Why men’s Kim Jong Un hairstyle requirement is unlikely true

Recent visitors to North Korea say no evidence of new hairstyle rumor
March 26th, 2014

Reports suggesting the North Korean government has directly ordered all male college students to adopt haircuts similar to Kim Jong Un are unlikely true, frequent visitors to North Korea told NK News on Thursday.

The story, which emerged in an article published by the Washington DC-based Radio Free Asia (RFA), said on Tuesday that an order for young men to imitate Kim Jong Un’s hairstyle was made two weeks ago and was expected to be strictly enforced – something regular visitors were unable to corroborate.

“I am pretty sure that this is just stupid, everyone had typical haircuts last week,” said Andray Abrahamian, Executive Director of the Singapore-based NGO Choson Exchange – which works regularly with young North Korean professionals.

Gareth Johnson, General Manager of the Beijing-based Young Pioneer Tours, also told NK News that – as of last week – none of his colleagues had seen evidence of the new haircut requirement.

“We were in the country last week and saw no one with said haircut. It seems to be that the BBC must find a new North Korea story every week” Johnson said, alluding to the BBC’s Wednesday pickup of the RFA story.

“We were in the country last week and saw no one with said haircut”

Compared to the Kim Jong Il era, it also seems that there has been a relaxation of existing fashion and style guidelines under Kim Jong Un, a point underscored by Matthew Reichel, Director of the Canadian NGO Pyongyang Project.

“Ever since the Moranbong band was popularized and the DPRK’s first lady was officially announced, there has been a liberalization or the rules. Also, Pyongyang’s middle and upper class youth are quite interested in fashion.

“To suggest that a single style must be adopted around the country is not logical. Of course it is socially acceptable to follow the leaders’ fashion choices, and the Kim Jong Il perm can still be found on street corners from Pyongyang to Chongjin, but that does not mean it is required,” Reichel added.


Hairstyles in a Pyongyang hair salon | Picture: NK News


The RFA report is not the first time stories about state sanctioned haircuts in North Korea have emerged in the media, with a pervasive myth that women must choose from a precise and limited set of approved styles still emerging regularly today.

But the images commonly used to support this claim often focus on tourist posters of a selection of hairstyles featured on the walls of barber shops in Pyongyang – which are actually there to offer clients an idea of potential options, not a mandatory selection.

Nevertheless, the state has involved itself in the past by promoting approved hairstyles and fashions to its citizens.

“In 2005 state media broadcast a candid camera program which “named and shamed” citizens in Pyongyang who had let their hair grow out”

In 2005 a series called “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle” was broadcast on state TV in which the narrator urged Korean men to maintain short hairstyles to maintain their “ideological spirit” – as well as for “health reasons” based on the fact longer hair “consumes a great deal of nutrition”.

And in 2005 state media broadcast a candid camera program which “named and shamed” citizens in Pyongyang who had let their hair grow out, broadcasting their name, ID numbers and work units in the hope of influencing viewers to stick with orthodoxy.


A regular visitor to North Korea familiar with rules on hairstyles told NK News that although guidelines do exist, enforcement is rarely a serious issue.

“Yes there is enforcement, but it is not very serious,” said the source, who requested to remain anonymous.

“The fashion enforcers are normally students required to ‘volunteer’ a couple of times a year and are stationed by bus stops, metro stops and busy street corners,” said the source.

The job of the ‘volunteer’ enforcers, much like the reporter in the state TV program, is to stop “inappropriately dressed” citizens, record their ID numbers and to report the infraction to their work unit.

“Yes there is enforcement, but it is not very serious crime”

But guilt of a hairstyle infraction does not necessarily mean that students will be punished.

“It is not really a big deal, they can use this infraction as a theme or point of focus in one of the mandated self criticism sessions that each North Korean is required to take part in,” the source said. “If it happens multiple times, they may get a talking to.”

Rumors about North Korea based on anonymous sources often emerge in the mainstream media, leading to an echo-chamber effect.

Picture: Rodong Sinmun

Recommended for You

Koreas' Peace Symposium pushes for more engagement

Koreas' Peace Symposium pushes for more engagement

The WomenCrossDMZ International Peace Symposium took place Sunday in central Seoul, attended by the 30 women who made their way across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) from North to South Korea on Sunday.…

May 26th, 2015
Did WomenCross benefit North Koreans? Yes and no

Did WomenCross benefit North Koreans? Yes and no

It could be many years before anyone is able to definitively conclude whether the 30 female participants in #womencrossdmz2015 accomplished anything at all, much less the “enormous triumph” that 8…

May 26th, 2015

About the Author

Hamish Macdonald

Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.

Join the discussion

  • bopeep

    Kim Jong Un is a fat-faced fucking frat-boy fiend.

    • Doge Wallace


      • David Bankson

        I don’t care who’s on it, that’s a beautiful horse.

        • StaunchGrouse

          Damn it! You’re right. it is. :-(

  • David Bankson

    “Mandated self-criticism sessions” are required? WTF?

    • dcanaday

      Yep. They have regular meetings where everyone is required to criticize themselves for something they did wrong. All must do it, so it is good to have a prepared answer involving some really minor violation. They are also required to criticize others. This makes everyone paranoid about being caught by their neighbor doing the wrong thing, which serves the Kim regime just fine. Best thing to do is to plan something with a buddy where you and he will each criticize something minor about the other. This way there is no surprises (you hope) and no hard feelings.

  • Steve Elliott ~alapoet~

    Do you ever get tired of writing this lame apologist propaganda for a psychotically backwards totalitarian regime?

    • Obama

      Do you ever get tired of posting stupid comments with a ugly face?

    • huh?

      We read the same article?

      • StaunchGrouse

        You mean the article that said proof of the law not being true is that not EVERY single NK student has needed a haircut in the mere two weeks since the article has been published, but public shaming on national media being the norm is no big thing?

        Or that the mere idea that the story is fake denounces any notion of this being a terrible police state… while in the same breath discussing the “mandated self criticism sessions that each North Korean is required to take part in”.

        Or perhaps defining “students must have ruler’s” haircut as an unsubstantiated rumor in order to take focus away from the fact they they SAID THEY HAVE STATE APPROVED HAIRCUTS. Sounds like toe-may-toe, cherry toe-may-toe to me.

        • huh?

          Read the title, it says “unlikely true” and uses testimony from recent visitors who interact with the very same age-group and individuals that are meant to have been forced to get those haircuts. Article mentions that NK have state approved guidelines and cuts because they are interested in discerning the facts that they know not to cherry pick.

          • StaunchGrouse

            My point is that the author is using anecdotal evidence from a few visitors to the country as proof that this law doesn’t exist. Regardless of if he is right or not, and it may very well be just rumor, he’s then using this to try to underrate the fact that VERY SIMILAR LAWS DO/HAVE EXISTED.

            “State approved haircuts” is really no different than “ONE state approved haircut,” is it? Those he’s criticizing are, at worst, exaggerating the truth. He’s trying to negate it.

            The argument is “Who cares if they use public shaming and humiliation to coerce their people into something as stupid as a selection of common haircuts, they’re not limiting them to just ONE!”

          • huh?

            Again, its not claiming its fact its claiming that it is unlikely true, not proving the law doesn’t exist but using testimony to reflect what people on the ground have seen and it doesn’t seem like the law exists.

            Your last point I don’t get as there is no argument of the sort in the article above, it simply states that 1) this seems unlikely to be true here what people are saying 2) although it seems unlikely there is a history of guidelines and enforcement albeit not aggressive.

            Its not making the argument you spoke of its trying to assess the facts of the new rumour and stating the facts of the past ones to put it all in context. Where is this argument your talking about? seems like that is what you are reading into it but I don’t know where you got it from.

    • Doge Wallace

      There’s a difference between “lame apologist propaganda” and trying ti discern fact from fiction.

      • StaunchGrouse

        No, this is trying to find fiction in order to obfuscate fact.

  • Maluwang

    Looks like the Dear Leader doesn’t have the habit of brushing his teeth.

    • Stefano

      Same as Mao…

      • Maluwang

        He did not like to bathe also.

  • Kresimir Vrbanek Ex SupaLuva

    “‘Chinese smuggler haircut” :)

  • mohamed

    thanks so much for your artycle so you can find more on http://www.kuwaitmool.com

  • mohamed

    thanks and i with you on And in 2005 state media broadcast a candid camera program which “named and shamed” citizens in Pyongyang who had let their hair grow out, broadcasting their name, ID numbers and work units in the hope of influencing viewers to stick with orthodoxy.
    Contact Kuwait mall , سوق الكويت , مول الكويت
    for more information.

  • Melanie

    Just saying this probably doesnt make a single sense but tge way that kim jung un treats people i know is very umm lets say inappropriate to human kind the eay he makes these rules and the way he rules how did he even become leader again i just hrard his name pop up one day and bam hes prettyuch the reason north korrans are being judged so harshly and so on but the thing is to be put on television with name and ID is very harsh just because of a dress policy i thought that was over once youre out of highschool and so on to college. I don’t understand his state of mind on those ridiculous laws of his he pulls out….. he was raised wrong in the head for all i know….what happened to human rights people shouldnt be so controlled over by groups of people sitting inside an office using people…please do not mind me di not adress me as anything besides my name Melanie.

  • Alex

    Fantastic article, very informative indeed. For more advice on mens hairstyles in general, feel free to check out http://www.mens-hairstyles.com/