Namdaemun Market (English website) is either a shopper’s paradise or your own personal purgatory. Just depends on how you look at it! 😉 It’s the oldest and the largest traditional market in Korea, and it seriously has everything–clothing, shoes, accessories, bedding, cookware, art supplies, toys, paper goods, food products… The list goes on. If there’s something you want/need, Namdaemun Market probably has it. For a really great price. But chances are, you’ll get lost, trampled, shoved, yelled at by an old Korean lady, and you’ll probably need to resort to sign language somewhere in the process… So here are some tips and helpful hints to make your journey into my shopping paradise just a little bit easier!
The Best Times to go Shopping:
Koreans dress for all four seasons, meaning that they have designated Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter Wardrobes. As Americans, we generally combine our spring/summer and fall/winter wardrobes, dressing in layers and wearing scarves, cardigans, jackets, and coats as necessary. Also, because a vast majority of the places we go are temperature-controlled, we don’t really have a need for thick, fleece-lined jeans, for example. But Koreans like to be warm. Very, very warm. So I never buy winter clothes here in Korea–for myself or for my children. They’re just too thick, and we’d pretty much turn into a giant puddle of sweat in Korean winter clothes. However, that being said, be prepared to be told that your children are cold by every Korean person you pass.
I limit my shopping to summer and fall clothing for my kids (because spring clothes fall into my winter category and winter clothes are unnecessary for my sweaty children). Here’s a general timeline of when each season’s lines are released, so plan your shopping trips accordingly!
Late February/Early March – Spring line released
Late April/Early May – Spring clearance
Early May – Summer line released
August – Summer clearance
Late August – Fall line released
Mid-November – Fall clearance
Late-November – Winter line released
February – Winter clearance
The market is open from 6am to 6pm, but individual vendors may have different hours. On Sundays, most of the open/street-side markets are open, but the vendors inside the buildings that make up the market are closed. Weekday mornings from 10am to noon are best for shopping if you have certain purchases you need to make in a limited amount of time (which is the case for most moms I know!). It starts to get pretty hectic and crowded around noon, so I try to arrive at 10am and leave by lunchtime. This way, I don’t have to shove past hordes of people to get what I need!
How to get there:
I’ve only ever taken the subway there, but I know that there’s parking in Samick Fashion Town and in Shinsegae Department Store. If you take the subway, go out Exit 6 of Hoehyeon station. This is what you’ll see:
You probably won’t see the man who walked right into the middle of my first shot, but who knows! 😉 I usually take a short-cut right up to the children’s stores by making an immediate right towards the KB Kookmin Bank, turn left in the bank’s tiny parking lot, and go through the small “gate” to the left (pictured in the far right photo). That puts you right on the street/alley with all the children’s stores. And there are buildings and buildings of children’s stores!
There are many, many street-side shops along the alley with children’s shoes and accessories, but the real magic happens inside the buildings–hundreds and hundreds of stalls of absolutely adorable children’s clothing. The best part is that just about every stall has a basket of clothing marked 5,000W. This is where the treasures are to be found!
Children’s Clothing Size Conversion:
But finding the children’s clothing market is one thing. Selecting clothes and purchasing the right size in another. If shopping in a foreign country isn’t difficult enough, there are two sets of sizes to keep in mind. Korean children’s clothing at Namdaemun Market (Korean Size B) are sized differently from clothing you would find at a department store (Korean Size A). So here’s a handy chart to help you out!
*Keep in mind that like American manufacturers, there are differences in sizing between various brands so this chart is meant to be a general guideline to children’s clothing sizes. It’s best to know your child(ren)’s height in centimeters so if there’s any confusion, the vendor can help you purchase the correct size.
Other Helpful Hints:
- Clothes for babies and toddlers tend to fit fine, but if you have a child who’s on the tall side, purchasing pants may be an issue beyond 3T size. I don’t purchase pants in Korea for my 5 year old boys who wear American size 7 because the pant legs are too short.
- Your Western fashion sensibilities may make shopping for boys, especially older boys, a bit of a challenge in Korea. 😉 But that may just be me.
- Korean clothes aren’t made for American dryers. Although the construction of the clothing is fine, my problem is with the fabric pilling (usually stretch cotton blends). Your best bet to keep them in good condition is to hang dry. However, if you’re like me and A) have too many darn kids/articles of tiny clothing that need to be washed, folded and put away, B) your kids are constantly spilling/staining/ruining their clothes, and C) your kids grow at a rate that you just can’t comprehend and clothes just don’t last that long anyway–just toss them in the dryer with the expectation that they won’t last more than one season.
- If vendors ask you how old your child is to help with sizing, they’re asking for Korean age. It’s far more confusing that just tacking on another year, so it’s best to just tell them how tall your child is in centimeters.
- Some items will be clearly marked with pricing (usually a handwritten sign), meaning that particular item is on sale. For most items, you’ll have to ask the price. And despite what you may have heard, there is very little haggling that happens now at the markets. Vendors may lower prices if you’re purchasing a large quantity from them, or they may only have a handful of sizes left and are willing to sell at a lower price, but if you tell them it’s too expensive and ask them to lower the price, chances are, they’ll refuse on principle. Then curse at you as you walk away.
- Some of my favorite children’s shops are in a building that’s not dedicated to children’s clothing. Samick Fashion Town is located across the street from Mama Children’s Wear, and the 1st floor (one floor down from where the main entrance is) is all children’s stuff (2nd and 3rd are women’s clothing, 4th is accessories, 5th is men’s clothing, 6th is shoes, and 7th and 8th are “discount clothing” although I haven’t really figured that one out…).
- Cash. Cash. Cash. Most vendors do not accept credit card. Bring Korean Won.
- The children’s clothing buildings ARE NOT stroller friendly. If you must take your child with you, and s/he is not old enough to walk, use a carrier.
- There’s a handy interactive map IN ENGLISH on the Namdaemun website. Super useful!
Happy shopping! And stay tuned for future posts on shopping at Namdaemun–women’s clothing, art and craft supplies at the 5 story Alpha, and the best Korean street food!