Why the Hell Did We Ever Wear JNCO Jeans?

One man tries to fathom why these were ever a thing.

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Complex Original

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We are all trapped in the Internet nostalgia machine. These days, so much time, energy, and blog space is spent excavating every piece of pop culture from the '90s, bronzing it, and placing it on the pop culture mantle piece. We spend more time reveling in having been '90s kids than we do figuring out how to be 2010s adults. 

The distortion of our collective cultural memory has made Full House  into a brilliant comic exploration of the family dynamic and Saved By The Bell  into high melodrama. We will not rest until every band from our youth has been trotted out at a major music festival to play a balding, graying, paunchy reunion show. Never mind that we didn't actually care for them that much the first time around.

There are some relics of the past the even the amber glow of nostalgia can't rescue. Nowhere is this more true than in the fashion world. Watching an old movie or listening to an old song is a private experience that we can pause at any point or label ironic as we see fit. To put on last decade's clothes and walk around in the daylight takes courage the majority of us lack. Expressing yourself is tough enough. Doing it for public consumption? Even harder.

Fashion is like home: you can never really go back again. This may be why the trends of the past look so ridiculous today.  A lace cravat would be tough to pull off in 2014, let alone powdered wigs. Though many style trends have come and gone, one in particular stands out as the absolute low point in the style history of man; the nadir of fashion for the human race. We speak, of course, of JNCO Jeans.

It is often said that if we don't learn from the mistakes of our past we are doomed to repeat them. This makes it extremely important to look back and seek answers. Today, we convene a truth and reconciliation commission for JNCO Jeans. 

Don't laugh; this is an important issue to tackle, if only so our children may never have to suffer the indignity posing for seventh grade school pictures while wearing jeans larger than their entire body. We must shine a light on the dark crevices between our gangly childhood legs and our JNCOs so that our children can live in a world where they know they will never wear pants the size of tent.

So, in the human quest for constant progress and knowledge, we must ask: why the hell did we ever wear JNCO jeans?

Let's explore the possible answers.


They Looked Good: Of course this isn't the reason we wore JNCOs. There are many different kinds of sexy, but turning your legs into amorphous denim tubes isn't going to get you a step closer to any of them. No lovely young ladies ever turned their head from their locker, looked at you with lustful hunger and thought, "I see his beauty in a new light" just because you were in billowing JNCOs.

As we've learned from Law & Order marathons, if you rule out the obviously wrong answers first, then you come that much closer to finding a real culprit. We can all agree that JNCOs did not look good and move on.

Verdict: No


Workout and Physical Benefits:  The early 21st century has seen the triumph of function over form when it comes to fashion. The dumbest looking styles have become acceptable in these streets thanks to how they assist the workouts we aren't actually doing. Everyone who puts on a pair of Vibrams looks like a dick, but they look like a dick who is prepared to run like a caveman or smething. JNCOs offer no such fitness benefits, real or imagined. The only thing JNCOs make you better at is getting stuck in an escalator at the mall. And though extracting yourself from an escalator would definitely be a great workout, their are probably less dangerous ways to shed those calories. 

Verdict: Nope


Comfort: Innumerable style sins have been committed in the name of comfort. It is possible more crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of coziness than in the name of following orders from lunatics. Need a flagrantly offensive example? Grown men are going around wearing Crocs in public.


Some women believe velour track suits to be acceptable attire for social engagements.


But, JNCO Jeans weren't even particularly comfortable. They combined the harsh feeling of denim against your body with the ease of motion of a Victorian gown. You couldn't work in them. You couldn't play in them. You certainly weren't getting laid in them. All you could do while wearing JNCOs was play Playstation, watch anime, drink Surge, and wonder why girls weren't talking to you. 

In short, JNCO Jeans were built for neither comfort nor speed.

Verdict: Keep trying


Madison Avenue: For the conspiracy theorists among us it is certainly tempting to believe that JNCOs were some nefarious plot perpetrated on America's youth by the corporate fashion Illuminati. No matter how much it might feel like capitalist puppet master overlords were pulling the strings behind youth culture, we have no one to blame but ourselves. JNCO had humble beginnings like most fashion fads, rising out of California in the late '80s. It wasn't until well after skater and raver subcultures adopted JNCO Jeans that JC Pennys, Pacific Sunwear, and Kohl's decided to carry JNCOs.

Large corporations only care about the bottom line. Sometimes the slavish pursuit of the almighty dollar yields beautiful results. Over the last few years it has become acceptable for women to wear yoga pants instead of pants. Corporations helped make that happen. Sometimes, the ruthless nature of capitalism leads to unspeakable evil. Yes, the Revah brothers brought us JNCOs, but corporations are responsible for spreading the plague across the land.

Verdict: Nah


Politics: Terrible fashion trends are sometimes political in origin. During the Vietnam era, young men and women took to wearing frumpy army jackets. Today's Occupiers can't go anywhere without their stupid Guy Fawkes masks. (V for Vendetta wasn't even that good. Y'all need a new shtick.) These and pretty much every other collision of style and politics has gone terribly. The only tried and true political fashion statement is nudity. Since the days of Lady Godiva, getting naked for a good cause has been a solid call. Whether it's for fur or feminism, nudity is always a first-class fashion move as well as a surefire way to attract attention to your cause.

Sadly, we can't say that JNCOs were worn for a good cause. The '90s were a time of relative prosperity. And if we know one thing about Americans it's that we don't like being politically active when things are good. No, JNCO jeans were never the uniform of disaffected youth. JNCOs were embraced by restless kids who walked around town sneering at nothing in particular, uncomfortable with their suburban comforts, bored by the boring life their parents worked so hard to provide. Ben Folds sang about them in "Rockin' the Suburbs." The Offspring sang to them with "Pretty Fly For A White Guy." They say that war makes a generation grow up fast. JNCOs were perfect for a generation that grew up slowly, a generation the understood war as a distant thing that happens in countries you can't pronounce and happen live on TV. It was fitting in a way, perhaps the only time the word "fit" came into play with JNCOs. No matter what ravages puberty threw at a teenager in the '90s, in their JNCOs they would always look like a child.

Verdict: Not at all

You can look at JNCOs from every saggy denim angle, and still come away with more questions than answers. Why did we wear JNCO jeans? Even we don't know.

If you could take a time machine back to 1998 and ask a sullen teen why he is wearing those baggy pants, he probably couldn't even tell you. Oddly, this is what makes JNCO Jeans endure. The most terrible style missteps—leisure suits, leg warmers, JNCOs and the rest—stick with us more deeply than an era's style successes.

For decades after a terrible trend, we try to figure out what the fuck we were thinking. Future generations happen upon yearbooks and aging photos kept in shoe boxes and become transfixed on the fashion sins of the father. Just as we look at yellowed pictures of our ancestors and wonder why they wore that monocle when they could have worn glasses, our descendants will happen upon faded pictures of us in JNCOs and wonder why we didn't wear slimmer pants. 

JNCOs are destined to remain in the cultural consciousness as an unanswered question, an enigma wrapped in a mystery covered by an endless expanse of denim stitched with a Flamehead logo.

Why did we wear JNCO Jeans? No one knows. And this is why, though we have faint memories of No Fear T-shirts, Skechers, and Starter Jackets, JNCO Jeans endure.

Brenden Gallagher believes the wider the pant leg the bigger the soul. Reach out to him with jean related observations @muddycreekU.

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