By analyzing transcribed interview data following open coding analysis, researchers found 48 codes, 24 subcategories, and 6 categories. Each category was named ‘Restricted Clothing Culture of North Korea’, ‘Personal Economic Condition in North Korea’, ‘Culture Shock in South Korea’, ‘Fashion Sensitivity’, ‘Self-identity’ and ‘Various Clothing Acculturation Behaviors.’
Restricted clothing culture of North Korea
Every interviewee testified that North Korean clothing culture is under a strongly-restricted condition. North Korean government prohibits clothes with English letter, dyed hair or jeans because they symbolize capitalism which is a threat to North Korea’s socialism. NK government also restricts colorful clothes, so interviewees could wear only clothes in navy, dark green, black, or gray colors in North Korea. Furthermore, they said North Korean people think that everyone must look similar. If someone wears different kind of clothes comparing to others, people would blame the person because of the uniqueness. Under the long reign of terror of NK government, NK people tend to not only avoid looking different to other, but also impose the strict standard to others. In quantity, there were not enough clothes both in house and in the market. Because of poor and tightly controlled economy, most of NK people have just one or two clothes. Many interviewees said because they had only two clothes, they wore one in weekdays, and another in weekend. In the market, they didn’t have to consider among many fashion products because there was no option except one or two types of clothes.
“There are many strict norms for clothes in North Korea. The clothes with English letters, dyed hair, jeans … because those clothes symbolize capitalism, not North Korean socialism.” (Participant I).
“If someone wears unique clothes, people blame the person because he (or she) looks different. They think everyone must look similar.” (Participant C).
“I wear just the same clothes for the whole week. Only rich people have four or five clothes. Most people have only two or three in just simple colors.” (Participant D).
“Everyone wears similarly because there are a few options available.” (Participant A).
Personal economic condition in North Korea
However, few of the interviewee said they could experience an abundant consumption life even under the restricted condition. Some participants who had been rich in North Korea stated that they could wear expensive Japanese, Chinese and South Korean clothes and foreign luxury cosmetics. They even sometimes ordered a cloth which looks like what they saw in South Korean drama. Meanwhile, ordinary people had just one or two clothes to endure a year. The gap of personal economic gap between people in high class and general public was huge in North Korea.
“I have been interested in fashion since I lived in North Korea. I wore Japanese clothes or some unique clothes imported from China, and even from South Korea. It was okay if I cut the label of South Korean clothes.” (Participant C).
Culture shock in South Korea
North Korean female defectors mentioned a remarkable difference between two clothing cultures which had made them embarrassed at the beginning of settlement in South Korea. They wasn’t familiar with a certain clothing norm of South Korea regarding wedding ceremony, funeral, or at the working place. Most of them stated that they were shocked by level of women’s body exposure. Because of conservative policy of North Korean government, they couldn’t accept South Korean standard on female’s body exposure. Furthermore, under the limited and highly restricted clothing culture of North Korea, interviewees didn’t have enough personal fashion styling or shopping experience in North Korea. Therefore when they entered in South Korea, they could help confronting a high wall of South Korean fashion trend. Some said they were like a fashion terrorist. Destroyed jeans or rugged knit wear are also what they couldn’t accept easily, because those are symbols of poverty in North Korea. They also found differences in shopping culture or South Korean traditional costume.
“For the first time I was in a wedding in South Korea, I felt embarrassed because I did not dress up at all.” (Participant K).
“North Koreans are unfamiliar with colorful clothes in South Korea, because they had been never allowed to buy those kinds of clothes. Thus, they could be considered as fashion terrorists in South Korea.” (Participant C).
“I heard many times that I was not dressed well at the early settlement. I just bought clothes adorable without considering whether it fits to me.” (Participant B).
“North Korean Han-bok is light and soft, but South Korean is stiff and too formal.” (Participant H).
Personal level of fashion sensitivity varies by individual. When researchers asked about interest on fashion trend in South Korea, some participant said they are always passionate to learn and accept new fashion trends. They also enjoy shopping both alone or with friends. At the same time, they tend to be conscious of other people’s opinion on them. They want not to look like a North Korea defector in South Korea, because they think North Korea defectors are usually regarded as a fashion terrorist. On the other hand, other interviewees don’t care about others’ judgment on their fashion style. They don’t follow South or North Korean fashion trend. They just buy cheap clothes or check only if it fits their body.
“I love shopping and have a lot of interest in fashion. Though I have many clothes, I always buy more pretty clothes by giving up other things to have.” (Participant B).
“My husband said that my fashion style is quite out of style, but I don’t care about it. What considers to me is just fitness on my own body.” (Participant K).
Three different type of self-identity were observed in the interviews. First, many interviewees want to be shown to others like a native South Korean. They try to hide an identity as a North Korean defector, and want to live like an ordinary South Korean. They think themselves as a complete South Korean. Second group is skeptical about self-identity matters because they were disappointed at two Koreas. Even though they defected from North Korea to find a hope in South Korea, in cases where they experienced a kind of discriminations in South Korea, they don’t like both North and South Korea. Last group also testified bad experiences in South Korea, but they have more mature and independent attitudes. They admitted they should embrace two types of self-identity as a native North Korean and a citizen of South Korea. They don’t depend on one culture too much, but try to find and maintain value of each Korea.
“I don’t’ want to look like a person from North Korea. I just want to be a real South Korean.” (Participant B).
“Even though I wear like South Koreans, I could not change totally into a native South Korean. I don’t care about how others think.”(Participant I).
“At first, I made much effort to look like a South Korean in terms of fashion or language. However, once I realized my identity and my personality, I was satisfied with being either a South Korean or a North Korean.” (Participant D).
Various clothing acculturation behaviors
To deal with culture shock in South Korea, North Korea female defectors showed various kind of clothing acculturation behaviors. First of all, regarding to clothing norms of South Korea, almost all participant stated that they are trying to accept general clothing norms for certain situations such as wedding, funeral, school, or working place. They said they learn the norms from TV, friends or Internet. However, about half of the interviewees denied accepting South Korean standard on body exposure.
“North Koreans usually don’t wear black clothes in a funeral. I learned this through watching TV drama in South Korea.” (Participant F).
”This regards much body exposure. I was so shocked for the first time particularly in summer. I think it’s abnormal and even unacceptable to expose shoulder or belly.” (Participant K).
About fashion styling, some people said they are learning South Korean fashion style and applying it their own life to look more like a native South Korean, even though others don’t want to follow South Korean fashion trend and still have aesthetic tastes of North Korea.
“I search South Korean fashion trend online, and learn fashion from TV. Furthermore, I watch South Korean young ladies’ fashion style in the street to follow the trend.” (Participant A).
“I try to learn South Korean cosmetic style, but my old habit habituated since living in North Korea is hard to change.” (Participant J).
When they go shopping, many preferred to go alone because they not only have different taste with South Korean but also think that there’s nothing to learn from North Korean defectors. However, few showed dependence on North Korean defector group to share information about clothing culture in South Korea.
“I don’t think the friends (NK female defectors) have something to learn, because they are also beginning to become familiar with South Korean culture like me.” (Participant H).
“I usually receive new information from NK defector friends about the place selling cheap clothes and other stuff.” (Participant F).
Lastly, most of interviewee said South Korean traditional costume is more beautiful than NK’s because of high quality fabric, diversity of design and colorfulness. On the other hand, some missed North Korean traditional costume for it has its own unique silhouette and softness of the fabric.
“South Korean Han-bok is better because the quality of the fabric is luxurious and colorful.” (Participant D).
“I prefer North Korean Han-bok. North Korean Han-bok style looks more beautiful in my viewpoint.” (Participant F).
Based on the two-dimensional acculturation model of Berry (1997), interviewees with various kinds of clothing acculturation behaviors can be classified into three types; Assimilation, Integration, and Marginalization. For Assimilation type, interviewee A, B, C, D, and E who preferred only South Korean clothing culture and don’t want to maintain North Korean clothing culture selected. They also showed high fashion sensitivity and South Korean-oriented identity in the interview. For Integration type, participant F, G, H, I, and J selected because they show preference parts of both culture. Integration type interviewees also have independent self-identity which admits both nationalities. They didn’t show a certain type of fashion sensitivity. Lastly interviewee K only was classified as Marginalization type for they denied accepting both two clothing cultures. They usually showed low fashion sensitiveness and skeptical self-identity (Table 1).
Researchers found the causal relationship between the categories of open coding analysis following the process of axial coding of grounded theory (Fig. 1). North Korean female defectors had lived inside of North Korean clothing culture for a long time, so they had built up their own unique clothing behavior based on that culture. Therefore, they experience quite strong culture shock when they happened to face with South Korean clothing culture which is contrary to North Korean. At this point, each interviewee’s personal economic condition in North Korea, which determines contact level to foreign clothing culture, can adjust the culture shock degree.
“I earned enough because I was a professional dancer in North Korea … I sometimes saw South Korean movies so I was accustomed to South Korean fashion trend already.” (Participant H/rich in North Korea).
As a reaction to the perceived clothing cultural differences of two Koreas, they testified their various acculturation behaviors. As a source of behavior, fashion sensitivity and self-identity decide the way of behaviors individually. Those who have high fashion sensitivity tend to follow South Korean fashion trend, but those with low fashion sensitivity don’t care about both.
“I have been interested in fashion when I was in North Korea … I want to look like a native South Korean. I will change my outfit fast.” (Participant C/high fashion sensitivity).
“I don’t know anything about trend … I just choose convenient clothes to work well, and I don’t check how others wear.” (Participant K/low fashion sensitivity).
A group who has South Korea-oriented self-identity chooses the way to accept most of South Korean clothing culture. Meanwhile, skeptical identity (Table 1) group don’t show will to follow any clothing culture, and independent identity group decide to accept parts of both.
“Because I became a South Korean, I think I should follow South Korean fashion trend unconditionally.” (Participant A/South Korea-oriented identity).
“I was sometimes discriminated in South Korea. Sometimes I think it would be better to live in foreign country.” (Participant K/skeptical identity).
“I prefer North Korean Han-bok. … I want to let others know that I came from North Korea so that they can understand me. (Participant F/independent identity).
The purpose of grounded theory is to draw a supposable hypothesis from analysis on qualitative data by focusing on a reasonable result when there is not enough research about the topic. Researchers focused on the influence of fashion sensitivity and self-identity on classification of clothing acculturation types. Most of interviewees who showed high fashion sensitivity prefer to accept South Korean clothing culture and to remove memories of North Korean clothing culture. They consider their appearance much and want to be shown to others like a native South Korean. They try to follow South Korean fashion trend and learn most of parts of South Korean clothing culture. They never get information from North Korean defector group because they think there’s nothing to learn from that group, and want to forget memories about North Korean clothing culture. Meanwhile the interviewee in Marginalization type had low fashion sensitivity, but it can’t be generalized because of lack of number of case. For Integration type, interviewees showed various level of fashion sensitivity. Therefore, according to the purpose of grounded theory, this statement can be suggested first: High level of fashion sensitivity of North Korean female defector is related to Assimilation behaviors in clothing acculturation.
Secondly, self-identity is another factor deciding clothing acculturation behaviors in the result. South Korea-oriented identity makes the interviewees want to look more like a native South Korean, so they choose to accept whole South Korean clothing culture and to deny previous one totally. Interviewees who showed independent identity admitting both North and South Korean identity are mostly classified into Integration type. Even though they defected from North Korea, they remembered some good points of North Korean clothing culture such as North Korean traditional costume or fashion trend items. Because they are both good cultural learners in South Korea and good conservators of North Korean clothing culture partially, they are regarded as Integration type. Lastly, one interviewee had a skeptical attitude to identity matter because she experienced discriminations in South Korea. She denied accepting both North and South Korean clothing culture, so that she is classified to Marginalization. Therefore this statement would be supposable secondly: North Korean female defector accepts clothing culture(s) according to self-identity regarding personal nationality.