North Korea relaxes fashion rules in ‘sign of progress’ – The Guardian
East Asia’s fashion craze for so-called ‘killer heels’ has managed to make its way onto the streets of North Korea, according to the pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo.
“The heels sold in Pyongyang No 1 Department Store and other markets have thick heels and high platforms,” the propagandist publication, published by Chongryon in Japan, reported. “The toe box is either round or square and the backs of the heels are adorned with a single strap or lace.”
“The trend changes so quickly here; it’s so hard to keep up,” Ri Mi-ok, a manager at Potonggang Shoe Factory said in an interview. “The heels are very high and stores carry a diverse selection with various decorations. Women refuse to wear heels less than five centimetres.”
“Even the men, especially the younger ones, are into shoes that have high platforms and pointy toe boxes,” Ri added. North Korea’s late leader, Kim Jong-il, famously wore shoes with a high platform heel to try and disguise his diminutive frame.
According to Choson Sinbo, Potonggang Shoe Factory, which opened in the 1960s, has around 950 workers, making it the largest shoe manufacturer in North Korea. With eight professional designers, it claims to produce 50 different types of shoe and have nationwide circulation.
“Pyongyang women are influenced by [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wife] Ri Sol-ju and the Moranbong Band, so they like to wear strappy heels,” a defector explained to Daily NK. “Some people say that this fashion taste runs contrary to socialism, but women rebut these accusations by pointing out that ‘even the Marshal’s wife wears them’”.
North Korean authorities have been pushing a media focus on contemporary improvements to ordinary lives since Kim Jong-Un came to power in late 2011.
This has included news of swimwear and other clothing “trends,” marking an attempt to portray the image of a state moving forward under Kim’s youthful and energetic, yet knowledgeable, guidance. However, many of the things presented as evidence of this progress have not trickled down to wider society beyond Pyongyang.
The desire of North Korea’s young to adopt an independent look continues to find expression in a variety of ways. One such way is through the slowly rising number of available haircuts in the Kim Jong-Un era.
A source in Yangkang Province explained to Daily NK: “The going rate for trendy styles like the modified bowl cut [female versions sport fringes, male versions have a shaved portion underneath] can be up to six times that of basic [hair] cuts, so barbers are actively seeking young clients to capitalise on this niche market.”
According to the source, the asking price for a basic men’s haircut is 1000 KPW (£4.50), but new styles like this can cost up to 6000 KPW. The price has not stopped male students from rushing to get the latest look, and barbers compete for the business.
The source spoke on condition on anonymity, as it is illegal for North Koreans to communicate with people outside of the country without permission.
Predictably, cliques form around children from better-off households who have the financial wherewithal to wear such hairstyles or use products from abroad, not least from South Korea, which is technically at war with the North. Like school children everywhere, the rush to fit in with classmates drives the spread of any new style or product.
Parents are not always pleased with this kind of development, of course; this is easy to understand when a trendy haircut costs the equivalent of a kilo of rice, in a country were millions still suffer from malnutrition.
“Using the latest South Korean products indicates social class and living standard so people are desperate to keep up,” the source explained. “If people can’t follow the trends they are ostracised.”
The source said security services have been less strict about cracking down on South Korean cosmetic products in markets in the last year, which has allowed these fashions to flourish.
“When security crackdowns ease up, the number of households bringing out their hidden stash of South Korean [TV] programmes rises,” she said.
“We can’t know the origins of a given trend, but we certainly follow the ones we see in dramas. Just before there were severe crackdowns on South Korean products, but since last year the authorities haven’t been giving people trouble about them in the market, probably because Party officials take pleasure in them too.”
The changes transcend haircuts, a source in North Hamkyung Province reported.
South Korean idiosyncrasies such as referring to males outside of one’s family in a cute manner as “brother” (which can mean boyfriend) have become commonplace in the upper classes, for example.