Things have to get a touch anecdotal here, still, try running an experiment in your head. In front of you is a neat cross-section of Korean life: 100 people, touching all demographics. And, in line with those same societal trends, 95 are wearing masks, while five are not.
Can you picture what those five look like? What they sound like? I bet you can!
Chances are, they are either very old men, very old women, young children naive to the virus or youngish men in their late teens/early 20s (also foreigners, but this is slightly cheating). What they definitely are not, are young-to-middle-age women.
A society which balances unachievable financial burdens on its men, against unhealthy beauty standards on its women, the Korean obsession with female appearance has always been problematic.
Even before the pandemic hit the peninsula, it was common enough for young women and girls to wear masks ― blaming allergies, pollution or fine dust; anything for an excuse to hide away for a day or two, and get some temporary relief from all that pressure.
So no doubt the mask mandates originally came as a happy escape for such people. Still, this is no more of a solution to vanity and judgment, than heroin is to physical pain. And in the case of masks, they cannot even be said to ease that underlying agony.
Here is more from Jed Lea-Henry. And yes, in the absence of a mandate, even outside in Seoul most people are masked, over 90 percent I would say.