Ri Sol Ju sports new (old) look

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-02-19 12:46

Ri Sol Ju (left) appears wearing the portrait badge pinned to her red jeogori, a style reminiscent of
Kim Jong Suk. image: Rodong Sinmun

The appearance of Kim Jong Uns wife, Ri Sol Ju, in a photo published by the Rodong Sinmun on February 15th at a banquet and concert for supporting staff behind the launch of Kwangmyongsong-4 at the Mokran House in central Pyongyang, drew a great deal of attention among the defector community because of the drastic changes in her appearance. Well-known for typically popping up in clothing reflective of capitalist trends, she surprised viewers at home and abroad by wearing a tidy jeogori [upper garment of Korean traditional dress] complete with the Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il portrait badge pinned to her chest. 

It is a move that contrasts greatly with her previous appearances in North Korean media, beginning in July of 2012, where she has frequently been pictured in stylish clothing that deviates from the peoples socialist ethos--for example, when, on June 25, 2015, when Ri Sol Ju accompanied Kim Jong Un to the new terminal construction site at Pyongyangs Sunan International Airport wearing an ostentatious brooch in place of the ubiquitous portrait badge.

Although this was intended to construct an image of her as the sophisticated wife of a young capable leader who had spent time overseas, it did little to sway negative public opinion, which continues to define Ri as a woman who obviously has a taste for luxury, who "fails to display behavior appropriate for 'the Mother of the State.'" 

Some say that slipping on the red jeogori, a style associated with Kim Jong Ils mother, Kim Jong Suk, known in North Korea as the enduring Matriarch of the Revolution, was an intentional choice aimed at recalibrating public perception to see Ri through the dignified lens framing Kim Jong Suk.

A high-ranking defector told Daily NK that Ri and her sartorial shift comprised a key piece of propaganda at the recent event. Shes a symbolic reminder of Kim Jong Suk, typified as a model of a revolutionary, wife, and maternal figure--someone the whole society is to learn from. Using Ri Sol Ju as a proxy to conjure up those feelings in people while the celebrations touted the greatness of Kim Jong Uns leadership--with particular focus on 'shooting a satellite into the sky'-- the regime is seeking to inspire people to do everything possible to carry out his directives," he said.

Ri Sol Ju had to have received intense criticism for all the times she's trotted around in expensive bags and luxury watches in lieu of the portrait badge. Her sudden style change cannot be interpreted as anything other than an attempt to recreate herself in the nurturing, image of Kim Jong Suk."

However, it is unlikely that Ri Sol Ju has adopted this as her permanent new (that is, actually, old) look, or that other North Korean women will imitate her appearance, according to another defector, who fled the North in 2012. Speaking on condition of anonymity to Daily NK, she said that the more contemporary style of miniskirts and high heels has already become popularized across the nation, and Kim Jong Un would likely seek to reject any movement toward continually reminding the public of his ancestors as he attempts to edge out from under the shadow of his father and grandfather. 

Id be pretty surprised if Ri Sol Ju continued wearing the jeogori consistently in the future. Especially at times or places when it is necessary to demonstrate North Koreas modernity, such as at playgrounds or ski resorts, Ri Sol Ju will undoubtedly revert to her previously modern clothing, she surmised.

Ri Sol Ju is engaging in a type of image politics, manipulating her clothing to convey a certain appeal or instill specific feelings in the people depending on the political conditions and implications. She might drop this old-fashioned style for a spell, but as soon as its deemed necessary or useful, you can bet shell resurrect it in order to evoke the Kim Jong Suk parallel.

*Translated by Natalie Grant

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