SEOUL, July 28 (UPI) -- North Korean women are no longer confined to wearing state-sanctioned clothing and are being seen in four-inch heels and knockoff designer handbags, according to sources.
Restrictions still apply to North Korea's public dress code but the country's appetite for imports is becoming more evident in women's fashions and accessories, Dazed magazine reported.
Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is a popular fashion role model, the report said.
She has often been seen in public wearing heels and elegant suits, while carrying a Christian Dior handbag that is beyond the reach of most North Koreans.
Fashions are changing in the North as market reforms create new wealth, and North Koreans can sometimes avoid punishment for dress code violations through bribes, according to the report.
The North Korean border city of Chongjin is the most fashion-forward, as it is an important trading center where goods from China are received.
North Koreans are spurning Chinese clothes for Japanese-made apparel, and South Korean cosmetics and Western luxury brands are highly sought after.
Fake Prada bags can now be found in North Korea, the report said.
Troy Collings, a North Korea travel specialist, said that North Koreans "do care about brands. They all know."
"I remember one [local] guide asking me to buy some foldable Ray Bans," Collings told Dazed.
Kim has condemned the popularity of foreign-made goods and has called the worship of imported items a "disease." In his New Year's message, Kim said North Koreans must learn to love domestic goods.
The changes in North Korean fashion preferences, however, are signs of social trends and greater awareness of North Koreans of the outside world.
North Korean defector Choe Cheol-nam told Radio Free Asia that despite the strict controls of the state, North Korean women like South Korean women are seeking more beauty in their lives, changing their hairstyles and clothing.
"Even with trousers, some North Korean women are opting for more slightly tight-fitting pants, to look attractive," Choe said.