“We love our hats!” Japanese twenty-something Tomoko says with a smile, adjusting the cap she wears so that anyone walking past us on the street will better notice it. Tomoko doesn’t pay much attention to fashion herself. She speaks on behalf of most Japanese women and others who see a hat as a necessary shield to guard against too much sun exposure that can be damaging to skin. For others, hats offer pretty good protection from the weather so they'll wear one if they need to. This is a story about a third group—the ones that consider hats as more than a basic functional clothing article. Hat champions will tell you that the right one completes an outfit, can up the wearer’s confidence level, and has the power to make a statement about you before you say a word.

Hats often come and go with a specific season. There are wool winter hats, ski caps reserved for winter, and caps with visors that seem more suited for summer.

What’s the trend here, then? If we look for it, we can find upstart headgear that gains attention and appeal because it is worn during occasions and with outfits that don’t normally go together. Examples of this would be a large black leather cap with a cute T-shirt and shorts, or a winter cap with a summer outfit. We can also see harmonizing looks where a hat brings the outfit together but also brings the focus back to the face. Where is this trend from? This time it might be homegrown. Hats worn in new, different ways is inspired by the ulzzang style of fashion, first made popular in South Korea and now recognized internationally. Before going further let’s check our understanding of ulzzang.

Ulzzang (얼짱) is a popular South Korean term that literally means "best face" or "good-looking". It has evolved from a slang term to a word that describes someone that follows a special style of fashion. Although the word originated in South Korea, followers of this fashion have appeared in Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

First let’s look at examples of traditional ulzzang style.

Photo credit: Tumblr;

Photo credit: gnellster.tumblr.com

Aspiring ulzzangs might go about constructing a popularity-launching look this way. Start with street style casual clothing. Oversized sweaters and t shirts and skinny jeans are usually go to favorites. Add elements like a hat, glasses, and/or circle lenses (contact lenses that make the eyes look larger). Adapt a hairstyle that might feature long hair and bangs. Ulzzang is not just the clothes but encompass the stance, the eyes, the face.Poses, props, camera angles, and facial expressions can contribute to achieving and capturing that ulzzang look.

How to gain ulzzang status? Some ulzzang hopefuls have found popularity on the internet by entering contests where their photos are judged and chosen by voters; others have leveraged created virtual portfolios by uploading their photos to social media websites.

Photo credit: Petitcarito on Tumblr

Here is one guy who doesn't need to enter any contests–his popularity is already off the charts. Now we know he also makes a great ulzzang model. It's Xuimin of EXO in a charcoal colored jacket, white shirt, light gray hat and jet black frames.

Photo credit: Sky / WeHeartIt

The next outfits could be called “ulzzang inspired” Asian street fashion. It seems as though up to now teenagers have taken most of the ulzzang shots, and the goal was: how cute can you be!? The trend now might be: Ulzzang is growing up! Those in their 20s, 30s and beyond are putting together street fashions that take this look to new heights, from flirty to confident to bordering on casual sophistication.

Below, she sports a robin’s egg blue winter hat, lighter hair color and gold necklace. Circle lenses make her eyes stand out.

Photo credit: StyleNanda

If traditional ulzzang is all about achieving a high cuteness factor, this trend gives a nod to humor and adorableness without going overboard. For example, below Lena Fujii, senior model at the popular Japanese fashion magazine Vivi, wears a sweater and a hat that just might be sprouting cat ears. The glasses and facial expression are a wink at ulzzang models.

Photo credit: ViVi-TV

Sohyun and Gayoonof the Kpop girl group 4minute pose for a April 1st Look photoshoot.The trend-setting magazine calls their fashion style “urban sporty.”

Photo credit:

Photo credit: 1st Look Vol. 65

Yuri and Tiffany of Girls' Generation are photographed for Vogue Girl Magazine this past February.This might be called urban individualistic, as they are both outfitted in completely different outfits.

Photo credit: Beautiful Korean Artists.com

To represent the Kpop guys, here is a G-Dragon of Big Bang with ski cap, t shirt, sunglasses, and his puppy dog.How can we not give him cute points for this look?!

Photo credit: 24 Media on Pinterest

Popular Korean drama Bride of the Century just aired its final episode this week. In Episode 16 there is a short scene in which two extras approach Doo Rim’s café. It is hard not to notice the two young ladies are wearing cute matching cotton hats in different colors.

Photo credit: DramaFever

Korean actress Gong Hyo Jin (The Master’s Sun, Pasta, Greatest Love) was spotted at the airport wearing a backwards cap and sunglasses with her sweater, black skinny slacks and multi-strap boots.

Photo credit: Fashion in Korea

Japan model Lena Fujii sports an urban sporty style that pairs crop top with jeans, plaid shirt tied at her waist, biker jacket, and cotton skip cap.The look gets away from ulzzang cute, into something more collegiate-edgy. These photos are apparently capturing another trend in progress here: the gold large link necklace.

Photo credit: ViVi TV.com

Sang Kyung shows off another relaxed sporty look by selecting a matching cap to go with her navy blue oversized sports jersey and denim cutoffs.

Photo credit: Beautiful Korean Artists.com

Below is the profile of an urban mall visitor hat show us a how a hat like this does not have to take away from delicate prettiness or signal bad hair day!

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Fashion in Korea on Pinterest

This backwards cap in soft pink goes well with her striped tank and suspenders. It’s a light and easy outfit for hot summer days that variable weather that includes a rainy season if you’re a resident or visitor to the Asia Region.

Photo credit: Fashion in Korea on Pinterest

Make a bold statement this Spring in camo fatigue sweats and matching cotton winter hat in a soft green-gray tone.

Photo credit: image.itsme.co.kr

Circling back around to where we started, the ulzzang essence is part of this final playful look that features many key trademarks of eye-catching Asian street fashion: large-sized jersey, hat with pom pom, leggings and ankle boots.

Photo credit: image.itsme.co.kr

Is ulzzang influencing what you’re wearing this season?Write a comment describing which of these looks is most appealing to you.

LilySuzuki is an American who lived in Japan for 6 years and considers Tokyo a second home.She also worked in Bali, Indonesia for 2 years. A blogger on Asian cultures and trends, she’s an avid fan of Kpop, Jpop, anime and Korean dramas.

For more Asian fashion looks follow her on Polyvore: http://tokyotrekker.polyvore.com/

Check out Radiant Face Forward, a (mostly Asian) cosmetics/skincare blog: radiantfaceforward.blogspot.com