- Kim Jong Un ditched his traditional Mao suit for a Western-style suit in his New Year’s Day address.
- The suit, and the decision to forgo a pin featuring his predecessors, may indicate Kim’s confidence in his leadership and a desire for a more relaxed image.
- The Mao suit has long been a symbol of communism and militarism.
When Kim Jong Un announced he was open to dialogue with South Korea about the upcoming Winter Olympics during his New Year’s Day address, some experts were more focused on Kim’s attire.
During the televised speech, the North Korean leader did away with his normal button-up tunic and instead wore a Western-style light-grey suit, matching tie, and tortoise-shell-patterned glasses. He also ditched a lapel pin he nearly always wears above his heart, depicting his predecessors Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The outfit was likely selected to portray a “softer, more relaxed image” according to Reuters.
The news agency also quoted South Korea’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, which said the North appears to have “taken great pains” to shift its leader’s image, which now reflects Kim’s “relaxed state of mind” from completing the country’s nuclear weapons programme.
“The change from the previous dark Maoist suits to a softer toned grey Western-style suit likely aimed to underpin peace, which Kim stressed in his address,” the institute said.
Since the mid-20th century, the BBC reports, the Mao suit has been a symbol of communism and militarism. Thus, its absence in favour of a more Western outfit is striking.
But Robert Kelly, a political expert at South Korea’s Pusan National University told The New York Times Kim’s outfit change was probably just for show, though acknowledged “there has been a lot of speculation that he is trying to make North Korea look more modern and connected.”
While a timeline can be drawn for Kim wearing progressively more Western outfits over the years, numerous photos show Kim wearing complete Mao suits on all five official occassions he attended in December.
The change of outfit could also indicate a new sense of confidence in his own leadership, as Kim appeared more comfortable in the televised address than in previous years.
Such confidence may not be misplaced.
The following day, South Korea proposed talks between the two countries for January 9. If they go ahead, it will be the first of such talks since December 2015.
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