Trend raises questions about youth empowerment and influence
By Dong Sun Hwa
The K-pop industry is known for its pioneering and bold fashion statements, but the recent emergence of the “no pants” style, where people wear micro shorts or pair boxers with tights, has ignited a contentious debate.
One of the singers at the forefront of this hot but controversial trend is Huh Yun-jin, a member of the girl band LE SSERAFIM. The 22-year-old generated buzz after sporting only gray boxers and black tights under a pink puffer jacket in a preview of the group’s upcoming EP, “Easy,” released on YouTube on Jan. 26.
K-pop group (G)I-DLE also made headlines for making a similar wardrobe choice, with all four members wearing jumpsuits without pants in the music video for their latest release, “Super Lady,” which came out on 1 from January. 29. SISTAR19, a subunit of the now-defunct girl group SISTAR, and BLACKPINK’s Lisa also showed off pantsless fashion, which has been trending around the world since last year.
In the United States, a legion of high-profile stars, including Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner, are known as the pioneers of this trend.
The pantsless look, however, is not without controversy, especially in the K-pop universe, where a large part of the fans are teenagers.
Concerns have been raised about young fans blindly imitating these styles, with some critics arguing that this trend represents the commercialization of sexuality disguised as fashion innovation.
“What if young students followed this trend to emulate K-pop singers?” commented one internet user. “They are more sensitive than we think.”
Another wrote: “To me it seems like exhibitionist behavior that seeks to get people’s attention.”
Kim Hyo-jung, an instructor at Ewha Womans University’s Fashion Industry Department, believes these negative reactions, which perceive the pantsless style as “too daring,” are understandable.
“It’s quite revealing and not many people can pull off such a bold look,” she told The Korea Times. “But from a philosophical or cultural point of view, fashion is a tool for self-expression that helps people openly show their personalities and ideas. The pants-free look is emblematic of women’s confidence and empowerment.”
Kim noted that the no-pants trend in modern fashion shares a spirit of freedom with the miniskirts of the 1960s, each of which symbolize significant cultural changes in their respective eras.
“The era of extreme suppression of women’s rights has passed, so I would say that going pantsless is more about confidence than liberation,” Kim explained. “It conveys the message that women today are confident and empowered to wear underwear-like clothing without fear of being judged by society.”
The history of the no-pants style dates back to the 1950s, when dancers wore tight-fitting dance clothing, such as leotards, to accentuate the shape and curves of their body. About 30 years later, the aerobic style gained popularity due to the aerobic exercise craze, leading to a rise in the popularity of fluorescent clothing and leggings.
This style evolved over the years and re-emerged in fashion house collections in 2023 and has expanded beyond the catwalks, making its presence felt on both red carpets and urban streets.
“It seems like the no-pants look has a link to the dancewear and aerobic look that stole the show several decades ago,” Kim said.
“When the comfortable style with sweatpants became popular before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, some industry insiders speculated that we could soon witness a resurgence of tighter clothing, such as skinny jeans. However, it seems that the pantsless style has outgrown its role. “On the other hand.”
Although the pantsless trend is likely to continue, Kim believes it may take some time for this style to become widely accepted and integrated into mainstream fashion to become more inclusive.
“As of now, it’s a fashion style for a few,” Kim noted. “If it evolves into a more accessible style, like the way bras were integrated into sportswear to achieve the athletic look, it will be able to appeal to more people.”