Authorities in North Korea are cracking down on what they call “anti-socialist behavior,” by strictly enforcing rules on non-conforming styles of dress, and not everyone is passively accepting the campaign, sources in the country told RFA’s Korean Service.
Women caught wearing a particular type of wrinkle-free trousers are pushing back against the crackdown, arguing with inspectors tasked with regulating their attire.
“These days, the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] has said they will root out anti-socialism, so they have stepped up their crackdowns,” said a resident of North Hamgyong province Sunday.
“Complaints are mounting, as styles of dress and even manners of speaking are being targeted,” the source added.
According to the source, citizens say that the renewed campaign is anachronistic and is only intended to restrain them.
The source said one target of the crackdown was publicly humiliated for wearing the wrinkle-free trousers.
“Early in the morning a couple days ago, a woman wearing wrinkle-free pants was arrested in Shinam district, Chongjin, [the biggest city in North Hamgyong], the source said.
“She was unable to report for work. The woman appealed [to the inspectors] saying she was in an urgent situation and was unable to [wear appropriate] clothing, but the inspectors made a spectacle out of her by having her stand by the side of the road,” said the source.
According to the source, the incident caused tension between the inspectors and onlookers.
“The inspectors said that they widely informed the public about [renewed] crackdowns on anti-socialist behavior and asked her if her non-compliance was to challenge the Central Committee’s policies. Residents who witnessed the scene retorted that it is unreasonable for them to expect citizens to crease their pants when they don’t supply [continuous] electricity,” said the source.
“It’s not like the old days when you could iron your clothes with charcoal-heated irons,” the onlookers said, according to the source.
Another source, also from North Hamgyong, told RFA Monday that it would have been impossible for the woman to have put a crease in her trousers.
“Wrinkle-free pants are tight on the body, and the material is such that people can’t crease them,” the second source said.
Crackdown unfairly targets women.
The second source said women have more often run afoul of the clothing regulations than men.
“In this crackdown against anti-socialism, young women have seen more problems. This is because the wrinkle-free pants, which [authorities] have tabbed as decadent capitalist dress, are a popular style among women who [want to] express their modern beauty,” said the second source.
The crackdown on the wrinkle-free pants reminded the second source of other styles women wore in the past that got them into trouble.
“They used to like to wear jeans with metal studs, skinny pants and spandex, but these days the wrinkle-free pants are gaining popularity, so that is why women wearing them are being targeted,” the second source said.
“The authorities say that they evoke capitalism and are at odds with the sense of the revolution and [the elimination] of classism,” the second source added.
Crackdowns on clothing styles are not new, according to the second source.
“In the past, it used to be common for people to get out of trouble by begging inspectors or bribing them, but now, the people, especially women, [can be seen] in violent arguments with the inspectors,” said the second source.
“Women strongly protest the authorities using politics to impose their will on beauty standards,” the second source said.
Crackdowns on fashion in the name of stamping out anti-socialism are quite common in North Korea, especially when important national holidays draw near. In August 2018, RFA’s Korean Service reported that one such crackdown occurred in the weeks leading up to the country’s 70th anniversary on September 9th of that year.