President Park Geun-hye's fashion style is generating more than the usual amount of buzz, perhaps because she is Korea's first female president and old gender stereotypes die hard.
Fashion experts of one stripe or another are busy trying to ferret out the meaning of the clothes Parks wears. Some propose that although her clothes look like the standard global female politician's outfits, they send distinctive messages through their colors depending on the situation and that these choices are intentional.
She is also becoming something of a trendsetter. When Park visited a farmers' market in southern Seoul on March 13, she pulled out a quilted purple wallet that immediately set tongues in some quarters wagging. It was made by a small company called Sosandang and cost just W4,000 (US$1=W1,113). The wallets started selling like hot cakes and the company was deluged with phone calls from prospective customers.
Image consultant Kang Jin-joo guesses that when Park attends events designed to stimulate the economy, she wears brightly colored clothes. Thus she wore a red jacket when she visited the Korea Exchange a day before the presidential election and vowed to boost it to half its size again.
But when she visited an elementary school in central Seoul last week, she opted for a light grey jacket with pink standing collar. "When she wishes to deliver a message of hope to the public, she tends to favor lighter colors," said one aide.
When it comes to projecting a serious, decisive image in some manly domain like the military, Park favors darker clothes. She wore an olive green coat with gold buttons to a graduation ceremony at the Korean National Police University last week, the same she wore on her inauguration day. "She seems to have chosen a green outfit to display a stable and calm image," speculated Kan Ho-sup at Hongik University.
She also tends to favor achromatic colors when she seeks to deliver a serious message about issues like North Korea. The grey jacket with black lapels Park wore at a ministerial workshop over the weekend was the same she had on when she met the heads of the ruling and opposition political parties in February, just after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, and looked suitably solemn.
Then there are the accessories. Pundits have seized particularly on her brooches. If the butterfly brooch she wore on her inauguration day symbolized regeneration, the floral brooch with pearls she had on when greeting Burmese democracy activist Aung San Su Kyi in January appears to have carried a message of peace.
Park buys them in Namdaemun market for just W9,000 each. "Former U.S. state secretary Madeleine Albright wore a sun-shaped broach when she met former president Kim Dae-jung," said image consultant Kang. It apparently symbolized her support of the Sunshine Policy of rapprochement with North Korea.