DPRK fashion update

The Daily NK on earrings and cosmetic surgery:

Earrings, once seen as a capitalist symbol and a target for crackdowns, are becoming more and more popular with North Korean women of all social levels in urban areas, while the growth of cheap, unregulated surgical procedures is apparently attracting attention in the capital.

This desire for beauty has even forced the authorities onto the back foot; they have reportedly stopped attempting to control some of the social changes.

A source from the West Sea port city of Nampo explained the situation there on the 13th, saying, “In the past, long earrings were a crackdown target, but now they stop it so people are wearing them a lot.”

Of course, in past years young women in major cities and around the border region also wore earrings, but did so more furtively. If and when caught, they were criticized as examples of an anti-socialist trend at a time when the standard ‘Chosun woman’ was advertized as one who had short bobbed hair, wore no make-up and was to be seen in a dress that came to between knee and ankle.

However, starting with the more affluent families of government officials and now found throughout society, this officially decreed standard of dress is no longer accepted. Indeed, even Kim Jong Cheol was seen with an earring at a recent Eric Clapton concert in Singapore, and, according to North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, “A decree from Kim Jong Eun was handed down this past January stating that earrings are to be accepted.”

Indeed, while official controls on issues of beauty and accessories have been melting away, clothing including skinny jeans, which reveal the figure very closely, have grown in popularity for affluent Pyongyang women.

Even cosmetic surgery is said to be gaining in popularity. Although still illegal, some doctors will apparently perform certain procedures on the side for extra money, while there are also unqualified surgeons offering their services.

One Pyongyang source explained, “Double eyelids, eyebrows, lips and tattooing around the eyes are popular,” adding, “Seven out of ten women between 20 and 40 have had one or other of these procedures done. Mostly it is women who do it; there are many who feel they must do it even if they are short of food.”

According to the same source, part of this popularity stems from the surprising cheapness of the processes concerned. The tattooing of fake eyebrows costs in the region of 1,000-2,000 won, while double eyelids cost just 2,000-3,000 won. This at a time when a kilo of rice in the market costs only slightly less than 2,000 won.

However, the Nampo source explained that there are still some limits in that city at least, where “university students are not permitted to wear striking earrings inside their schools.”

And more on the DPRK people seeking to emulate the clothing of characters in ROK dramas:

The so-called ‘Korean Wave’ is strong with today’s young North Korean adults. As copies of illegally-recorded South Korean dramas flow into the country in greater numbers, some affluent young adults are keen to imitate the main characters in the dramas they are watching.

Of late, some children of rich parents are said to have tried to obtain the kind of tracksuit worn by Hyun Bin, who recently personified the life of a ‘self-centered and arrogant urban male’ in the popular SBS drama ‘Secret Garden’. For women, the trend is to follow the fashion of Kim Nam Joo, who played the main character in another drama, MBC’s ‘Queen of the Turn Around’.

Kim, a Korean-Chinese who trades between Dandong and Sinuiju, recently gave an interview to The Daily NK about the trend towards South Korean fashion in contemporary North Korea.

– Recently, what South Korean products have been the most popular with North Koreans?

All South Korean products are popular. There are many customers who want to buy South Korean products, so there are many sellers. Products with South Korean letters on can be sold for two or three times the price of other products.

– But what about the security services?

Agents who perform the inspections say, ‘we’ll let you sell them as long as the Korean letters are erased’. However, the trend is that more and more customers are looking for South Korean stuff, and since there is no way to prove whether the product is from South Korea if there is no Korean lettering, increasing numbers of merchants, who don’t want to miss a sale, think ‘I’ll just sell it as it is’ despite the crackdowns.

– What clothing is the trendiest these days?

The recently-aired South Korean drama ‘Queen of the Turn Around’ has been the most popular. Clothing worn by the main characters is popular. Except those things which reveal too much chest and the skirts, it’s all very similar to China. Now, skinny jeans are being worn by a surprising number of women.

– This is true even though South Korean products are more expensive?

It is such a big trend that even young adults who are having trouble making ends meet feel that they have to buy these things; fights with parents over it are on the increase, too. The price of boots and such like is $20~30, but they sell a lot to young females. Clothing sells for between $15~100.

– Do the wealthy classes or children of cadres also by many South Korean products?

They buy the most. Children from the houses of cadres or the wealthy seek the exact clothing which appears in South Korean dramas. Recently, fake mink has been popular. Especially, middle aged people in their 40s and 50s are wearing clothing made of fake mink a lot.

– What about when the product is different from that which the consumers are looking for?

There is a separate person who amends clothing. The cost of getting something changed is about 10,000 won, so they also make a lot of money. As a result, security agents try to get close to them. They visit them sometimes to get bribes; the agents don’t bother them.

– Why are South Korean products so popular?

It is because people are watching CDs of South Korean dramas secretively and imitating them.

– What if the same product people see on film is not on sale?

The person makes a drawing of the nice clothes which appeared in the drama or brings a picture. Clothing manufacturers have a hard time when young females bring an image and beg them to make the clothing no matter what.

– Especially is that the case with the children of cadres?

Once I met a child who brought the image of an item which would have been impossible to obtain, and then asked whether I could even get it by going to South Korea; that was a difficult situation. Not long ago, there was also one person who asked me to obtain the tracksuit worn by the main character in a recent South Korean drama.

Previous posts on DPRK fashion here.

Read the full stories here:
Push for Beauty Altering Official Curbs
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong and Jeong Jae Sung
2011-5-16

Looking Like Hyun Bin or Kim Nam Joo
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong
2011-3-25

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