Midway through the first episode of Squid Game, the Korean thriller that’s currently on track to become Netflix’s most-watched show ever, our protagonist gets plopped into a taffy-hued panopticon full of hundreds of other people wearing identical outfits: a deep teal striped tracksuit labeled with a participant number, from 001 to 456, and a pair of white slip-on sneakers. Soon, they’re joined by a much smaller crew of staff wearing fuschia, somehow-low-slung nylon jumpsuits, their faces obscured with game-controller-button masks. (Has Kanye seen these yet?)
Since its September 17 release, like any truly contemporary TV hit, thematic and visual elements from the show have steadily gone viral: DIY-or-else dalgona candy, a massive weaponized robot-doll, and, now, even the standard-issue normcore uniforms worn by the Game’s 456 crushingly in-debt “players” competing to the death (literally) to win a $38 million prize. According to data compiled by the retail aggregator Lyst, global searches for retro-inspired tracksuits (+97 percent), white slip-on sneakers (+145 percent), red boiler suits (+62 percent), white numbered T-shirts (+35 percent), and even the color teal (+130 percent) have all jumped since the show’s release. Vans were the most viewed slip-on sneakers on the internet over the past week. (Perhaps not expecting the show’s sudden popularity, Netflix neglected to include any uniform-adjacent pieces in its collection of official Squid Game merch.) In capital-F Fashion news, Louis Vuitton named one of the show’s breakout stars, Jung Ho-yeon, as its newest global brand ambassador yesterday. An established print and runway model, including at Vuitton, since being a runner-up on Korea’s Next Top Model in 2013, Jung makes her acting debut in *Squid Game—*and in the nearly three weeks since the show premiered, her Instagram follower count jumped from 410,000 to over 16 million.
The fashionification of a new hit streaming show isn’t anything new—we’ve seen this dynamic at play with shows as diverse as Stranger Things and Bridgerton. Halloween being a few weeks away is almost certainly a factor here, and let’s not forget the Sopranos tracksuit revival, still going strong. (The easy browser tab jump from streaming platform to online retailer makes this an even flatter feedback loop.) But there is something a little odd about a trend that stems from a show whose plot is so deeply dystopian—or, as with Squid Game, explicitly sending up the depravities of capitalism. I’m reminded of uncanny moments like Kylie Jenner’s Handmaid’s Tale-themed birthday party, or those few weeks when people got really into wearing tonal red-and-orange outfits like the real-life Rajneeshpuram cult members in the docuseries Wild Wild Country. But, then again, speaking of Kanye: in the era of fashiontainment, maybe trends that emerge from unsettling pop culture are the only trends that make sense anyways.