So consider, for a moment, that look. Like Netflix’s other widely watched (and merched) series, Squid Game offers a quick-hit of endorphin-spiking escapism framed in such luscious imagery it imprints almost immediately on the retinas.
The complex where the games take place is saturated in the candy colours of childhood, with sets that resemble playgrounds and giant plastic castles. Dead players are carted off in black coffins tied with giant rosy bows. And the Play-Doh green vs. pink uniforms of the two primary social groups have the absolute clarity of us versus them.
For much of the series the only character that stands out from either group is the Front Man — the organiser — who wears a gunmetal grey, exactingly tailored coat and trousers with a hood (rather than any old hoodie) and a sculpted face mask that makes him look like a sort of corporate Darth Vader. Which, given that the show is about economic disparity, makes a lot of sense.
It also highlights the way the clothes play with old notions of class structure, and who wears what, heroising the least fancy garments on screen and turning the ornate brocade bathrobes of the rich voyeurs who come to revel in the desperation of the game players into shorthand for decadence and moral bankruptcy.
After all — who can’t relate to a tracksuit? Not just because they wore one once upon a time (anyone who was on a school sports team probably did; ditto anyone who had a moment with Juicy Couture), but because of what has happened over the last year.
Tracksuits have become almost a universal reference point after months of isolation. So have slip-on shoes. By opting for the costumes of the everyday, Squid Game upped the shock value and humanised it at the same time.
It is why, even as the final three players change into black tie for a last meal — and later, the winner dons a nicely tailored blue suit — the teal uniform of the games remain seared in our memory. They’ve gone beyond basic.
It is proof positive, if any were needed, that our changed viewing habits are likewise altering not just what we watch and how, but what we wear. A new Louis Vuitton tracksuit is really not that hard to imagine. (Balenciaga and Celine already have their own.)
Call it the trickle-pixel theory: Mass media consumption begets mass outfit obsession. In the cutthroat game of fashion, it’s increasingly a way to win.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times
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