IN most parts of the world, princes wear crowns to denote their status as heir to the throne.
But in the secretive and eccentric state of North Korea, it seems to be more a case of "if the fur hat fits".
And it is the presumed successor to the ailing Kim Jong-il who is wearing it.
By such minuscule details do observers read the political tea leaves in Pyongyang, where Kim's designated successor, his portly youngest son Kim Jong-un, has suddenly begun stepping out in the same luxurious headgear as his father. According to North Korean defectors, until this month only the 'Dear Leader' was entitled to wear a particular brand of hand-crafted otter-fur hat -- with earflaps.
"It's an unwritten rule that nobody else can wear such a hat," a defector told a South Korean newspaper, after photographs emerged of Kim's 28-year-old son wearing his father's trademark hat on a trip to a Pyongyang art gallery.
"If Kim Jong-un is also wearing one, it means he has now reached almost the same status as his father," the defector added.
Jong-un, a Swiss-educated English speaker, has had a meteoric rise since September when he was made a four-star general and given senior posts in the upper echelons of the ruling communist party. (© Daily Telegraph, London)