Kim Jong Un's New Year's Day address outfit may indicate an image change

  • Kim Jong Un ditched his traditional Mao suit for a Western-style suit in his New Year's Day address.
  • The suit, and the decision to forgo a pin featuring his predecessors, may indicate Kim's confidence in his leadership and a desire for a more relaxed image.
  • The Mao suit has long been a symbol of communism and militarism.


When Kim Jong Un announced he was open to dialogue with South Korea about the upcoming Winter Olympics during his New Year's Day address, some experts were more focused on Kim's attire.

During the televised speech, the North Korean leader did away with his normal button-up tunic and instead wore a Western-style light-grey suit, matching tie, and tortoise-shell-patterned glasses. He also ditched a lapel pin he nearly always wears above his heart, depicting his predecessors Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

A combination image of photos released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un giving his New Year address from 2013-2018. Photo Credit: KCNA via Reuters

The outfit was likely selected to portray a "softer, more relaxed image" according to Reuters.

The news agency also quoted South Korea's state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, which said the North appears to have "taken great pains" to shift its leader's image, which now reflects Kim's "relaxed state of mind" from completing the country's nuclear weapons programme.

“The change from the previous dark Maoist suits to a softer toned grey Western-style suit likely aimed to underpin peace, which Kim stressed in his address,” the institute said.

More on the leader on North Korea:

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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un
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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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Since the mid-20th century, the BBC reports, the Mao suit has been a symbol of communism and militarism. Thus, its absence in favour of a more Western outfit is striking.

But Robert Kelly, a political expert at South Korea's Pusan National University told The New York Times Kim's outfit change was probably just for show, though acknowledged "there has been a lot of speculation that he is trying to make North Korea look more modern and connected."

While a timeline can be drawn for Kim wearing progressively more Western outfits over the years, numerous photos show Kim wearing complete Mao suits on all five official occassions he attended in December.

The change of outfit could also indicate a new sense of confidence in his own leadership, as Kim appeared more comfortable in the televised address than in previous years.

Such confidence may not be misplaced.

The following day, South Korea proposed talks between the two countries for January 9. If they go ahead, it will be the first of such talks since December 2015.

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