DPRK style: the winds of change in North Korean fashion

Monday 10th December, 2012

In terms of North Korean fashion, Kim Jong-il style is no longer cool

north korean fashion

As far as North Korean fashion is concerned, men used to love wearing their ‘people’s clothing’, also referred to as ‘Kim Jong-il’s clothing’.

The trend began among cadres who wanted to be seen emulating their Dear Leader. It spread to those who wanted to be seen as ranked among these cadres, and finally, to ordinary North Koreans such as labourers and farmers.

In this way, ‘Kim Jong-il’s clothing’ literally became ‘people’s clothing’.

In North Korea, this item of clothing is referred to as jamba (Korean for ‘jacket’). For a long time, the jamba was considered to be a precious possession, because it was what Dear Leader wore. Wearing the jamba, along with the pot-belly, was associated with the wielding of power and authority. Even if one lacked Kim’s physique, the jamba could hide one’s figure.

For reasons such as these, North Korean fashion dictated that every male have at least one jamba, and it was even worn by men on their wedding day. This also brought with it the obvious advantage of simplicity, not requiring many pieces as in a western suit.

But this seemingly eternal fashion item for North Korean males is no longer considered fashionable.

Choi* left North Korea in March of this year. She tells us, ‘Men don’t want to wear the jamba anymore. Previously, it was carefully looked after and regarded as the best in smart attire. But now people tend to wear the jamba when they work because they can’t afford to throw away an item of clothing.’

‘You do see men wearing Kim Jong-un’s ‘closed-suit’ item, but that’s considered even less fashionable than the jamba,’ she adds.

What then is considered fashionable among North Korean men?  Items of clothing worn by South Korean soap stars are said to be in.

‘The most popular tailors are those who can imitate South Korean styles,’ another recent refugee explains. ‘The jamba is not smart anymore. Because no South Korean actors wear a jamba.’

The prestige of South Korean style clothing persists despite the fact that consuming South Korean media and culture is harshly punished by the authorities; or perhaps the trend endures because of this prohibition.

The decline of the jamba and the rise of South Korean-style fashion is said to be one of the most visible changes in North Korea since the death of Kim Jong-il.

See here for more on significant shifts in North Korean attitudes towards the late leader and here on how social and cultural values continue to shift away from the official line.

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