The K-pop industry is known for its pioneering and bold fashion statements, but the recent emergence of the “no-pants” look — where individuals wear micro shorts or pair briefs with tights — has ignited a contentious debate.
One of the singers at the forefront of this hot yet contentious trend is Huh Yun-jin, a member of girl band LE SSERAFIM. The 22-year-old generated buzz after sporting only gray briefs and black tights under a pink puffer jacket in a teaser for the group’s upcoming EP, “Easy,” unveiled on YouTube, Jan. 26.
K-pop act (G)I-DLE also grabbed headlines for making a similar wardrobe choice, with all four members putting on bodysuits with no pants in the music video for its latest release, “Super Lady,” which came out on Jan. 29. SISTAR19, a sub-unit of the now-defunct girl group SISTAR, and Lisa of BLACKPINK also displayed pants-free fashion, which has been in vogue around the globe since last year.
In the U.S., a legion of high-profile stars including Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner are known as the pioneers of this trend.
The pantless look, however, is not without its controversies, especially in the K-pop universe where a large portion of fans are teenagers.
Concerns have been raised about the potential for young fans to blindly imitate these styles, with some critics arguing that this trend represents the commercialization of sexuality masquerading as fashion innovation.
“What if young students follow this trend to emulate K-pop singers?” an internet user commented. “They are more sensitive than we think.”
Another wrote: “To me, it looks like exhibitionist behavior seeking people’s attention.”
Kim Hyo-jung, an instructor at Ewha Womans University’s Department of Fashion Industry, believes these negative reactions, which perceive the pants-free style as “too daring,” are understandable.
“It is quite revealing and not many people can pull off such a bold look,” she told The Korea Times. “But from a philosophical or cultural standpoint, fashion is a tool for self-expression that helps people openly display their personalities and ideas. The no-pants look symbolizes confidence and women’s empowerment.”
Kim noted that the pants-free trend in modern fashion shares a spirit of freedom with the miniskirts of the 1960s, each symbolizing significant cultural shifts in their respective eras.
“The era of extreme suppression of women’s rights has passed, so I would say pantless attire has more to do with confidence than liberation,” Kim explained. “It conveys a message that women today are self-assured and empowered to wear outfits reminiscent of underwear, without fear of being judged by society.”
The history of the pantsless style can be traced back to the 1950s when dancers wore tight dancewear such as leotard outfits to accentuate their body shape and curves. About 30 years later, the aerobic look gained popularity due to the aerobic exercise craze, leading to a surge in the popularity of fluorescent clothing and leggings.
This style evolved over the years and resurfaced in collections of fashion houses in 2023 and has expanded beyond the runway, making its presence felt on red carpets and urban streets alike.
“It looks like the no-pants look has a link to dancewear and the aerobic look that stole the show several decades ago,” Kim said.
“When the comfortable sweatpants look gained popularity before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, some industry insiders speculated that we might soon witness a revival of tighter outfits such as skinny jeans. However, it appears that the no-pants look has overtaken their role instead.”
Although the pantsless trend is likely to continue, Kim believes it may take some time for this style to be widely accepted and integrated into mainstream fashion to become more inclusive.
“As of now, it is a fashion style for the few,” Kim noted. “If it evolves into a more accessible style — like how bras were integrated into sportswear to achieve the athlesiure look — it will be able to appeal to more people.”