North Korean fashion police crack down on banned haircuts

The North Korean authorities have reportedly stepped up a crackdown on “non-socialist” behaviour, including unapproved hairstyles, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in September. 

Youth groups affiliated with the regime are said to have been deployed across the country to warn or detain citizens found sporting banned fashions or hairstyles, North Korean sources told Radio Free Asia. 

“Inspection units are being dispatched to public areas,” one source said. 

"With the approach of the 70th anniversary on September 9 of the founding of the North Korean regime, the Central Committee has given special instructions to root out non-socialist phenomena, such as fashion choices and hairstyles that do not fit the socialist lifestyle,” the source added.

Instructions on what constitutes “non-socialist” behaviour have reportedly been given through lectures at work units and factories, with a specific focus on young people. 

“Enforcers are active on the streets and in public areas every day to stop ‘unenlightened’ people from displaying behaviors that might disgrace the country,” said the source. 

Conformity in hairstyle and dress is strictly enforced in the totalitarian regime. Last year it was reported that both men and women have a choice of 15 state-approved haircuts after illustrated guides were spotted in Pyongyang hair salons. 

There appears to be little distinction between the men’s choices. Dyed and long hair would be considered a breach of the rules, and Kim Jong-un’s own distinctive semi-shorn bouffant does not appear to be a style choice on offer to his subjects. 

Inside North Korea – forbidden photos

Street patrols by the so-called “fashion police” have been picking up this year, reported the NK News site in July, referring sightings of two or three women inspectors at major crossroads in Pyongyang, dressed in a black, traditional Korean “hanbok” and armed with whistles. 

The women, officially known as patrol units of the Women’s Union, are tasked with stopping and interrogating any passers-by whose dress or haircut does not fall within officially prescribed norms. 

Short and revealing skirts are considered a misdemeanor and while trousers are allowed for women they must not be rolled up over the knees. 

Sanctions for dyed hair or breaches of official clothing policies range from small fines to short-term imprisonment.