Updated December. 01, 2012 01:02
Ha Ji-hwan, 29-year-old nail artist, works for the nail salon LumiGarnet in Seouls posh Gangnam district. This year marks his second year as a professional nail artist.
When starting in the field five years ago, he took it up as a hobby since few male professionals were around. For Koreans, the idea of a man holding a woman`s hands or even feet would normally bring about uneasy or reluctant feelings. Women would probably feel awkward about men servicing their hands and feet.
Today, however, more women are looking for men who do nails because they are not only sensitive but also give good service. Ha said the number of men in the field has increased over the past few years, adding about 30 percent of nail artists are now male.
○ Hiring handsome men
Workplaces that used to be exclusively for women such as nail salons and makeup counters are now open to men. Stores targeting mostly female customers, including snack bars, coffee shops and fancy restaurants, are hiring good-looking men to lure women customers.
The number of male staff at the makeup counters of 10 Shinsegae Department Store branches across Korea increased from 79 last year to 92 this year. In a strategic move, the Gangnam branch hired more male employees at its makeup counters.
A man working for a counter of the cosmetic brand Belief said, I think female customers like me because I try to sympathize with them and make them feel comfortable. One woman had a son in the military, and I told her my experience in the military and made her one of my regulars.
More women say they prefer male staff for such jobs. A 31-year-old single woman said, I think men give me more objective opinions when it comes to makeup styles that attract men.
Experts say the cosmetic industry takes advantage of womens emotional gullibility. Psychiatrist Sohn Seok-han said, Women know that attractive staff are kind to them to sell products. But at the same time, such women tend to believe that male staff are attracted to them. More women than men take kindness by the opposite sex personally.
Hahm In-hee, a womens studies professor at Ewha Womans University, said, Handsome guys appearing in TV dramas are like paintings on the wall to women. But women can build relationships with good-looking clerks in real life. So it just feels more real.
Ellotte.com, a premium online shopping mall opened in March by Lotte Department Store, hired handsome men to run its delivery service. The company considered that given heightened fears by women over the increase in violent crimes, they will feel safer when handsome men deliver their products. A Lotte employee said, We consider appearance seriously when hiring because we believe appearance is a kind of service.
○ Appearance is a service
Hyundai Department Store posts every Friday on its Facebook page information on a handsome male employee in the name of Friday Meeting With a Pretty Boy at Hyundai Department Store. Customers can also answer questions in a quiz on him. This event is so popular that more than 10,000 people have become members of the event.
The trend of hiring handsome male staff has also spread to the restaurant industry. At Table Star, an eatery on Garosu-gil in Seouls Gangnam district run by fashion designer Gwak Hyeon-joo, professional male runway models and actors serve food. The restaurant targets women in their 20s and 30s who are keen on looks and comprise most of the visitors on the street. Standing Coffee, a coffee shop chain, and Gukdai Tteokbokki, a franchise specializing in spicy Korean rice cake, also hire only young men.
Ha Ji-hyeon, a mental health professor at Konkuk University, said, Korean society has seen a big change in its perception of Korean men. The traditionally patriarchal society now considers it natural that men take jobs that sell their appearance and consider a mans appearance as a strength.