February 27, 2019 | 12:07 am PT

Why Kim Jong-un wears what he does

The North Korean leader looks to continue his grandfather’s legacy as also pursue modernity.

On Tuesday morning, President Kim Jong-un arrived in Vietnam wearing a long dark-colored jacket with pinstripes and a tight and short collar. The shirt had two capped pockets and matching pants.

This is invariably the model that the North Korean leader sports, whenever he speaks to the press, observes a rocket launch, or visits an establishment in the country.

Mr. Kim Jong-un wears a striped Mao suit upon arrival in Vietnam on Tuesday morning. Photo by Giang Huy.

Kim Jong-un arrives in Hanoi Tuesday morning, wearing a striped Mao suit. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Kim Jong-un wore a striped Mao suit. When China's late President Mao Zedong first came to power in 1949, he made the outfit a huge hit in his country and in North Korea, the Racked magazine reports.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao suits were made of polyester and wool. Today, the suit does not enjoy the same popularity among Chinese people and North Koreans, and only leaders wear them. One of the political figures who wore it was Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

Racked quoted Kim Suk-young, a professor of Korean culture at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles, the U.S.), as saying that the suit has a special meaning to Kim Jong-un.

"The black [outfit] is a direct reference to Kim’s grandfather’s legacy, a way to legitimize his rule.

"As a newcomer to this game of thrones, Kim Jong-un had to establish himself as a legitimate leader. And the best way to do that was to link his image directly to that of his grandfather," Kim Suk-young said.

Kim Il-sung was loved by his people. According to Professor Kim Suk-young, Kim Jong-un wears the same style of attire as his grandfather to create a sense of closeness with people.

"Like Hillary Clinton in pantsuits or Mark Zuckerberg with his iconic hoodie look, Kim Il-sung created for himself a distinctive appearance in a Mao suit.

The professor also said that the Mao suit also sends a particular message at conferences and negotiations. "He is making it clear that North Korea has its own distinctive identity, that it won’t be absorbed by massive [outside] influence," she added.

Kim Jong-un also wears a swept-back hair style characterized by Kim Il-sung which features cuts on both sides, mid-hair combed backward.

Some sources have said they believe that Kim Jong-un’s diet is also meticulously planned and specifically designed to emulate his grandfather.

Although he is loyal to the Mao suit, Kim Jong-un does occasionally dress in a Western suit, wearing a tie, especially since 2007, when he speaks on television on New Year Eve. The North Korean leader then wears an Armani suit.

Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University, told the New York Times: "...there has been a lot of speculation that he is trying to make North Korea look more modern and connected."

In 2018, Kim Jong-un attended an event in a light gray suit. Racked experts said then that this color represents a soft, peaceful image.