[FOUNTAIN]Dressing downOn Oct. 23, 1991, when Kim Young-sam, later to become President, was the chairman of the Democratic Liberal Party, President Roh Tae-woo hosted a dinner at the Blue House in honor of the president of Mongolia, Ponsalmaagiyn Ochirbat. Political leaders from both sides of the aisle were invited, including Mr. Kim.
Mr. Kim’s assistant, Kim Ki-soo, who was handling the future president’s schedule, assumed that the dress code would be formal; the occasion was a meeting of two national leaders. But what Mr. Kim, the assistant, did not realize at the time was that people do not wear tuxedos in socialist countries. Mr. Kim appeared at the dinner in a tuxedo only to find that everyone else was in business attire.
As Mr. Kim stood there flustered, the Blue House chief of protocol, Lee Byung-kee, approached to soothe him, saying it would have been a breach of etiquette if he had appeared in attire a step below the dress code, but no harm was done since he had done more than was required. But Mr. Kim went through the evening feeling like a sore thumb. It was no doubt a bitter experience for him. In the car on the way home, he let his assistant have it. “Why don’t you go over to the Han River and drown yourself,” he growled. That is a story that gets retold every time there is talk of appropriate dress code in the political community.
The origin of the tuxedo, which is an Indian name meaning “place of bears,” is said to be from the Tuxedo Club of New York. On Oct. 10, 1886, the account goes, Griswold Lorillard went to a ball at the club wearing that attire. The British have their own version of the origin of the outfit; they say the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was the first to wear it in the simmering heat in India.
Tuxedos appear to be fading as formal attire, because men tend to prefer a business suit for most occasions. When Representative Rhyu Simin on Tuesday showed up tieless at his swearing-in at the National Assembly, he may have been pushing it too far. The National Assembly Act says the ceremony is an oath to the people; it is performed in front of fellow lawmakers, but is intended for the entire nation. It should be a dignified moment, and Mr. Rhyu could have been a little more thoughtful.
Casual dress may be more common now, but as we learn more about the background of the incident ― that it may have been a calculated show ― the incident leaves a bitter aftertaste.
by Noh Jae-hyun
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.