Fashion is, at some level, an important part of everyone’s life, be it a defining characteristic or simply the choice between one stained T-shirt and a slightly less stained T-shirt. In Kpop it’s vital, and there is often one look associated with the group forever. SHINee? Pastel colours and skinny jeans. 2NE1? Each member has a specific outfit it seems – Park Bom’s minidresses, Minzy’s coats, Dara’s…hair. So when all eyes turned to EXO, the big guns at SM needed to make sure these boys made an impression.

But this is SM, and they haven’t really been on the ball with fashion recently. SHINee’s frat boy/ faux-Victorian get-up, TVXQ’s now legendary “Keep Your Head Down” suits, the “Mr Simple” teaser photos. I have always liked what Girls Generation wear and f(x) occasionally look pretty cute; but the boys seem to get the short end of the stick. So I was torn between hoping SM would get it right this time, and sitting back with the popcorn and watching the fashion train de-rail one teaser after another.

Our first glimpses of EXO gave little away. In fact they looked downright adorable in soft jeans, casual shirts and impeccably tousled hair. I got behind this boy-next-door look straight away, realising it was that simplicity that I had been missing. I knew it wouldn’t last, although debuting a high-profile group like EXO into jeans and T-shirts really would have made an impact. Cheap too, so maybe SM could buy another matrix cam or some extra doves or something.

(All) The Teasers

The most striking feature is the lack of colour; we a shown predominantly black, white, grey and the occasional green or red. While this does allow the boys to stand out from the brightly coloured rookies like B.A.P it can get boring really quickly. Which is why after a few teasers SM pulled from the enormous wardrobe they have the thing with more potential for disaster than anything else (except perhaps fur) –sparkles. Yep, only on teaser 2 and they are wearing sequined trousers.  How could I have been so naïve? I had been taken in by Kai’s pocket watch and cane (cannot confirm Taemin had the same tophat in “Sherlock”) but things were turning ugly. Not only that but we see the return of the fringey necklace, similar designs of which have been seen on Key and Victoria. SM couldn’t be running out of ideas already could they?

Actually in the 3rd teaser, Tao was wearing something similar to what I plan to wear for my drama A-level; I can’t tell if I feel ashamed or proud. Then Kai wore a fringy top and metallic jeans and I gave up, yelling at my screen that all I was seeing was a monochrome SHINee circa “Lucifer” and I wasn’t bloody having it. How did they reply? Se Hun and Kai in a matching trouser/blazer combination made of a shiny gold crocodile skin that made me realise the metallics were staying.

Fair enough I suppose — no one has done metallic in a while, and they are going to need to stand out somehow. But even as I say this, there is a reason no one has done metallic in a while. They are uncomfortable to dance in (I know what I’m talking about here, I’ve tried it), look tacky almost all the time and didn’t suit the softness of their hair and make-up. Faith was briefly restored when woolly hats and red skinny jeans appeared, but it didn’t last.

As the teasers continued I was stuck between two worlds, one where the boys wore simple clothes ( see the “What Is Love” teaser with Se Hun and his white blazer) totally in love, seriously, well-dressed boys with fedoras and braces and long socks…well, let’s just say that is what my Tumblr dash is full of. Yet you can get used to anything after a while, and by now I had grown used to the clothing they usually had. I would go so far as to say I look on Tao’s tasseled leather trousers and blanket cape with fondness, partly because it kind of reminds me of Infinite’s Before The Dawn MV and partly because with charisma like that you can pull off a lot. That said, nothing but nothing will excuse Kris’ white cape.  Worst teaser outfits go to Lay and Se Hun in teaser 22, the poncho, the not-quite-tie-dye green and black, the horrible stars and stripes trousers…not even the Inception-style camera-work could hide that.

The MVs

Because so much of the teasers were in the “What is Love”  MV, there isn’t much to say, except to give SM a high-five — don’t think I didn’t see your sneaky marketing you old devils you. The EXO kite, necklace and van sticker – JYP’s endless trolling could learn a few things about subtlety from you. It almost makes up for Baek-hyun’s T-shirt and blazer pattern, which is sailing slightly too close to the KYHD suit debacle for me to be entirely happy. Not that I’m ever entirely happy. Especially when we get treated to a whole coat of EXO logos in the “MAMA” preview; pride comes before a fall after all.

“History” was a chance to regain their dignity, but instead we got more metallic, and tassels and fringing, in some cases all on the same article of clothing. Is this what you want SM, for these precious boys to be associated with such monstrous inventions? Are you pleased with yourselves now?!

At least there was some colour this time, which I always appreciate. Yeah, that would be colour on the ridiculously low dropped harem pants, but I secretly like harem pants. Is it just me or did the outfits in the blue-lit segments remind you of Infinite’s Be Mine? Thre are some real similarities between the groups in this sense.

Highlights were Lu Han’s–okay, how do I describe this, neck cage? Cage collar? Whatever it was, it was weirdly adorable; he looked like a deer caught in barbed wire. I don’t know why I find that so sweet — stop judging me, stop it. In fact, I think overall EXO-M are better dressed then EXO-K. And when you think about it, apart from the fluffy “Perfection” hats, Super Junior M were always dressed rather sharply (by that, I mean Kyuhyun wore tartan for 2 seconds in “Super Girl” and it felt like Christmas and the last day of school all rolled into one fabulous waistcoat). Seriously though, the Chinese stylists are doing a really good job. Now I’ve endorsed them I think they should hire me, and then I can marry Lu Han and live happily ever after!

As for “MAMA”…the metallic and the fringing is still around–looks like EXO have found their style, and you know what, that’s okay. Maybe it’s the endless bombardment of EXO, maybe it’s the introduction of gold (for which I have an irrational fondness) maybe it’s the fact at the end of the day they are just really good-looking and I am shallow like that. But I’m okay with it; they have, for all their failings, made an impression.  And there have been some really good points, namely the cut of the outfits.

I know it’s not something that usually gets picked up — who wants to read about how impeccably tailored Se Hun’s aforementioned blazer is when we could be getting down to the nitty gritty on who has the best hair flip? However, it’s true: a few of the trousers might be a bit iffy, but SM has always been good when it comes to tailoring and EXO is no exception. And aside from the fringy necklace that will not die, I like the accessories. Do swords count as accessories? Do dragons? It’s like A Song of Ice and Fire meets Heroes. Be still my fantasy fangirl heart.

So, I’ve written 1, 289 words on EXO’s fashion and I still don’t know exactly where I stand. It could have been worse; oh, it could have been so, so much worse. But it veers, at the moment, between boring and tacky – it’s the worst of SM in material form. Yet at the same time, while there have been some WTF moments, and many facepalms, the boys have managed to hold their own and I was still able to fall in love with them and be impressed by their skills. I think that’s all you can ask sometimes.

What about you guys? I know not all of us Seoulbeats writers are 100% — or even 10% — behind the look, but who knows, maybe I missed the “tassels are in” memo.

(fyeahexo, NanA-0330smtown, smtown)