Taken on North Korea’s Party Foundation Day on October 10 last year.
On their way home, North Korean men can be seen wearing darker-colored
clothes than women.
Image: Daily NK
Unification Media Group [UMG]: Although the late summer heat still lingers on, it has become quite chilly in the morning and evening. People are making purchases for the colder weather in the markets and department stores. In North Korea, they’ve already begun their winter preparations. Reporter Kang Mi Jin is here to tell us more.
Reporter Kang Mi Jin [Kang]: These days, I’m packing away the summer clothes for next year and taking out the winter clothes. In North Korea, most regions become very cold in the mornings and evenings from mid August.
North Korean residents have to take care of everything on their own, so they start their winter preparations very early. According to a North Korean resident I talked with on the phone, there are already winter clothes for sale in the North Korean markets and wholesalers have begun to purchase winter clothes for sale.
The source also said that he went to the market to buy new cotton clothes because the padded winter jacket he bought a few years ago is worn and shrunken due to the loss of cotton. He said he was surprised to see more varied cotton winter clothes available than last year.
UMG: Has there been a change?
Kang: I own three or four padded winter jackets and two or three coats now. Some clothes just stay in the closet during the whole winter. But when I was in North Korea, I used to spend the winter with a single set of cotton clothes which usually only lasted for 2 – 3 years as they became clammy and shabby when the cottons shrink.
But in recent times, a greater selection of shapes and colors of winter clothes have become available for North Korea’s residents at the markets.
UMG: That’s good news. But when I see photos from North Korea, I usually notice that North Korean men are wearing dark-colored clothes, all with similar designs. Can you explain why that is?
Kang: There’s no specific reason. The North Korean government has previously sought to control the residents’ clothing styles, banning a variety of clothing styles. In fact, women also dressed themselves similarly, and it almost seemed that they were wearing a group uniform before Kim Jong Un took power. People had no liberty in choosing their clothes, and there was a limited variety of designs available.
In North Korea, the clothes worn by the Kim family are often imitated by the people, especially the Maoist suit and jackets. Kim Il Sung used to enjoy wearing a Mao suit, so the style stayed popular until the 1980s. Then in Kim Jong Il’s era, his favorite jacket became popular in the markets. It’s the same for cotton clothes as well. The cotton clothes and jackets are referred to as ‘winter clothes for the chief.’ It’s said that they were personally designed by Ko Yong Hui, Kim Jong Un’s mother, and are still recognized as the typical winter clothes designs for men in North Korea.
The North Korean men appearing on TV and newspapers almost look as if they’re all wearing uniforms for this reason. North Korean men usually wear dark-colored clothes while women wear bright-colored clothes, regardless of the weather.
UMG: Do the North Korean authorities still control the clothing styles?
Kang: The North Korean people have been constantly controlled by the authorities with their clothing styles, so they’ve naturally become accustomed to the shapes and colors of clothes worn by the Kim family to avoid crackdowns. The government’s crackdowns and methods of control change over time. In the Kim Jong Il era, there were frequent crackdowns on clothing designs, so people thought it was safe to just wear Kim Jong Il’s style, leaving most North Korean men with little freedom of choice. At the time, even North Korean women wore similar clothes.
But after Kim Jong Un took power, North Korean women began to wear brighter-colored clothes with unconventional designs, which was said to be influenced by Ri Sol Ju, Kim Jong Un’s wife. Women’s clothing styles have changed quite a bit, but there have been almost no changes in menswear. North Korean men are still wearing the ‘winter clothes for the chief.’
UMG: How much do cotton clothes cost in North Korea’s markets?
Kang: Most cotton clothes sold in North Korea’s markets are made of compressed cotton or duck down. Duck down is expensive, while those made of compressed cotton are cheaper. At present, the price for compressed cotton clothes currently being sold at the Galma market in Wonsan City, Kangwon Province, is about 670,000 KPW for an adult, and the expensive ones are being sold at 820,000 KPW. The price is said to differ depending on the number of cotton layers put inside.
The expensive cotton clothes with duck or goose down are sold at a higher price of about 4 million KPW. Housewives from wealthy families are said to be the main customers for these clothes. Recently, there have been used South Korean padded jackets for sale at the North Korean markets as well, which are said to be more expensive than Chinese merchandise.
North Korean parents want to give their children the best, and are said to be forking out large amounts of money for children’s winter jackets. So the padded jackets for children are selling well at the markets despite their expensive prices. The residents are complaining about their children growing up fast, but they still buy new children’ clothes every year.
UMG: With the cool winds of early autumn blowing, the North Korean people are already beginning their winter preparations before the winter products become too expensive. Now let’s take a look at the price trends in the North Korean markets.