Korean Sociological Image #68: Laughing at the 1970s Fashion-Police

(Sources: left, right)

Remember when the Korean Defense Ministry said it was considering playing girl-groups’ music videos on giant TV screens along the DMZ?

The rationale, according to the official that thought of it, was that “the revealing outfits worn by the performers and their provocative dances could have a considerable impact on North Korean soldiers.”

Alas, nothing came of the idea. But the irony was palpable: in the 1970s, such revealing outfits were deemed subversive by the military government, with ruler-bearing policemen stopping women on the street to measure the length of their skirts (they would also cut men’s hair if it was too long).

This difference is humorously illustrated in Samsung’s 2007 commercial for the Anycall Miniskirt (애니콜 미니스커트), with Jun Ji-hyun (전지현):

It’s disappointing that it was set in the UK though, which never had such ‘fashion-police.’ Why not pick from the wealth of Korean video and imagery from that period? (Just look under “미니스커트 다속” for instance, literally “miniskirt control/supervision/clampdown.”)

My first thought was because the ad is already doing some subtle fashion-policing, through informing the Korean public of the new de facto rules. That would be much less subtle with authentic Korean examples though, and the ensuing social message, however refreshing, would be at odds with the cheerful tone of this one.

On the other hand, we can make allowances for creative license; perhaps the advertisers just wanted a swinging ’60s vibe. Also, it’s not like Koreans themselves aren’t afraid to poke fun at their old, ridiculous laws on miniskirt length (not least because they weren’t removed from the books until as recently as 2006), nor critique modern fashion and body-image ideals.

Still, it is yet another example of a phone literally embodying a woman. As is LG’s recent LTE wireless ad, which isn’t subtle at all:


On the left, the black text reads “If it’s only the shape/appearance of LTE, then it isn’t available everywhere,” while on the right the pink reads “If it’s really LTE, then it’s available in every city.” The headline in the middle reads “But it’s different,” and finally the text at the bottom reads “The one and only LTE, in touch in every city nationwide. Automatic roaming in 220 countries worldwide.”

Personally, I think the execution is flawed—if the woman on the left is supposed to only have the shape and/or appearance of the real LTE (confusedly, “모양” means both), then shouldn’t both women actually look and be clothed exactly the same, with some indication that they’re different for some other reason (say, by having the women on the left scowling)?

Either way, the advertisement’s other message is that the woman on the right, with high-heels, a V-line face, impossibly-long (and uneven!) photoshopped legs, and a dress that only just covers her underwear, is quite literally the modern standard that all agasshis (young women) should adhere to. Jun Ji-hyun’s bobbies would be proud.

(For more posts in the “Korean Sociological Image” series, see here)

12 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #68: Laughing at the 1970s Fashion-Police

  1. Just in case anyone’s interested, as I was writing this post I was strongly reminded of the 1982 movie Missing, about the military dictatorship in Chile, because one scene also features fashion-police.

    Once I found it on Youtube though, it turned out that my childhood memory was faulty — they’re regular police, and they didn’t measure the women’s skirts but tore the legs off their trousers instead, telling them that women only wear skirts and dresses now:

    The movie itself still sounds very moving and interesting. You can see all of it in 10 minute segments on Youtube, starting here.


  2. I’ve often wondered with my friends why they didn’t just blast Kpop across the DMZ instead of the droll standard propaganda broadcasts.

    My only guess would be tie-ups with the music studios, with them not wanting their music to kick off World War 3.


      1. Was it before 2007? Because I can’t believe I missed that announcement.

        When I went to Goseong and saw those massive speakers, the first thing I thought was “Kpop broadcast!”.


  3. I’m confused. So there was an entirely separate police force dedicated to fashion decency in Korea? Or were they just regular police enforcing all the laws?


    1. Good question, and I’m not sure sorry — I’ll try to find out later when I’m at home. I would have guessed the latter, but then I doubt that all Korean police carried rulers around back then. If they did though, can you just imagine the constant “Is that a ruler Officer, or are you just happy to see me?”-type jokes? Hell, no wonder the police were so angry and brutal back then…


  4. The LTE ad immediately got its message across to me, as my phone is represented by the woman on the left and my husband’s is represented by the woman on the left. One of the first things to get my attention was the matching neckline. These gals may not be modeling the exact same wardrobe, but it’s certainly similar enough to immediately evoke comparison. It was a few minutes before I noticed that Ms. 모양’s cleavage had been entirely Photoshopped away, but long before that it was easy to see she was meant to appear inferior (variegated skin tone, casual and ill-fitting clothes, bulky slippers, unimaginitive updo, socially undervalued facial bone structure, scowl…)

    The implication is that though this girl may *want* to get all dressed up and party like a rockstar, she obviously doesn’t have what it takes, and neither does a 모양만LTE phone


    1. P.S. I don’t *mind* my phone in the least… It’s just that I’m aware of the difference between its performance and that of my husband’s “진짜LTE.”


      1. You meant your husband’s is represented by the woman on the right, yes?^^ But either way, thanks for the explanation. Perhaps ads about smartphones will be clearer to me once I finally get one myself!


  5. Actually, I was annoyed because I thought they should have used the same woman, dressed differently. (Ok, no, really, deep down I was fuming because it’s just another example of equating women with products and says that women who aren’t models and photoshopped within an inch of their lives are ugly and thus inferior.) But if we’re talking about the appearance of LTE vs the actual access to high speed, it would have been more visually consistent to have either two women dressed identically but with different physical forms OR two identical women mostly dressed the same, but one actually poorly equipped. The way it’s set up now, the message is very very muddled (and insulting) – but wouldn’t it have been more effective to have two identical models ready for an Olympic race, and one of them has been hobbled by wearing a set of stilettos?


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