By Frances Cha, (CNN) — Is South Korea’s government’s power-saving campaign, which has included drastic measures like turning off air conditioners at 19,000 public organizations, to blame for the rise of “refrigerator pants?”
Like much of East Asia, South Korea is enduring a massive heat wave — the country nearly had a blackout Monday with power demand reaching record heights — and South Koreans have been scrambling to keep cool as best they can.
Unlike, say, the past 20 fashion trends that all South Koreans embraced and discarded before anyone else knew they were a thing (neon skinny jeans, winged sneakers, lightning-bolt-shaped plastic earrings, platform Converses), the latest hottest fashion trend is based on the “cooling” functionality.
The result? Thin, light and wildly patterned “refrigerator pants,” which are what all the girls in Seoul and Busan are wearing this summer.
Made from wrinkle-free polyester fabrics, refrigerator pants are flying off the shelves at online and offline shopping malls as the heat surges on.
“We started seeing the trend last summer, and this summer, around 70% of our sales are coming from these refrigerator pants,” says Seung-won Lee, a representative for Coco Marlene, South Korea’s largest online pants and leggings store.
A third of the store’s sales, which Lee says total between $5-6 million each year, can be attributed to the refrigerator pants, which led to the store ranking number one on the shopping section of Naver, Korea’s largest online portal.
It continues to be one of the most searched fashion items on most portals.
Local newspaper JoongAng Daily reported sales of refrigerator pants jumped 95% on Auction, and sales of baggy pants in general jumped 57% on Gmarket (both major online shopping malls) in June compared to last summer.
“I started wearing them last summer and I have been this summer as well, and the reason I like them so much is because of the light fabric — you can still wear long pants in this heat,” says Suzy Kim, 30, who purchased hers at the Dongdaemun shopping district.
“They’re airy and don’t stick and I also like the comfortable elastic waist.”
Prices are cheap, starting around ₩5,000 ($4.50) for black and white pants and ranging from around ₩7,000 ($6) to ₩40,000 ($36) for more colorful (read: even more gaudy) versions.