Whether you consider it a pariah state or simply misunderstood, North Korea is known for going its ‘own way,’ and the Hermit Kingdom’s fashion trends are no exception.
WATCH YPT’S EXCLUSIVE VIDEO ON HOW TO GET A NORTH KOREAN SUIT:
If you are traveling to North Korea, you have no doubt noticed Chairman Kim Jong Il’s idiosyncratic, signature olive drab, zip-up jamba (‘jacket’) or ‘The People’s Outfit.’ This outfit experienced an uptick in popularity following the widely circulated images of the Chairman sporting one during the 2000 inter-Korean summit. Perhaps your tastes are more retro and you have admired President Kim Il Sung’s variation on the Mao-style suit, now also worn by current leader Marshal Kim Jong Un (those watching North Korean fashion trends will note that the young Marshal donned a Western style suit for the first time public during May’s 7th Party Congress). Or if you are traveling to the DPRK during the summer, you might consider sporting a DPRK short-sleeve summer suit. Whether you prefer Great Leader-chic or Dear Leader-chic, the only way to get a proper North Korean suit is to first travel to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. Once in Pyongyang – perhaps to run the Pyongyang Marathon, or to finally enjoy the capital’s modern amenities after a few days up in the Northeast on the ‘Real Deal Tour’ – you can procure a North Korean suit at the Yanggakdo International Hotel.
The Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, DPRK
There is not much available in the way of prêt-à-porter clothing in the DPRK. If you want a suit, it will have to be tailor-made — a taste of North Korean haute-couture, if you will. Here’s how to do it: Ask your YPT guide to bring you to the tailor (“양복점”), which is accessed – only when accompanied by your guide – through the set of wooden double doors immediately beyond the sign for the tailor and just before the gift shop. Remember to bring your money with you as you will most likely need to pay in advance for your suit. (As of October, 2016, a Mao-style suit costs roughly 1,000 RMB or roughly $145 USD)
The sign for the tailor’s office – the double doors to the third floor can be seen ajar just beyond the sign.
Walk up to the third floor, turn left, and you will see the tailor’s office located directly at the other end of the hall. If no one is in the main office, knock on the door to the right as the tailor is most likely in her workshop. In the main office, there will be a rack showcasing the latest DPRK fashion/Juche-style clothing. The more Korean you know, the better, but you can get by with gesticulating as to which style suit you would like and what color. Sticking with the DPRK’s austere approach to fashion, the styles to choose from are the North Korean take on the Mao suit and the Jamba/People’s Outfit boiler suit, and variations thereof (you can choose between different types of pleating, pockets or no pockets, etc). Color choices, too, are minimalist: dark green, olive drab, black, gray and royal blue. The fabric is a cotton-polyester blend. Once you have selected your style and color, the tailor will take your measurements.
The Yanggakdo’s resident tailor takes measurements for a new suit
Once the tailor has your measurements, you will need to pay in advance for your suit. From there, a suit takes about 48 hours for the tailor to turn around. After your initial measurements, you will need to return later that evening or early the following morning to try on your suit so that the tailor can note what final adjustments need to be made.
The following day, the brand-new suit will be ready for you to pick up and sport while out on the town. You will no doubt stand out at quintessential photo-ops outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun or the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill.
A happy customer
Remember: YPT’s tour itineraries are jam-packed with all-day stops and events, so you will most likely need to visit the tailor either late at night between 9 and 10PM or in the morning between 7 and 8AM. If you make an appointment to meet the tailor early in the morning, be sure not to stay out too late pounding too many Taedonggang beers or belting out too many off-key karaoke renditions of the Moranbong Band’s latest hit, “We Will Go To Mt. Paektu!” Styles:
Kim Il Sung Classic – Great Leader Chic
The General Jumper – Dear Leader Chic
Short Sleeved Suit – DPRK Summer Chic
Accessories: Lapel Pin – You can of course pick up some accessories to go with your new made-in-the-DPRK-suit. Lapel pins bearing the North Korean flag can be found in almost any gift shop, along with pins adorned with more subtle images such as Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia flowers. A stylishly chosen lapel pin will definitely ad flare to an already smart ensemble. (Sorry, folks, but the DPRK only issues pins featuring portraits of the Leaders to those whom the DPRK recognizes as having done a service for the nation. It is not advisable to wear the knock-off Leader pins available for purchase in Sino-Korea border towns such as Tumen and Dandong)
Lapel pins are available in most gift shops
Mao-Style Cap – For a mere $5 USD, a Mao-style cap, embellished with a red communist star, will no doubt add the finishing touches to your iron curtain aesthetic. They go very well with the Kim Jong Il Jamba suit and make great gifts, too!
If you want your cap to be a matching one, make sure to order a dark green suit
Trendy Haircut – Despite media reports to the contrary, not all males in the DPRK are required to copy the hair style of the young Marshal. If you’re feeling particularly brave, however, you can stop by the barber shop at the Yanggakdo hotel for a haircut in the style of Marshal Kim Jong Un. You will horrify your mother when you returned home – guaranteed!
Back home, some might ask: when are you going to wear that? The correct answer is: When wouldn’t I wear it?
Justin Martell is a filmmaker and author currently residing in New York City, and has made three visits to the DPRK and counting. In 2016, he published a biography on American Sixties pop icon Tiny Tim. Most recently, he produced the Italian-American co-production Alcoholist, currently playing at film festivals worldwide. Additionally, Martell is the co-founder of the independent record label, Ship To Shore PhonoCo. He is excited to contribute to YPT’s blog on subjects pertaining to DPRK arts and culture. For more on Justin Martell’s work please visit: godblesstinytim.com and shiptoshoremedia.com.