For once, the hot Halloween costume of the year isn’t an improbably sexualized version of a beloved character who seemed impossible to sexualize, or a real-life person turned popular meme. This year, according to retailers and Google searches, the dominant costume choices come from Squid Game, the Korean battle royale series that’s become an international Netflix sensation.
It’s no wonder people are excited by the idea of Squid Game costumes: The show has become a dominant cultural juggernaut, frequently in the news and in constant social-media memes. The series is built around vivid color, including memorable and instantly recognizable costume designs. And the story dynamic instantly lends itself to group costumes, whether people want to dress up as blood-spattered contenders in the death games, the jumpsuited guards who shepherd them between competitions, or the fancy high-rollers who watch and bet on the outcome of the event.
For people concerned about COVID transmission at Halloween parties, parades, or other big gatherings, there’s even a noticeable bonus — the guards and high-rollers wear masks. So does the games’ mysterious Front Man, for those who’d rather go the solo costume route.
But anyone looking for a quick and easy option for Halloween should be careful about what they buy and where they buy it. The arrival of an immensely popular show just before Halloween has online retailers flocking to provide options for impulse purchase. But most of those options are going to disappoint shoppers, and many could leave them without costumes when the holiday rolls around.
Read the fine print on Amazon listings
A quick search for “Squid Game costume” on Amazon turns up hundreds of options — but virtually none of them are available through the site’s premium shipping service. A suspiciously high percentage of the listings are from brand-new suppliers based in and shipping from China. While it might seem fun to beat out the mobs of Squid Game soldier cosplayers by instead dressing up as the series’ creepy giant Red Light, Green Light robot girl, it’s important to check not just the proposed delivery date, but where the costume is actually shipping from. In the case of this particular costume, the “fastest delivery” option still might not arrive until Nov. 2. And a huge percentage of Amazon’s Squid Game costume listings show November or December arrival dates. Given the massive shipping delays currently affecting industries worldwide, the chance that a costume will successfully ship internationally to arrive by Halloween is low.
Even if it does, there are other important considerations. Clothing ordered from China tends to run very small by American or European standards, so even costumes listed as XL or XXL may not fit people expecting familiar sizing. Also, Squid Game only premiered worldwide in late September, so there hasn’t been much time for clothing and costume companies to put legitimate options together — even the kind of hilariously cheap knockoff costumes that turn up on social media sites every Halloween. Chinese manufacturers have been racing to meet the worldwide demand for Squid Game tie-ins. (Even though the show isn’t legally available in China!) But the quality of anything produced this quickly is likely to be low.
There’s also the high probability that many of these listings are outright scams. Most of them don’t have photos of the actual product — they’re either using PR stills from the series, or copy-pasting the text and the same few images from other listings. In some cases, the listings may have been hijacked by unscrupulous scammers. For instance, this listing for Squid Game tracksuits claims to be from a Michigan-based seller with a 100% review rating — but if you check the reviews, they’re for vitamin supplements, not clothing.
The fact that most of the listing companies are new and have no user ratings yet means you can’t count on any of them having successfully shipped product to anyone yet. A handful of the listings Polygon started tracking two weeks ago have already disappeared. So be warned that the company offering to sell you the impulse purchase you want today may be gone tomorrow.
Netflix isn’t playing the game
The problem isn’t limited to Amazon. A number of sites have sprung up purporting to be “official Squid Game” or “original Squid Game” shops. But these outlets notably lack any Netflix-related branding or integration, which suggests they’re pirate sites selling knockoff merchandise — if they’re delivering merchandise at all. They have the same problems as the vendors operating through Amazon — few if any pictures of the actual products, unlikely turnaround promises, delivery dates that often fall after Halloween.
On Oct. 11, Walmart announced a massive new online purchasing hub to sell Netflix-affiliated products, including licensed merchandise for The Witcher and Stranger Things, as well as Squid Game. But while a perusal of Walmart’s Squid Game merch does include some fun stuff — like a pretty cute knockoff Squid Game Lego-people-style playset and an array of Squid Game plushies — the costumes have the same problem as the ones on Amazon. Watch out for costume offers that only use photos from the show, products where the “arrives by” arrival date is after Halloween (sometimes four months after Halloween!), and non-returnable costumes. A lot of these options look legitimate and sanctioned, until you start looking at the details — or until the host sites abruptly yank the listings.
That happened with one Walmart listing for pet Squid Game costumes. These costumes were originally posted on Etsy, and the listing there has been duplicated many times over. One retailer put the same images up at Walmart for a few days before the listing was removed. Again, before punching that “buy” button, it’s worth checking the listing history and ratings — and with something unique, Googling it to see where else it’s turned up.
In fact, there are only a few listings out there that don’t feel like a guess and a gamble. One seller is offering Front Man or soldier masks through Amazon Prime, listed as in-stock and available for delivery by Oct. 27 at the latest. Another seller is offering “premium T-shirt” options, which feature the competitor numbers of series protagonist Seong Gi-hun, first player Oh Il-nam, or Gi-hun’s old friend and bitter rival Cho Sang-woo. Those shirts are listed as official Squid Game tie-in merch, but they aren’t much of a costume on their own, unless you’re going for the low-key “suggestion of a costume without getting crazy about it” look. But add the masks to the right color of pink or black hoodie, and people will at least know what you’re going for.
Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can always spin the roulette wheel on the many, many other listings out there. Certainly there are a lot of eager sellers out there with actual product on the shelves, waiting to take advantage of the intense temporary demand. Just remember, much as with the squid game itself, it pays to know up front what the risks are, and what games everyone else is playing.