Change afoot in N. Korean capital? In fashion, yes

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Change afoot in N. Korean capital? In fashion, yes
In this Aug. 30, 2014 photo, a North Korean woman walks along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, a North Korean woman waits for a train in an underground subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, North Koreans wait outside a restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, North Koreans wait outside a restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, a North Korean woman leaves an underground subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, a North Korean woman rides an escalator in an underground subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sept. 1, 2014 photo, North Koreans ride in a subway car in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Aug. 30, 2014 photo, a North Korean woman dressed in a traditional dress known as a "Chogori" speaks to a man in traditional clothing for men known as “Pyongsanbok" at a pro wrestling event in Pyongyang, North Korea. Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 2012/11/27: A young lady wears fashionable clothes on a street in Pyongyang. North Korea seems to have accelerated opening-up and economic development especially since Kim Jong-un came to power. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In this Sept. 19, 2012 photo, North Korean women perform during a fashion show at the 10th national Korean dress exhibition at Central Youth Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
North Korean workers sew clothing at a factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex, in Kaesong, North Korea, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. The Kaesong complex just north of the border is the last remaining inter-Korean rapprochement project. Its operations halted in April when Pyongyang withdrew its workers amid tension over North Korean threats of nuclear war. It reopened in September after North Korea toned down its rhetoric and began pursuing diplomacy with South Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Hong-Ji, Pool)
A North Korean looks at clothing as he tours an exhibition of locally produced consumer goods at the Three-Revolution Exhibition Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. The production of consumer goods such as clothing, electronics and daily necessities has been a key policy push by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2011 file photo, a Minnie Mouse sweater and other clothing items are displayed for sale at a shop in Pyongyang, North Korea. Outside, in a world awash in Disney and hip hop, the changes may seem minor. But in North Korea, they represent a sea change for this country built on a philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance, where shutting out the West and keeping information on a “need to know basis” was for decades a state policy. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)
In this Friday Oct. 28, 2011 photo, a mannequin and traditional Korean dresses are displayed at a clothing store in Pyongyang, North Korea. A new culture of commerce is springing up, with China as its inspiration and source. The new consumerism is part of a campaign launched three years ago to build up the economy, and so the image of new leader Kim Jong Un. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
Women's clothes are displayed at a department store for the elite class in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
(FILES) This undated file photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 10, 2009 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (C) visiting the newly-built North Hwanghae Provincial Art Theater. The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang's official website said on April 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO / FILES / KCNA via KNS (Photo credit should read KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER, 20 2012: Portrait Korean Citizen in Kim Jong il µs style. (Photo by Luca Faccio/ASAblanca via Getty Images)
Wearing gym-provided workout clothing, North Koreans rest near the gym at the Haedanghwa Health Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea on Sunday, May 19, 2013. The newly opened complex houses a cooking school, multiple banquet rooms, swimming and wading pools, a billiards room and other recreational facilities. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
NORTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kim Il Sung bling in North Korea on September 10, 2008 - Kim Il Sung badge on a fashion dress. (Photo by Eric LAFFORGUE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
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By ERIC TALMADGE

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - High heels, with sequins. Brightly colored, tight-fitting dresses. Hairstyles and makeup that are almost like what you would expect on streets of Beijing or Seoul.

Something is definitely afoot in the style scene of North Korea's capital.

Most North Koreans remain too poor to think much about fashion, and the country in general maintains a deep-rooted resistance to outside influences. But in Pyongyang, where the standard of living is relatively high, clothes and styles have been changing in recent years - slowly and in a limited way, but more than many outsiders might think.

Here's a peek at what's hot and what's not:

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WATCH THE SHOES

Not surprisingly, young women are leading the way. And they care a lot about shoes.

While rubber boots and utilitarian flats remain the norm elsewhere in North Korea, high heels in a wide array of colors and styles are commonplace in Pyongyang. They range from basic black to glittery sequined styles that are almost over-the-top exuberant.

Handbags and other accessories are everywhere. Women's clothes have become tighter. Shirts, trousers and dresses are often form-fitting. Women's hairstyles have become more similar to styles seen overseas. Makeup has changed, too.

Overall, the look is less 1980s Soviet Union and more contemporary East Asian.

"Nowadays, it's clear that clothes have become very bright," said Kim Su Jong, a Pyongyang resident. "In the past, the colors were a little dark," she said. "Now everyone likes bright colors."

North Korea's top trendsetter is Ri Sol Ju, leader Kim Jong Un's wife, who is higher-profile and more fashionable than the spouses of the previous two leaders - Kim's father and grandfather. Her short hair and Chanel-style black dresses have undoubtedly influenced many Pyongyang women.

A bigger reason for the change may be that modern styles have become easier to attain in Pyongyang, thanks to more imports from China and an increase in the amount of money in circulation in the capital. The clothes and shoes Pyongyang women are wearing cost the equivalent of tens of U.S. dollars apiece, which is a lot by North Korean standards.

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LOOKING PREPPY

Men lag behind, but the young, at least, are catching up.

There is a clear trend for young men to wear more flattering, tighter shirts, with back darts and sharper, harder collars. Overall, the look for both young men and women is basically old-school preppy, with an emphasis on clean and simple lines.

One exception: trousers. Pyongyang still prefers the stove-pipe style, wide from the waist to the ankle. Skinny is out.

For older men - and leader Kim - the home-grown style is still the rule. They favor a kind of boxy, big-shouldered and open-necked suit. Usually in sober colors of navy blue, gray or silver, the style is so common it's called "pyongsanbok" - normal clothes.

The fashion sense of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, also lives on. The "jumper," a khaki, zip-fronted top and trouser suit famously favored by the late leader, is still widely worn by men in the capital and across the country.

Not all the Kim family's trademark looks are widely emulated. Despite one well-publicized rumor to the contrary, North Korean men have not been ordered to adopt Kim Jong Un's distinctive hairstyle. Men get conservative haircuts, but few get it buzzed on the sides and floppy on top.

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JEANS: THE FINAL FRONTIER

Jeans are closely associated with American tastes, so wearing them is almost tantamount to treason. North Korea never officially banned them, but you don't see people wearing the same blue denim that is common almost everywhere else in the world.

In the past few years, however, some North Koreans have dared to wear trousers that are something like jeans. They are not made of denim but have jeans styling, such as riveted pockets.

White was a popular color this summer. It's almost always women who are wearing them.

But jeans are a touchy topic. So touchy, in fact, that just bringing it up is likely to raise nationalistic hackles.

"We don't have to like jeans," said Kim Su Jong, the Pyongyang woman who so favored brighter colors. "Why should I wear that kind of jeans? It looks ugly. We have our own style."

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