Gotta wear 'em all: How Gucci ended up in Pokémon GO
The new Pokémon Scarlet and Violet may have bugs and frustrating gameplay, but at least they've got some hip outfits.
And much like the many other titles in the pantheon of Pokémon games, their wardrobe is unique, sporting clothes you can't even get in Pokémon GO.
That game — which we're all still playing, by the way — showcases the many ways Pokémon embraced the fashion industry. The style of both digital and real Pokémon clothing ooze with all the charm and swag of the 1990s that birthed the franchise. Baggy jeans, oversized jackets and hoodies, bedazzled graphic tees.
Pokémon's influence on streetwear culture, and the way the culture returns the favor, has cultivated a space of intense cool. I wish I could wear everything my trainer gets to put on.
Catching Pokémon and looking good doing it
Cosmetic items in Pokémon games have transformed since they were first introduced to players in Pokémon X and Y in 2013.
In much the same way, The Pokémon Company itself has expanded its reach into the fashion world over the last decade. Plenty of collaborations have cropped up featuring Pikachu, Charizard, and even Gengar emblazoned across suit jackets that I still need in my closet.
In-game events have also made the rounds — in 2021, Pokémon GO featured a campaign with North Face and Gucci, and the collection was an instant hit.
My trainer was immediately dripped out in a bucket hat, embellished backpack, and classic t-shirt that I couldn't afford in real life if I wanted to.
Pokémon streetwear makes playing their games an exercise in envy, where some outfits are available to avatars that would be prohibitively expensive in the reality. Earlier this year, Pokémon UNITE collaborated with French luxury fashion brand Balmain to bring some of the coldest looking jackets to the digital space.
Instead of spending $1,200 on a denim jacket from Balmain's Pokémon collection, I could sign into Pokémon UNITE throughout the week for free, unlock the jacket in-game, and still look good in the virtual world.
Luxury clothes for your real wardrobe
The impact of the original animated series of the 90s also led to an influx of Pokémon clothing that evolved over years, and that went from Walmart and Target isles to websites like Uniqlo, Hot Topic, and Levi's.
Clothing that was once reserved for expos and conventions has been thrust from the corners of subculture, with tasteful dresses and overalls made featuring Bulbasaur and Eevee's different evolutions.
In 2018, celebrated Japanese streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara teamed up with The Pokémon Company on the Thunderbolt Project, a collection of clothing and goodies inspired by the legendary brand that's still ongoing. Most of the items from the collaboration remain highly coveted, with some t-shirts going for as high as $400 resale. Even the limited edition Nintendo Switch that came from the collaboration has skyrocketed in value.
Fans have also gotten into the mix. Artist and designer GrimeCraft worked on a 2019 project with a friend where they made streetwear inspired by the different Pokémon in Pokémon GO, and they used the game's AR features to take photos standing next to each character. The results showcased a culturally rich combination of two worlds that share so much in common.
2022 fashion highs and lows
The games continue to showcase outfits that could easily be seen in photoshoots today. When Pokémon Sword and Shield released in 2019, players were blown away by the sheer amount of customization options available. Ripped jeans, striped sweatshirts, loose tops, knit tees, studded pants, and plaid slacks ushered in a bevy of new ways to express yourself through in-game fashion.
2022's Pokémon Legends: Arceus also featured clothing items inspired by new and old regions of the Pokémon world. The game even had a little decorated set where you can take photos of your trainer alongside the various Pocket Monsters in your party.
The influence of Pokémon fashion in virtual and actual spaces highlights how digital media impacts our culture. What used to be a simple Pikachu shirt worn mostly by teens has transformed into a denim jacket featured on the home page of Levi's, or a high fashion outfit spotted on a runway.
Unfortunately, the latest titles in the Pokemon franchise walked things back. Unlike their predecessors, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet do not offer customization options to the player's outfit outside of hats, glasses, and a few other accessories.
Your character is forever stuck in a seasonal version of the Academy uniform associated with your game. Additionally, clothing items are split across separate stores that span Paldea instead of together in one storefront, making for a frustrating experience.
But while Scarlet and Violet fall short in the fashion department, the other games — including the still-popular Pokemon GO — give you free rein.
And if you're not satisfied with a stylish Pokemon trainer in the games, The Pokémon Company offers plenty of high fashions for your real-world wardrobe as well, as long as you've got the Pokédollars.
Jamal Michel is a freelance writer whose work focuses on video game culture, entertainment and the stories in between them. He is currently a member of the Life Kit and It's Been a Minute teams.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.