Women from North Korea’s expanding entrepreneurial class in Pyongyang are reported to be enamored with South Korean culture, even seeking out South Korean-run hair salons to get their hair styled.
“Female shop owners and donju in the provinces make sure to seek out and visit [South Korean-operated] hair salons in China when they go on business trips,” a source close to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on December 22. “They get their hair permed without caring if the hair salon is operated by South Koreans.”
According to the source, most of the South Korean hair salons are located in Dandong City, Liaoning Province, which is also a hub for various wholesale shops and stores selling goods catering to the North Korean market.
The hair designers employed in these salons have comparatively advanced styling techniques, attracting the interest of North Korean women. In particular, donju women who who find themselves well-off through their market activities are willing to pay premium prices which most local people in Dandong cannot afford.
“One hair shop [name retracted for security purposes], which has been run by a hairdresser known for her advanced skills for more than 10 years, charges 400-500 RMB for a perm. This is quite expensive, but women from Pyongyang don’t blink at the price, visiting the salon regularly,” a source in Pyongyang added.
“When these women return to North Korea after having their hair styled or permed in South Korean-run hair shops, they become the envy of other women. Many bring their daughters along to China just to get a perm.”
It has not been long since Hallyu (South Korean cultural wave) and its associated hairstyles became popular in North Korea. Only a few years ago, such clothing and hairstyles were harshly condemned as ‘anti-socialist’ and prohibited in North Korean society, to the extent that North Korean women visiting China were expected to promote the same image even when they went abroad.
But in more recent times, as the North Korean authorities appear to have taken a more laissez-faire approach to market activities, the women of North Korea have begun to depart from the state-mandated clothing styles. Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju has shown a public preference for a more modern style of clothing, which has provided some encouragement to other women in the country. Expressing one’s individualism through personal appearance is emerging as an acceptable practice, in contrast to the universal style of a collective society.
“Urban women do not want the traditional, conservative hairstyles anymore, even in the provincial regions. As South Korean culture has become popular, women disregard old ways of styling their hair according to whether they are married or single, choosing whichever style suits their personal tastes,” a source in North Pyongan Province said.
Regarding socialist hair perm styles, the North Korean magazine ‘Joseon Women’ states that women in their 20s and 30s should wear feathered bangs in front with bouncier waves on top and a curled-under style on the bottom, while women in their 40s and 50s should keep their hair at a shorter length of 15-20 cm with a soft wave style.