Hairstyles and Hallyu as Security Steps Back

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 Eun era.

source in Yangkang Province explained to Daily NK on July 30th, “The going rate
for trendy styles like the modified bowl cut [female versions sport bangs, male
versions have a shaved portion underneath] can be up to six times that of basic
cuts, so barbers are actively seeking young clients to capitalize on this niche

According to the source, the asking price for a basic men’s haircut is
1000 KPW, but fresh styles like this run up to 6000 KPW. Yet the extortionate
price point has not stopped male students from rushing to get the latest look,
and barbers compete for the business.

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 South Korea. 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. “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 ostracized.”

The source elaborated on the reasons behind the rise of these
obsessions. “When security crackdowns ease up, the number of households
bringing out their hidden stash of South Korean programs rises,” she said,
adding, “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.”

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” have become commonplace in the upper classes, for

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to