20 Years Later, 'Kids' Proves Teens Dressed Better When They Didn't Give a Sh*t About Clothes

Two decades later, the youthful sartorial influence of Larry Clark's controversial 'Kids' reigns supreme.

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Complex Original

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There's a lot to unpack from Kids, the controversial coming-of-age that turns 20 today. The documentary-style film captured the mid-'90s debauchery and street style ennui of disenfranchised NYC youth, checking off landmarks of your typical Cool City Kid™: Washington Square Park, the club, and whatever lies behind the not-always closed doors of their "privacy:" where drug-addled, sexually curious teens got into the kind of things that would give any parent a heart attack. And they were the kinds of things that made viewers truly uncomfortable, even by its NC-17 standards: Its filmmakers were branded with child pornography accusations and the crew almost quit mid-filming due to a possible on-set weed smoking scene.

Much of its shock value came from the fact that its freshly post-pubescent actors were literally teenagers, not just twentysomethings playing teens. Self-proclaimed "virgin surgeon" Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) was 16, and his conquests were also around that age. Anyone with a vague sense of morality would agree—it's not an easy watch; those in the of-age circle would feel dirty in a different kind of way (cough, jailbait). 

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As simple and non-methodical as their clothes were, it's become a style to strive for, and yet difficult to emulate.

But Kids—despite and because of its naysayers—became a cult classic that launched the careers of several cast members (Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigny, Leo Fitzpatrick), while giving its screenwriter Harmony Korine (who was 19 when he wrote the script) a name and the 52-year-old photographer Larry Clark his directorial debut. Before Kids, most of the kids were nobodies. During Kids, these kids were essentially themselves. After Kids, they either became famous or went back to just being themselves.

Most of the roaming teens in the film were just skater kids that Harmony Korine had gotten to know from his frequent hangouts in the city. They weren't fashion icons, per se—at least not in the way burgeoning It Girl Chloe Sevigny was—but Kids is very much a fashion movie. Just ask the 2015 NYC teens who lined up around the block to cop an item from Supreme's Kids-inspired collection—many of whom didn't even see the film.

In an interview with Larry Clark, the director said Supreme was like the hangout headquarters for these kids in real life. And the film's stars wore what they actually wear on the regular. Their fashion sensibilities weren't clouded by what was en vogue, or what new trend piece dictated as "cool," or what looked good through an Instagram filter. There was no social media lens to steer their sartorial directions. They were living more in the moment than any of us ever will, and their clothes reflected their daily routine. Sometimes you needed an extra baggy pair of pants to hide a 40 in. Sometimes you said "fuck it" and went shirtless. 

"The thing I liked about it then?" Clark says in the interview. "It was so not commercial. It wasn't like certain kinds of clothes you had to wear; the whole thing was, 'What do I wear to skate?' You wear what you're comfortable in. Everybody dressed differently. There was no uniform. You didn't have to have these shoes or that shirt or nothing. Now you see kids dressed to the nines, with their skate clothes on. They never skated in their life! You know, it's just a look now."

Twenty years later, there's even more truth to what Larry Clark was talking about. Supreme's collection didn't attempt to mass produce the clothes the Kids stars wore. Instead, it was a rather boring and unimaginative collection of movie stills printed on T-shirts and hoodies (though the images look pretty cool on skate decks). The titular Kids dressed fashionably by accident; they dressed for comfort, without having terms like "normcore" or "health goth" hanging over their heads.

Even Chloe Sevigny, who, before Kids, was a trendsetting force of her own, became a cinematic fashion icon after her appearance in Kids. And she she dons nothing but a simple blue T-shirt and jeans. Not giving a shit looked great; not giving a shit made something worth giving a shit about. As simple and non-methodical as their clothes were, it's become a style to strive for, and yet difficult to emulate. 

What made the Kids' fashion so organic and cool was that they didn't think about who was looking at them on what social media. There was no selfie mentality, no hashtagabble sartorial agenda (sup #outfitgrid?), and no brands or labels to give digital props to. They put on whatever the fuck they wanted—and it looked fucking awesome.

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