President Park Geun-hye's fashion style under scrutiny


  • People
  • Tuesday, 26 Nov 2013

Park in a long winter jacket at a ceremony for a new Korean War Memorial in central London recently.

Fashion eagles debate the style of South Korea’s first woman President.

FASHION would seem an unlikely topic for discussion in the male-dominated world of politics. But with more women entering politics and ascending to positions of power, it has become a frequently raised topic.

For better or worse, the style of women leaders have been under constant scrutiny, making women leaders and their fashion inseparable.

“Women leaders are getting more attention for their fashion because there isn’t a set of specific sartorial rules and guidelines as in menswear. For men, suits are the appropriate choice for formal settings and have become like uniforms. But for women, there’s no style that is accepted as the appropriate ‘uniform’ for formal settings. People expect different styles from women leaders and show more diverse responses to it,” said Geum Key-sook, professor of textile art and costume design at South Korea’s Hongik University.

Ever since President Park Geun-hye was sworn in as South Korea’s first woman president in February, Park has received mixed comments on her style, something that her predecessors didn’t get. Some of her styles have been criticised for being non-descript and old-fashioned, while others were reminiscent of the elegance and grace of her late mother, former first lady Yuk Young-soo.

Park’s style has been either pantsuits for local events or traditional Korean hanbok for formal banquets, especially on overseas trips. Her pantsuits create an authoritative, yet soft image for Park: her mid-thigh, two- or three-button Ottoman jackets usually come in a high collar and a variety of toned-down colours, and her tailored trousers are shaped comfortably, leaving room for her to move with ease.

“The pantsuits are well tailored, do not really look rigid, and have interesting seam details. The soft and well-tailored pantsuits suit her image well,” said London-based Korean fashion designer Eudon Choi.

Another veteran fashion designer, however, said the shape of Park’s pantsuits was not very flattering to her figure.

Park’s suits connect with the past through custom-made formal skirts or pantsuits reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s, the time when she was in her 20s and 30s. Some designers say it can be interpreted as maintaining the old elegance of her generation.

“Presidents must have elegance in their style. I think Park has the elegance she needs for her role,” said a Seoul-based fashion designer who wished to remain anonymous. “But what’s different from other women leaders is that she keeps her elegance connected to the average people.”

Meanwhile, reactions to her hanbok style are varied. One well-known hanbok designer in Seoul said Park’s hanbok should be more formal to show her authority and position.

“There are formulas in hanbok style that accentuate a wearer’s dignity and status,” said the hanbok designer, who wished to remain anonymous, but added that Park still had to get used to the traditional gown.

“She should wear hanbok more often, perhaps during her free time, just walk around in it in the Blue House to become at ease wearing it,” she said, referring to an incident in London when Park tripped on the skirt of her blue hanbok while getting out of a car.

Some designers said Park should wear more clothes and accessories made by Korean designers as she is in a position to give much exposure to clothes by local designers.

President Park Geun-hye wears a hanbok at a banquet at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to the U.K. earlier this month. - AFP PHOTO/POOL/NEIL HALL
A traditional Korean hanbok is the President’s dress of choice for official banquets, as seen here at a banquet at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit to Britain earlier this month. – AFP PHOTO

“She could help the Korean fashion industry by wearing things by Korean designers when she goes abroad,” the veteran designer said. Choi said designers’ brands can get the spotlight after their clothes are worn by famous figures, such as when Kate Middleton wore a draped blue jersey dress for her engagement, launching its creator, Issa London, to global fame.

Geum of Hongik University agreed the President holds power to give publicity to a particular brand or designer she wears, which can stimulate the whole fashion industry.

“It will definitely help the fashion industry develop. I don’t think she’s willing to promote what she wears as fashion-wise, she’s a reserved person, but that will certainly help designers and the fashion industry,” she said. – The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

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