I went to a private high school that was affiliated with the Catholic Church. And since the lord, or whatever, would want us looking our best1, or at the very least, our most demure, the school had a rather strict dress code. Though, as an adult, I realize that the expression ‘dress code’ is maybe a little too generous. That implies there was a small amount of freedom with what you could wear, as long as it fell in line with said dress code.
This was not really the case.
By my final two years in high school, what we really had were uniforms—navy blue shirts with a collar (most commonly polo shirts) and khaki pants. That was it. That was all you could wear.2
Since this was so unflattering, soul crushing, and uncool, for a number of years after the fact, I couldn’t even look at a pair of khaki pants, let alone wear them. Even now, despite owning one pair, I am still ever so slightly adverse to them.
Because I had to wear literally the same thing five days a week, my mother was usually hesitant to spend a lot of money on clothing I would only use on the weekends, or in the afternoon if I changed once I got home from school.
This is probably the main reason why I never got a pair of JNCO Jeans.
* * *
Recently, I learned that JNCO actually stood for something—Judge None, Choose One—which seems pretty dramatic and heavy handed for a company that makes ridiculously oversized and marginally expensive pairs of jeans.
According to the ‘about us’ section on their website3, JNCO is the ‘originator of rebellious skate and streetwear apparel.’ Founded in 1985, the jeans—specifically the baggy and oversized designs, caught on a little over a decade later, when they started to pop up in ‘of the times’ mall stores like Gadzooks and Hot Topic, as well as Middle America department stores like JC Penny.
I grew up in a relatively rural town in the Northwestern part of Illinois. Roughly an hour or so from the nearest mall, our cramped, poorly lit, and always dumpy JC Penny is where I saw, and regularly lusted after JNCO Jeans, as I walked the narrow paths of the men’s department.
I don’t recall which styles of JNCOs the JC Penny in Freeport, Illinois sold—there were, and still are so many, each unique to one another with specific distinctions, though all clearly from the same brand.
Current offerings4 include the ‘Bulldog,’ noted for its preposterously oversized back pockets—the same goes for the ‘Kangaroo’; the ‘Twin Cannon’ and ‘Jester’ offer a slightly different cut, as well as more conservative back pocket sizes.
But what if denim is not your thing?
Thankfully, JNCO’s got you covered—literally and figuratively; the ‘Mammoth’ twill khakis, ‘Indicator’ cargo pants, and the ‘Stinger’ corduroys are also among the denim alternatives offered.
Each pair boasts what sets JNCO apart from other styles and brands of jeans—the size of the leg opening.
Some of them are slightly more modest than others. The ‘Indicator,’ and ‘Stinger,’ for example, both feature paltry 23” leg openings. However, the ‘Kangaroo’ and ‘Bulldog’ jeans boast the whopping 32” leg openings.
Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?
The leg opening of these pants is THIRTY-TWO FUCKING INCHES.
THAT IS PRACTICALLY THE SIZE OF MY WAIST. THAT IS THE WIDTH OF ME AT THE BOTTOM OF A PAIR OF PANTS.
It’s just so much fabric. Who needs that much fabric?
Why did I want these baggy, oversized pants as a teenager?
And more importantly, why are they still something that I kind of still want today, in my mid-30s?
* * *
The mid-1990s were a time of baggy clothing, and it was in eighth grade that I probably started to appropriate the skateboarder aesthetic5 into my wardrobe when I could. The gateway was through a pair of baggy Levis Silver Tab jeans I was given for Christmas, along with my first chain wallet.6
Shortly after that came the incredibly long and extremely baggy corduroy shorts—so long, and covering so very much of my legs that, because I was extraordinarily fashionable between the ages of 13 and 14, I could comfortably wear them during the wintertime.
Maybe as a consolation to the JNCOs I so desired but was unable to obtain, I do remember having two pair of very baggy and somewhat large corduroy pants—one khaki and one black, and the leg openings never stood a chance.
I specifically recall wearing them during the winter of my first year in high school, the cuffs were perpetually soaked with dirty snow water—they never really would come clean again after that, and eventually, because they were so long, the back of the leg opening became torn and ripped from constantly stepping on them with the heel of my shoe.
Like all trends, JNCOs reached their peak and entered their decline almost at the same time. The company’s Wikipedia entry states that sales topped out in 1998; within two years, the brothers that founded the company, Jacques Yaakov Revah and Haim Milo Revah, shuttered the main Los Angeles-based factory.
Because people love nostalgia, even for things as impractical and strange as oversized jeans, JNCOs were inexplicably revived and reintroduced in 2015 thanks to new management—but their return is, unfortunately, short lived.
Due to what the company calls a ‘licensing issue,’ (and also probably slow sales since no one dresses like this anymore) JNCO is, again, currently going out of business, and according to their website, everything must go.
About a month ago, I came across that information—that JNCO was shutting down and having a going out of business sale, and I wondered….is now the time?
* * *
I don’t think you want to know how much time I spent gazing at the various styles of pants available on the JNCO website, imaging myself plodding around the house in these gigantic, baggy pants.
The jeans—well the jeans are obviously just too much. There’s a good chance that while wearing something with a 32” opening, I would trip on it and fall down the stairs and die or something. But at least I would have died doing what I loved, you know—wearing stupid, oversized pants.
But the corduroys. Could I pull those off? The product description doesn’t take itself seriously at all—‘The only risk of merging our epic JNCO aesthetic with corduroy was that the pant itself may turn out to be too chill—but thankfully, things worked out and no lives were lost.”
The leg opening is only 23.” And, like, regular pairs of corduroys can sometimes seem a little too big and frumpy on my frail, ass-less body anyway, so what’s a little more fabric?
Is now the time?
It’s just so much fabric.
* * *
I spend more time than I should thinking about stepping into a pair of JNCOs. So much so that I begin speaking with co-workers about it; in doing so, I find out that one of my co-workers—my former boss (now promoted elsewhere) confesses that he not only wore JNCOs when he was a teenager, but that he still had a pair of them somewhere in his apartment.7
He describes them has having a giant cobra patch sewn onto them; that’s the neat thing about JNCOs, you see. Well, one of the many neat things—not only do they feature obnoxiously large leg openings, and confoundingly large pockets…they also include
patches of charming characters or designs: e.g. the ‘Kangaroo’ style jeans have a Kangaroo wearing boxing gloves sticking out of the back pocket.
Despite still having a treasured pair of JNCOs, my co-worker explains that he rarely, if ever, wears them. “Where am I going to wear them,” he asks me during our discussion, adding that he wore them out to a pub once, as a joke, and got nothing but confused and strange looks from everyone.
Where would I wear my JNCOs if I were to purchase them?
That’s the question that not only keeps me up at night, but keeps me from ordering a pair as I slowly watch the company’s inventory dwindle during the drawn out ‘going out of business’ sale on their website.
It’s also the question my wife posed to me, very sternly, when I mention all of this to her.
It’s just so much fabric. I obviously can’t wear them to work because it would be a literal safety hazard. And so I find myself back where I was over 20 years ago—not wanting to spend a lot of money on something that I’d only be able to wear, like, two days out of the week, if ever.
I’m just not sure if I can justify spending, like, $60 on what amounts to a pair of novelty pants.
“You could wear them to parties,” my wife tells me.
But I never go to parties.
This becomes such a dilemma for me, and I begin to take it so seriously, that I sign up for the JNCO email list in order to receive a 15% off coupon—but I still can’t justify it. I go through the motions of adding a pair of corduroys into a shopping cart, but the coupon barely does anything in the end once you add in the shipping costs.
Now I’m subjected to weekly emails with bizarre subject lines like, “March Madness? How about Jean Madness!??!!”
I gaze at the confusing JNCO size chart and infographic included on every page of the website, trying to figure out if, based on what they are telling me, that a size 30 actually fits like a size 32—not only would these pants be oversized to begin with, but they’d purposefully be one waist size too big. Even with a belt, how much time would I spent futzing with them and pulling them up, as the weight of all that fabric continued to weigh them down?
How stupid and frumpy would I look and how uncomfortable would I feel in them?
It’s just so much fabric.
* * *
It’s been weeks, now, of laboring over this decision and revisiting the JNCO website. The black ‘Stinger’ corduroys are long gone now, and even if I could make a decision to do this, I’d be taking a consolation prize of brown, or, dare I say it, khaki colored pants. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve missed my opportunity, and I think that, despite the deep sense of nostalgia and humor behind my yearnings, it’s probably for the best.
Fashion is difficult—it’s more difficult than it should be, or maybe we just make it more difficult than it should be. We all want to be comfortable and some of us want to be stylish, and it’s practically impossible to have it both ways.
We all glom onto trends, some of which may be ill advised, some of which you may fondly or curiously look back on a number of years later and say, “Man I sure wish I still had that track jacket I was really into during my sophomore year in college,” or, “Wow I can’t believe I ever wore those men’s flare leg jeans—what a strange choice that nobody thought to talk me out of.”
Fashion is difficult—and you eventually (and wisely) grow out of things, either on your own accord, or with a ‘gentle nudge’ from a spouse or partner.
Fashion is difficult—but it winds up being an extension of ourselves; a way to express ourselves, whether it be through a carefully cultivated aesthetic that we’ve built overtime, or something of the times and sure to pass that we buy into.
How are JNCO Jeans an extension of myself, though?
It’s an extension of my love of nostalgia, and romanticizing the past, as dumb as it may be.
It’s an extension of who I was, I suppose—the sad, overweight high school freshman that wanted to be left alone, but also was desperate to be cool. And even though I am now thin and beautiful and approaching 35, I’m still that sad teenager deep down, both so desperately seeking to be cool.
1- As students, we were told the dress code was in place to put less emphasis on what others were wearing, and to cut down on the amount of time it took to get ready in the morning. Instead, you could focus all of those energies into your studies, or something.
2- For what it’s worth, maybe once every few months, we were allowed a ‘jean day,’ where for the price of canned goods to donate, or money that probably went to some questionable Catholic cause, we were allowed to wear jeans and casual shirts—though following the Columbine school shooting, we were no longer allowed to wear band t-shirts.
3- It is currently April 2018; the announcement of the company shutting down came in mid-February, so who knows how much longer the JNCO Jeans website will be up and running.
4- I say ‘current offerings’ because there are a number of JNCO styles from the 90s that are not available on the site—including the ‘Crime Scene,’ which boasts the largest leg opening of all. Also, because the company is going out of business, there are only a handful of styles and sizes left.
5- You may recall a previous Column of Disquiet regarding my attempt at skateboarding, as well as my interest in the skateboarding aesthetic.
6- I wore a chain wallet for a decade, until 2006, when my wife—long before we were married, just when we were in the early stages of our courtship—grew too weary and frustrated of how it was always getting caught on things or twhapping her, and she ‘strongly encouraged’ me to get rid of it. I still have it in my dresser drawer and I think about it constantly.
7- He also told me, outside of his JNCOS, he owns a pair of ‘Kikwear’ pants—a style of pants cut with even larger leg openings. The company comes off as a poorman’s JNCOs, and they are still available to purchase today.
Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. He occasionally tweets about talking himself out of buying JNCOs: @KevEFly.
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