The principal of my school invited me to his daughter's wedding. How different are Korean weddings from Western? What kind of gift should I bring? What is appropriate to wear. Are there any big faux paus to avoid?
There are two types of weddings in Korea: Traditional Korean and a Western white wedding. If we really wanted to split hairs, we could throw in different religions which, of course, prescribe to a specific ceremony, but for the most part those two cover the majority of weddings held in Korea.
The traditional wedding is always fun to watch. I had a traditional Korean wedding myself and still love going and watching them if I happen to run into one. They're just that fun. The rest of the weddings that I have been to have been in wedding halls. These are fast, loud and busy affairs where best friends are sitting in the back joking around and talking on their cell-phone as the parents look on -totally expressionless- while the bride is crying uncontrollably. Seriously, I don't like the wedding hall weddings and I don't think I need to say much more to show the contrast between Western and Korean weddings.
If you want a pretty solid summary of weddings and marriage in Korea, Wikipedia offers a pretty comprehensive look at what's going on.
Now, you mentioned clothes and gifts. With clothes, dress seasonally and formally just as you would at home, but as far as a gift goes, it's better to give cash rather than an item. Money is the biggest concern for newlyweds and since some Korean men and women have such unrealistic expectations when it comes to finances, you'll never ever go wrong with a cash gift.
The amount depends on how close you are to the bride/groom. When you walk into the wedding hall or venue, you'll see a table probably sporting an oversized photo along with the name of the soon-to-be-spouses. (On a side note, my wife and I took pictures for over eight hours straight. The pictures turned out great, but it was exhausting to say the least.)
How much money to give?
The standard rate used to go as follows...
* 30,000 won for an acquaintance or someone you're not too close with.
* 50,000+ won for a co-worker or friend.
* 100,000+ for family and old friends (Koreans typically stay in close contact elementary, middle and high-school pals).
Now, however, with the introduction of the 50,000 won note, the minimum has unofficially risen to 50,000 won and, while some people might use the old standard still, it's safe to assume the all the numbers have been adjusted accordingly. Some people even consider how much money to give based on how certain they are the newlyweds will return the favor when it's their turn to get married. For this reason, many Koreans dislike peak seasons because of the high costs.
The method for payment is simple. Go to 711 and buy some celebratory (or just plain) white envelopes. Stuff some cash in it and write your name on the outside. When you arrive at the venue, hand it to the collection table, sign the book and they'll give you a ticket which will get you into the buffet either before, during or after the ceremony. If you're a little late, then wait to go into the buffet until after the post-wedding pictures have been taken. (I've always had a suspicion that the only reason some people attend these things is to get in the picture. Why else would everyone be so rude and talk during the actual ceremony?)
I always encourage people to go to weddings and it never hurts to be a part of something that is so important to your boss. As far as money goes, I think you'd be safe slipping in 30,000 and calling it a day. After all, you're new to the whole thing, so a 20,000 won (faux) mistake is harmless, right?