North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wore a Western-style ensemble instead of the traditional Mao suit in his New Year’s Day address, prompting speculations of a change in his image.
In the televised speech on January 1, Kim addressed his nation in a light-grey suit paired with a matching tie and tortoise shell glasses.
A lapel pin that he always wore, representing his predecessors Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, was also absent.
The Mao suit has long symbolized communism and militarism. Kim’s decision to forego such look was likely calculated to project a softer image that would go with an invitation to talk to South Korea. In his address, he called Seoul for a dialogue that would take place before the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month.
The invitation comes as the North Korean leader senses tensions between allies President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump. For months, Moon has been urging for diplomacy with Pyongyang, while Trump has been giving it tougher sanctions:
As such, Kim did not miss warning the United States in his speech. As per CNN, he announced that the regime’s nuclear ambitions were now complete and that a launch button was “always on the desk in my office.”
To this, Trump responded:
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
But if Kim dressed Western-style for the sole purpose of getting South Korea to meet, he might have won already. Park Soo-hyun, spokesman of President Moon, responded hours after his speech (via The New York Times):
“We have already expressed our willingness to engage in a dialogue with North Korea at any time, in any place and in any format, as long as both sides can discuss restoring their relations and peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Seoul proposed a meeting on January 9 at the border truce village of Panmunjeom. If it proceeds, it will be their first meeting since December 2015.
Kim Gun-hee, an image-making and leadership consultant, believes that Kim chose a grey suit to deflect the negative attention his nuclear program has been receiving in years.
She told Reuters:
“When we advise clients who are in tough situations or are surrounded by unfavourable rumours, we tell them to wear either white or grey.”
“In the study of color psychology, white imbues innocence while grey tends to take attention away from you. Kim may have felt some pressure from being at the centre of global focus and turned to grey after sticking to dark tones for several years.”
Kim’s look for his 2018 New Year’s address follows a progression to Western-style fashion since his first address in 2013. Interestingly, others pointed that his latest outfit also exudes confidence, since he appeared to be more comfortable than his previous speeches.