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- Kim Jong Un’s fashion choices give insight into the North Korean leader’s self-perception, relationship with adversaries, and changes in North Korea.
- Kim has favored Mao suits similar to those worn by his grandfather, the country’s first leader.
- “Kim Jong Un’s got some cool clothes. If he were from America, he would be one of these fellas we see in Portland, in Brooklyn, one of these hipster guys. He’s into the vintage look and I don’t blame him,” one analyst told Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s home page for more stories.
Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011 after a lifetime spent sequestered in a plush Pyongyang compound and as an anonymous schoolboy in Switzerland. From his child-sized general’s uniform to a daring black leather trench coat, Kim’s sartorial decisions often convey how he sees himself, his leadership, and his place in the world.
He bears more than a passing resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the first leader of North Korea — a fact many analysts believe he plays up for his benefit, wearing 1950s-style eyeglasses and Mao suits to heighten the resemblance.
Here’s a look at what Kim Jong Un’s clothing tells us about the leader, his country, and his relationship to his country’s adversaries.
Business financial make money capital trading Much has been made of photos of Kim Jong Un in a tiny military uniform as a young child.
But as the photo above shows, many school children in North Korea wear military uniforms — it is, after all, one of the world’s most militarized societies. “From a very young age, we are taught that it is an honor to be General Kim’s army. Almost all of the education of children is to impose allegiance to the dictator,” North Korean refugee Hyun Lee previously told Insider.
But in Kim Jong Un’s case, it portended his future as the leader of North Korea’s military, and indeed of a more militarized foreign policy under him.
Although North Korea began testing nuclear weapons in 2006, leading to US and UN sanctions against the country, nuclear and ICBM testing has ramped up under Kim Jong Un’s leadership.
Business financial make money capital trading Kim Jong Un spent some of his childhood in Switzerland with an aunt and uncle, going to school, where no one knew that he was actually part of the Kim dynasty.
According to Anna Fifield’s biography of Kim Jong Un,”The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un,” Kim Jong Un, who went by Pak Un at the time, didn’t dress like most teenagers, which made him a bit of an outcast at his Bern-area high school.
“The other students tended to think of Kim Jong Un as a weird outsider, his school friends recall, not least because the North Korean always wore tracksuits, never jeans, the standard uniform of teenagers the world over,” Fifield writes.
“In North Korea, jeans are a symbol of the despised capitalists.”
However, Kim was, at the time, obsessed with the very American Chicago Bulls — an admiration which continues to this day. Perhaps the most potent reminder of this is Kim’s friendship with flamboyant former Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman.
Business financial make money capital trading Kim Jong Un assumed the leadership of North Korea when he was fairly young — about 27 years old. But he was already favoring the mature styles of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
After Kim came back to North Korea to finish his schooling, he mostly stayed out of the public eye till 2009. He emerged on the international stage as his father’s successor and wore traditional outfits, like the popular “Mao” suit and horn-rimmed glasses favored by his grandfather.
Some think that’s not an accident — that he’s trying to remind North Koreans of the good old days of Kim Il Sung, when the North Korean economy outperformed that of the South, as well as to cement his place as the rightful heir to the Kim dynasty.
“Kim Jong Un has definitely tried to piggyback on that through his physical appearance. But they also seem to be alike personality-wise, or at least much closer than Kim Jong Un’s personality is to his father’s,” Fifield said in a Vox interview.
Business financial make money capital trading In photos of Kim Jong Un at Mt. Paektu, the legendary location of Kim Il Sung’s fight against Japanese forces, Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Su Jol wears a rather casual look.
Kim Jong Un himself looks fairly classic — Michael Madden, of the Stimson Center, likens him to a hipster.
“Kim Jong Un’s got some cool clothes,” Madden told Insider. “If he were from America, he would be one of these fellas we see in Portland, in Brooklyn, one of these hipster guys. He’s into the vintage look and I don’t blame him,” Madden said, suggesting that Kim’s clothing is more about his personal taste than reminding his subjects of his grandfather.
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In recent photos of Kim and his retinue, a photo of Kim’s wife, Ri Su Jol, stood out to Madden because she’s dressed so casually.
“That’s a major trait of North Korean culture under Kim Jong Un is the changing of the clothes,” Madden said, specifically pointing to women wearing pants in public, which would have been quite shocking before Kim’s time.
This could have something to do with the number of women in leadership positions, including Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong. She’s now the head of North Korea’s propaganda and agitation department and often appears in photos with Kim.