-up are not uncommon. Their need to look good in public, for men and women, is way too obvious. Like we're used to in the west, men often wear suits and or slacks and button down shirts with ties to work.
The biggest difference in appearance between the western world and Korea is whiter skin is seen as culturally higher on the totem pole than tanner skin.
Koreans do enjoy their fair share of time at their amazing beaches here on the peninsula. It's common to see men and women wearing skin tight clothing covering most of their body though.
Unlike, for example the United States, where your level of tan can, "prove" status as it shows you've been in the sun (presumably on vacation at the beach), whiteness is seen as a symbol of status. The sunscreen here in Korea has a bleaching agent in it to actually make skin whiter. It's not uncommon to even see men and women having noticeably bleached their skin. In other words, some Koreans skins look impossibly white.
On Korean television, it's common to see unrelentingly perfect hairstyles and plenty of make-up. Not so much as a pimple is ever seen. The men on some of the TV shows I've seen have also been noticeably effeminate looking. I'be been told that's pretty common and Korean women are a big fan of it.
This is not an article to shame Korean culture. It is not my place or any other non-Koreans place to say how Koreans appear in public is right or wrong. As a matter of fact, their will to look good is, frankly, admirable. It's just obvious it's deeply engrained in society. Sometimes to the point of being overbearing.