The title should be self explanatory.
This post will be a comparison with some brief and limited historical background and a review of North Korea's standard issue "Commissioned Officer" visor cap.
Let's break down what we see here. As someone who has a larger wealth of knowledge about Soviet visor caps than North Korean ones before starting their collection, I'll be handling this as a Soviet comparison.
Features in comparison to Soviet caps:
The crown (everything above the headband) is proportionally much larger to the visor itself. The curvature is reminiscent of communist Bulgarian visor cap crown curvature (in that it leads the top of the hat into an inward facing peak, rather than an outward facing peak like in Soviet and modern Russian caps) but I would wager the size of the crown alone is enough to dwarf a communist Bulgarian visor cap's crown.
Crown support is much softer than in comparison to Soviet crowns. Soviet crowns have two main sources of support, some hard material in the front and a metal and/or plastic ring holding the circular shape of the top of the crown. North Korean crowns have three sources of support with the third being necessary to maintain the classic "bowl" shape. Soviet crowns in general are stiffer and much harder to shape due to the rigid material keeping the front of the crown itself always upright, almost always minimally curved upwards and almost always consistently pointed outwards. North Korean crowns only have one internal "rigid" support and the rest is the ring that maintains the circular shape of the top of the hat and the synthetic fluff that keeps the hat itself in a constantly "inflated" and "engorged" aesthetic.
Abandonment of brass buttons and cockade. It is understood from my research that in the 1950's, most standard issue visor caps had cockades (insignia on the cap itself) made from brass and enamel. At some point in the DPRK's history, the cockade was replaced by a slightly simplified design (which made its transition into plastic easier to make in terms of molding) and the material was changed to plastic.
I do not have enough knowledge to confirm if the buttons were also replaced by plastic or if they were plastic to begin with. The metallic paint on the plastic in modern DPRK visor caps is brittle and not scratch resistant. In an effort to clean my cap's cockade of a spot where the white fake "enamel" paint splattered in a circle on the bottom of the emblem, I ended up with a scratch through the paint without almost any effort put into the motion itself.
To top this all off, the cockade itself has almost arbitrary placement due to the fact the there are no more brass bendable prongs for the cockade to attach to the cap. The North Koreans have solved this issue by making a ring in the back of the cockade and looping a thick thread through it to sew it into the cap. This makes changing the cockade out much harder (for potential restoration purposes in the future) and it makes the cockade's placement vary from cap to cap. Yet, it also serves as an advantage to the collector when claiming authenticity, as the cockade is sewn into the hat before the hat lining is sewn in to cover the normally exposed ends of the thick thread connecting the cockade to the hat itself.
Stitching patterns are vastly different. As stated previously, the hat lining covers the normally exposed ends of the thread connecting the cockade. This means that the stitching pattern is different to Soviet caps. As soon as you take a closer look at the headband, you will see no lower stitching that would normally connect the sweatband through the full width of the paper stock forming the headband. The sweatband is in fact directly stitched onto the part of the synthetic fabric that is folded into the inside of the hat, which you can see in picture 2. This also means the order in which the hat is assembled is different and is why the W stitching on the inside of the hat, connecting the faux silk lining to the folded fabric, is needed. There would just be no way of machine stitching the lining to the paper board without changing the order in which the pieces of the hat were assembled, effectively forcing a change in the stitching pattern.
As a side note, it seems like sizing stamps (ink or paint that tells the size of the cap) that are found in Soviet caps, aren't found in modern DPRK ones. So if you see no sizing stamp or markings on the heart shaped maker's label, this is entirely fine and in fact is expected.
Cheap, smooth synthetic material instead of leather/faux leather sweatbands/similar materials. As seen in picture 2, the sweatband normally made from some sort of leather, faux leather or similar material has been replaced with a cheap, smooth and plastic feeling fabric. As a result of this, it does a worse job at actually providing water protection and most of the sweat gets absorbed by the material covering the hat.
Synthetic fabric (likely polyester) in favor against worsted wool gabardine. I have heard (and my Soviet hat seems to confirm this, but I'll need to verify with an actual fabric expert) that Soviet hats and often the Soviet affiliated states used worsted wool based gabardine for the tough fabric that covered standard issue visor caps. The new synthetic fiber (which a friend has said resembles ribbed polyester) that the DPRK uses for their hats seems to be far more flexible and thinner.
Synthetic faux silk in favor of other fabrics for lining. Is this a downside? I'm not sure. It depends on how long this synthetic faux silk is going to last. The lining is rightfully smooth, partly because a rougher fabric wouldn't feel as comfortable when it is holding back a bunch of synthetic fluff that helps support the structure of the entire hat. My faux silk lining came with a repeated logo bearing a Chinese fabric company, but this makes sense considering that the DPRK needs cheap imports and throwaway fabric may be one of those imports.
What this hat lacks in quality (plastic buttons and W stitches in the internal assembly) it more than makes up for in comfort. Soviet caps always have a problem (due to not having a third material to structurally support the caps) of the sides of the top of the headband compressing into the center of the cap itself, causing where the crown connects to the headband to press on the head. This effectively made wearing size 59 cm hats feasible for size 58 cm heads, and made it tough to wear size 58 cm hats for size 58 cm heads.
North Korean visor caps do not suffer from this issue. The synthetic fluff inside the hat (that thankfully is concealed by the faux silk lining) adds extra support to the fabric the hat uses and takes off the pressure of using a much stiffer fabric in conjunction with using a less rigid material to support the crown's shape. This fluff also offers lots of insulation and therefore makes this a particularly all-autumn/early-winter friendly hat to wear.
Sure it would be nice to change out the plastic cockade for a reproduction brass one that I bought, but it would most certainly ruin the authenticity of the piece, so that's a bit of a double edged sword.
In conclusion, when in comparison to other post Soviet states' headgear, the DPRK has definitely focused more on the showmanship and comfort of their military caps rather than quality or structurally strong stitching.
The Bottom Line for the Collector:
I bought this off a certain popular online bidding site as a "buy it now" item. The seller is helping North Korean families that need money and food by being a part of a network that lets them sell their militaria for hard currency. I deeply appreciate these sellers for participating in this network, as the currency these people are getting, goes to people that really need the money. You may be in a similar business situation with a seller in this network, so I hope this helps.
Be wary of reproductions. With the way the DPRK has cut corners on their visor caps, it's easy to think an authentic piece is a replica or reproduction. There are some telltale signs for the visor cap's authenticity (that I've made from my own conclusions with this and other verified authentic items) that I believe you should look out for.
1. Stitching: Check out the stitching section of this post to see what you should be looking for in an authentic modern cap. I cannot speak for historical/vintage caps.
2. Cockade Materials: If it's made from aged brass, it is most likely an older DPRK cap, given that everything else also checks out. If it is a new looking brass cockade, it is likely a reproduction.
3. Maker's Label: Most modern DPRK visor caps do not have maker's labels that are marked. A bunch of post 1980's Soviet caps didn't have any markings on their maker's labels which is a parallel to the current situation with modern DPRK visor caps, so it's perfectly fine. A Japanese company is currently making replicas with marked linings, so if your cap has a mark on it which looks like a manufacturer's stamp, it's likely a Japanese replica.
4. Faux Silk Lining: Do not freak out if the lining to your cap has Chinese companies' logos on them. This does not make it a replica or reproduction, I have seen this on verified authentic caps ranging from items on enemy militaria to other verified sellers.
That's about it for authenticity checks, let's move on to caring for your visor cap:
1. Please Care of it: A bunch of Soviet caps were really meant to take a beating and be tossed around. North Korea's caps seem to be more about being worn in a very tightly regulated and controlled manner for the sake of professionalism and showmanship. They are not meant to take beatings nor are they meant to be tossed around. Please treat these as if they were delicate performance pieces.
2. Storage should be upside down or off a rack, not right side up on a table: when you store any visor cap for a long time in a right side up manner on a flat surface, the force of gravity eventually weakens the stitching connecting the visor to the headband. This is pretty much the same guideline undertheredstar recommends for storing your visor caps.
3. Be mindful of the conditions in which you are wearing it: Due to the cheapness of the sweat band, it's recommended that you do not wear it for long periods under persistent exercise or warmth as sweat from your head can quickly accumulate on the fabric of the hat itself instead of just staying on the sweatband. I don't know what prolonged periods of being soaked in sweat can do to the fabric, but it's probably not good.
And that does it. I could have posted this on a private blog or something, but I feel like the people that are on here will find this info much more accessible and useful on this forum. I'll be posting further topics on my collection of DPRK awards, medals, orders and uniforms in an effort to educate future DPRK militaria enthusiasts on the current North Korean militaria market.
Thanks for reading, please share your thoughts if you have the time!