Fashion and the Social Construction of Femininity in North Korea

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Asian Studies Review, 2017, 41 (4), pp. 507 - 525
Issue Date:
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© 2017 Asian Studies Association of Australia. In this paper we argue that North Korea’s socioeconomic transformation has had a profound and yet under-appreciated impact on the social construction of femininity. Drawing on 45 in-depth interviews with North Korean refugees, interviews with regular visitors to North Korea and NGO workers, and our own field notes from trips to North Korea, we analyse changes over three discernible (yet overlapping) economic periods: the 1960s–90s pre-famine period; the mid-1990s to late 2000s grassroots capitalism era; and the current Kim Jong Un period of quasi-capitalism. As dress is a discursive daily practice of gender, we focus on the practice of femininity as shown through North Korean women’s fashion choices. We argue that images of women in state propaganda have been shaped primarily by male leaders, but norms of femininity have shaped, and also been shaped by, women themselves. That is, the recent trend for North Korean women to dress in hyper-feminine styles can be explained in terms of women remaking themselves and planning their future lives.
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