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: Do you wear high heels in North Korea, too?
North Korean women love wearing high heels! When my mom was young, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, she used to love wearing heels. I remember seeing a photo of her looking gorgeous in them when she was in her twenties. I can tell you that it was not uncommon for ordinary North Korean women to wear high heels, even in the 60’s and 70’s.
South Koreans take the term ‘high heels’ directly from the English language: it’s 하이힐 (high hill) in the South. But if you were to say that to ordinary North Koreans, they would probably look puzzled: we have a completely different term to refer to high heels in the North Korean language!
In vernacular North Korean, heels are referred to as ‘뒤축 높은 신발’ or ‘뾰족구두’ or ‘빼똑구두.’ We use these three different terms in order to differentiate the different kinds.
Firstly, ‘뒤축 높은 신발’ are round shaped shoes with 5cm-7cm heels. Next, ‘뾰족구두’ are pointed shoes with high heels. Lastly, ‘빼똑구두’ are stiletto heels. Of course, these are not the official definitions borrowed from the Workers’ Party-approved dictionary, but that’s how we differentiated the shoes from each other in vernacular North Korean.
When my mom was in her twenties it was uncommon for young North Korean women to wear stilettos: in photos of her from the time she’s wearing low heels that are round-shaped at the front. In the late 1990’s, stiletto heels were introduced to North Korea. They weren’t found everywhere in North Korea at the time, but they instantly became a popular fashion item in the areas along the border with China.
They quickly became popular among young women. And, later on, shoes that were pointed at the front became popular with children, too. When I was a third grader in elementary school, I threw a tantrum and told my mom: “I refuse to go to school until you buy a pair of pointed shoes for me!”
After begging my mom for days, she finally relented. They were so pretty to look at, but it was painful to walk in them. Although it hurt so much to walk in those pointed shoes, I always wore them to school – all my friends wore them! It was never comfortable to walk in them, but they were really cute. I wore those shoes to school every day for ages.
When I entered middle school, shoes called ‘Mong-shin’ were popular among teenagers. Mong-shin shoes were heart-shaped at the front and they were eight times more expensive than the other shoes made in North Korea. Still, all the teenagers wanted to wear them!
After a little while, pointed shoes and stiletto heels became the hottest fashion items in North Korea, largely due to South Korean dramas. Around 2006 and 2007 that stiletto heels began to gain popularity among North Koreans.
Before long it became common to see heels that were 12cm tall in the markets of North Korea. Those high heels were so pretty that I wanted to own some, but my mom was determined that I wouldn’t wear them until I graduated from high school. I told my mom that I couldn’t wait until then, but she wouldn’t change her mind.
Moms always say that we can do anything we want as soon as we graduate from high school. They give so many false promises, but I anxiously waited until high school graduation so that I could put on makeup and wear high heels.
Right after graduation, I finally bought a pair of heels which were 12cm tall, but I immediately regretted it: roads are not well-paved in North Korea and you have to walk everywhere. It was torture to walk in them, but I had spent so much money on them, I couldn’t just throw them away! It broke my heart to see my high heels collecting dust in the house.
Written by Je Son Lee
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image by Adam Westerman
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 696 words of this article.