Fashion Also Influenced by South Korean Culture

Yanji, China — Young people in North Korea are emerging as proponents of Hallyu (the South Korean cultural wave) and as fashion leaders, showing themselves to be particularly keen on the South Korean music, movies, and fashion that are being smuggled into the country and traded.

On Wednesday, The Daily NK met with a Chinese merchant who conducts business in Pyongyang to find out about trends amongst young people in North Korea. He told us that, “Hooded sweatshirts are enjoying immense popularity with young people at the moment.” The reason, he explained, is that, “They want to emulate the fashion they see in South Korean dramas.”

He added, “At the jangmadang, hooded sweatshirts sell for about 200 Yuan (around US$31), so they’re not cheap, but so many people come looking for them that we almost run out of hooded sweatshirts to sell.”

The source explained that, in spite of this, South Korean brands and products with English lettering are prohibited from being sold.

“As the days get hotter, people are looking to get their hands on short-sleeve clothing. Light-colored clothing is most popular,” he noted, also mentioning that, “In general, new clothes sell for about 15,000 won and second-hand clothes for about 3,000 won.

One-piece dresses are in vogue with females as summer takes hold. These dresses tend to sell at the jangmadang for around 70,000 won. Additionally, the source said, “There are lots of young ladies looking for high-heel shoes, which go for about 25,000-30,000 won. Skinny jeans are as popular as ever, and you see lots of people walking around in three-quarter pants.”

He also mentioned that many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to wear shorts and sleeveless shirts to beat the humidity.

However, authorities have already cracked down on “inappropriate attire” for women, for example by banning skirts that do not go down past the knee. The sleeveless shirts, short skirts and pants that have become fashionable in recent times are difficult to wear out of the house because a person wearing them would become a target of the Union of Democratic Women’s community watch guards.

Regarding this, the source said, “People get punished for wearing shorts or skirts that don’t come down past the knee. The UDW’s community watch guards are in every lane and alleyway inspecting women (who break the law). Sleeveless clothes do sell, but nobody can wear them. So they just wear such items at home.”

Furthermore, he mentioned that, “Young ladies walk around wearing earrings and bracelets,” explaining that, “Bracelets, watches, rings and hairpins all tend to be popular itemsbecause people think they’re pretty.” North Korean authorities restricted the wearing of accessories in the past, but appear to have eased off on this policy in recent times.

He relayed that crackdowns on South Korean-made goods are as common as ever. According to him, those who get caught in the crackdowns have their goods confiscated on the spot. “The crackdowns on South Korean goods are still going strong,” he said. “At the outdoor market, the patrolling officers are checking practically every item tag now. That’s how serious it has got.”

“The intensity of crackdowns on South Korean movies and dramas on DVD that are coming into the country is always increasing,” he said, “but university students and young people in general are getting hold of South Korean and other foreign movies and selling them in secret.”

South Korean dramas and movies usually sell for 5,000 won (a normal DVD sells for 1,300 won), and at the moment IRIS, Assorted Gems, Slave Hunter, Queen of the Game and Smile, Mom are said to be the most popular.