Essays

Heart-Shaped Box: JNCO Jeans

The ‘90’s were a goldmine of great fashion for a teenage girl. I remember so many rainy Saturdays stretched out on my bedroom floor, circling things in my Delia’s catalog that I wanted to wear: slip dresses, baby tees, slip dresses over baby tees, chunky boots, butterfly clips, tiny backpacks, or anything in Cher Horowitz’s closet.

I would bring the catalog, thoroughly indexed, to my mother with the direction of, anything here, please and she would thumb through it with a cynical eyebrow raised.

“These clothes are ridiculous,” she said. “All of these models are showing off their navels.”

“So?” I retorted. “What’s wrong with that?”

“That’s inappropriate.”

Now, I knew my mother was a child of the 60’s and 70’s who rebelled against her parents by showing off her navel. She told me about this, as did my grandparents. It struck me as parental hypocrisy to suddenly have reservations about me wanting to show a slight hint of skin between my waistband and shirt. Of course, a whiny argument ensued and I wound up getting none of the Delia’s clothes I wanted.

Sigh.


But the ’90’s were also a treasure trove of fashion disasters that I have to mention as well.  

Ladies and gentlemen: JNCO jeans.

From the WayBack Machine

JNCO (which stood for Judge None, Choose One) jeans were famous for one thing – being extra wide-leg. The largest pant circumference was about 50″ if I can recall. And while I don’t remember seeing anyone in school with JNCOs that size, I do remember seeing JNCOs first appear on boy’s legs in 8th grade. One boy coupled his JNCO jeans with an over-sized Marilyn Manson T-shirt while carrying around a skateboard that he never rode. My initial reaction was, Those are ridiculous. How does he not trip on those pants? Oh my God boys are so dumb.

That opinion changed when I saw my best friend, a girl, wearing a pair.

“They’re at J.C. Penney,” she explained one night at my house. “My mom bought them for me.” Her mother was far more permissive than mine, buying her JNCO jeans and slip dresses out of the Delia’s catalog. Her mother also bought us Sour Apple Pucker and Zima to drink because well, you girls are going to be curious any way and I’d rather you drank the light stuff here where you’re safe. You know – a cool mom. God bless her. “Wanna try them on?”

My friend and I were about the same size. Hesitantly, I squeezed into her pair of wide-legged JNCO jeans and…immediately fell blind to the ridiculousness of how I looked. I needed a pair of these pants like Patrick Bateman needed the latest Huey Lewis. For good measure, I also smeared on some of my friend’s Revlon Coffee Bean lipstick, hoping somehow I’d capture the essence of a ’90’s “it” girl, and strutted into the kitchen to show my mother.

She looked up from her Stephen King novel and blinked. “Oh dear Lord,” she exclaimed. “What are you wearing?”

“These are JNCO jeans,” I told her, giving a twirl to show off the float and flair. “Can I get a pair, too?”

My mom creased her brow. “They look –” she cut herself off when she saw my best friend enter the room, “–interesting.” She squinted when she caught sight of my lipstick. “Is that a new lip color?”

“Coffee Bean.”

She didn’t mince words: “It’s too dark on you.”

Ouch. No You look pretty, sweetheart. No Let me take a picture of you! Just a point blank, you are wearing a lip color that makes you look like you were upstairs eating your friend’s ass. Go wash your face. (Ok, maybe that was a bit harsh, but that’s what my 14-year-old ears heard because I took everything way too personally.)

But shhh! my mom was right. Some redheads can get away with soft brown lipstick. Unfortunately, I’m a warm spring and soft browns make me look like a sad, shit-smeared puppy-dog caught in a storm drain waiting for its owner who abandoned it to come rescue it. Coffee bean looks terrible on me.

“What about the jeans?” I demanded. My mom didn’t have the gall to insult me in my friend’s pants in front of her, did she?

“We’ll see next time we go to the store,” Mom promised absently, returning to her book and waving us off. “Now, go play.”

I would hold her to that. A few weeks later, we would find ourselves in Penney’s for an unrelated reason, and I remembered her solemn vow to me about the JNCO jeans. I took her hand and pulled her to the clothing department, where we found the JNCO display. Triumphant, I squeezed my way through the crowds of other greedy teenagers and their nonplussed parents, plucked a pair in my size from the piles, and held it out for my mom to examine.

When she saw the price tag, she blanched. “This is too expensive.”

“What? No! Mom!” I stamped my foot, because nothing says mature teenager like throwing a tantrum in a department store over pants your parents buy for you. “You promised!”

“I didn’t promise anything. And honey, these pants look ridiculous.” Horrifying me, she held up the pair I selected and spread one pant leg out to emphasize its width. “How can anyone walk in this? You’re already so petite and–“

MOM!” My humiliation couldn’t be worse. People were staring! “These are the style! Everyone is wearing them!”

“And one day they’ll look back and say, ‘What was I thinking? Those pants were absurd.'” She folded the pants and put them back on the display. “You’ll thank me one day. That I know.”

I said nothing. My face was on fire. I looked at my feet.

“Come on. Let’s go find you some acceptable clothes.”


I’m not going to make friends here, but I don’t think anyone looks good in JNCO jeans. I didn’t at age 14, I wouldn’t now. When I saw my classmates walking around in them and reacted in disgust, that’s pretty much my reaction now. Is this a rebellion? If so, against what? It wasn’t as if ’90’s fashion had been skinny, tight, and restrictive up until JNCO came along to end it all.

But fashion trends are always on a cycle and these wide-legged monstrosities are no exception. After nearly 20 years, JNCO jeans came back last year because we live in hell. You can purchase a pair if you want don’t agree with me or want to see for yourself.

In conclusion,: my mother was right. Those jeans were ridiculous. Even though it pains me to admit it, I was better off without a pair. I shudder to think of how I would have come off, swishing down the hallways of my middle school, trying not to fall over as my peers gaped and whispered. Oh, the lengths we go to fit in. So yes, Mom, you were right about the damn jeans, ok? You were also right about the Coffee Bean lipstick.

You weren’t right about the Delia’s clothing, though. I’d wear the hell out of all those those today.

Author & Bi-Feminist-Killjoy. Occasionally has something interesting to say. The importance is debatable. Your mileage may vary. Books: "Icarus" and "A Bitter Spring"