Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

North Korea: where a hat is not just a hat

(Read article summary)
View video

Korean Central News Agency/AP Photo

(Read caption) In this undated photo released on Jan. 22, by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service in Tokyo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il looks at bottles in the containers during his visit to a foodstuff factory in Sariwon, North Korea.

View photo

What’s in a hat? When it comes to North Korea, a lot more than a head, it would seem.

Experts on a regime as secretive as the reclusive rulers in Pyongyang have to seek political clues wherever they can find them.

About these ads

But tea-leaf reading hit new heights (or lows) Monday with a detailed report in respected South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo on the political significance of a fur hat. A peaked fur cap made of otter pelt with earflaps, to be precise – sitting on the head of Kim Jong-un, the presumed heir to his father Kim Jong-il as North Korea’s supreme leader.

Recommended:OpinionThe winter of Kim Jong-il's discontent

Gasp! What can this mean?

According to an unnamed “senior South Korean government official” quoted by Chosun Ilbo, it is a signal that the young Kim has achieved the same status as his father.

“The most conspicuous sign is that Kim Jong-un has started wearing a top-quality fur hat that only Kim Jong-il has been wearing so far,” the senior official is quoted as saying.

Skeptics may scoff that lesser luminaries in the North Korean leadership have been seen wearing the same sort of hat in the past, which would make the headgear a less compelling piece of political intelligence.

“But if you look at them carefully, you’ll see that their hats are industrial products and the quality is far inferior,” a North Korean source (unnamed to protect his identity) told the paper.

Another North Korean source, a defector who would allow himself to be identified only as “Choi,” explained that “the hat was customized by a foreign master craftsman using top-quality otter fur. It’s an unwritten rule that nobody else [besides the "Dear Leader"] can wear such a hat.”

About these ads

South Korean analysts are also using the hat for their political forensic studies. Kim Jong-un made his first official public appearance at the end of September, when it was not cold enough to wear a hat.

His father was first sighted wearing his winter hat in late October. But the younger Kim did not don the prized otter pelt until Dec. 16, when he inspected an army unit, according to eagle-eyed North Korea watchers.

“A South Korean government source” deduces that, therefore, “it seems Kim Jong-un began establishing himself as the heir in mid-December after three months of internal consolidation of his status.”

North Korean TV footage also showed both Kims wearing identical off-white parkas while visiting an art studio a week ago. Stay tuned for explanations of what THAT means.