Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: What’s it like going for a haircut in North Korea?
Editor’s note: There has been a lot of misinformation about haircuts in North Korea. A few years ago a rumor that all North Korean men had been required to wear their hair like Kim Jong Un began to spread online – a claim that was, most likely, not true. While there are government approved hairstyles in North Korea, authorities are a little more flexible than that.
In North Korea, there are barbers and hair salons approved by the government, as well as hair salons which are run by individuals who have not obtained permission from the government. Barbers cater to middle-aged men aged 40 or over, and teenagers and people in their twenties and thirties avoid going to barbers because they know they will end up leaving the barber shop with an ugly government-approved haircut.
North Korean barbers are usually men in their fifties and sixties. Even if you showed them a picture of a stylish haircut you would like to get, they are highly unlikely to give you that haircut you ask for. In North Korea, when you hear the word ‘barber,’ what you picture in your head is a middle-aged man shaving your head with a razor and when it’s done, he shaves your beard after polishing his razor by scrubbing it on a sheet of faded leather.
There are some hair salons approved by the government as well. People of all ages and both sexes prefer to have their hair done at hair salons, because most hairdressers are women and you’re more likely to get a haircut you want from them than from those middle-aged male barbers.
Of course, hairdressers are told to stick to providing customers with hairstyles approved by the government. However, in order not to lose customers, hairdressers will give you the haircut you want only to the extent that they don’t get caught by the authorities.
It’s a different story when you go to a hair salon not approved by the government. They make sure to put extra effort into giving you the exact hairstyle you want. But it’ll cost you: these hair stylists charge you five times as much as what government-run hair salons charge you.
You’re only allowed to have your hair dyed black in North Korea. That’s only good for people with gray hair: you are not allowed to bleach your hair in the North. Due to the restrictions imposed by the government, both the hairdresser and the customer will be punished if the customer gets their hair dyed a color other than black.
Hairdressers tend to keep a book in which you can see a selection of various hairstyles worn by North Korean actresses. Most of the times they are far from being stylish or trendy. No one really wants to pick a hairstyle from that book.
Ajumma and grannies leave hair salons feeling pretty satisfied as long as they can have strong curls. They go straight to government-run hair salons whenever they feel the need to have their hair done.
But younger people and those who like to stay fashionable regardless of age go to hairdressers who run their businesses at home without official permission from the government.
These hairdressers cater to their customers in the most capitalist way you can imagine! They only care about the customer’s taste and preference. To these hairdressers, it is the customers who pay the money, not the government.
You can even have your hair dyed in a color other than black – as long as you pay them enough money. Young people always prefer to get their hair done by these “unapproved” hairdressers. When a hairdresser rises to fame and builds a good reputation in a town, people line up in a long queue at the entrance in order to get a haircut at that hairdresser. At school, a kid might brag about the fact that they got a haircut at the most expensive hairdresser in town.
Hairstyles people see in South Korean dramas are regarded to be stylish in North Korea. Obviously, government-run hair salons won’t give you those kinds of haircuts, so you have no option but to get your hair done by a hairdresser who “unofficially” runs their business at home even if they charge five times more than other hairdressers.
Recently hair curlers, hair straighteners, and coloring products are smuggled in from China. Friends can get together at home and do each other’s hair by themselves instead of going to expensive hairdressers.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Written by Je-son Lee
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image: Adam Westerman
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 838 words of this article.